by Nate Olson
Since its inception in 2000, the Landers Award has become Arkansas’ premier high school football honor. Longtime KATV sports director Steve Sullivan orchestrates the event that includes a dinner for 10 finalists and their coaches and families and a 30-minute live show to announce the winner.
For more than 10 of those years, I have served as one of the voters. The list has grown to include nearly 30 media types who follow high school football. It’s not a responsibility I take lightly as I pore over stats and highlight reels throughout the season. Some years are more clear cut than others such as 2004 when Arkansas great running back Darren McFadden from Oak Grove in 2004 or Little Rock Christian running back Michael Dyer in 2009.
Those were no-brainer picks. This year, the field is more balanced. In fact, you could make a good case for all 10 candidates. See below and don’t forget to tune in to the show at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday night.
Ahmad Adams, Bryant, SR. RB – Adams, an Arkansas State commit ran for more than 1,000 yards in an explosive offense that featured a record-breaking passing attack. Adams helped the Hornets to back-to-back 7A State titles.
Braden Bratcher, Pulaski Academy, SR., QB – Bratcher was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the nation passing for 5,196 yards and 51 touchdowns in leading the Bruins to the Class 5A State Championship. He earned All-Arkansas Prep first-team honors and will attend SMU as a preferred walk-on.
Jacolby Criswell, Morrilton, SR., QB – One of the nation’s top dual-threat QBs, Criswell earned Arkansas’ Gatorade Player of the honors passing for 2,869 yards with 27 TDs, 5 interceptions to go along with 1,282 rushing yards and 24 TDs. Criswell is a North Carolina signee.
Chris Hightower, Little Rock Christian, SR., WR – Hightower, a four-year starter, snagged a team-high 12 touchdowns pushing LRC back to the Class 5A State Championship game. Hightower has scholarship offers from Kansas, Memphis, SMU and Tulane.
Austin Ledbetter, Bryant, JR., QB – Ledbetter broke school passing records en route to 3,334 passing yards with 43 TDs and just 9 interceptions in leading the Hornets to back-to-back Class 7A State Championships. The lone junior of the group is an Arkansas baseball commit and has several Division I football offers.
Vincent Steppes, Warren, SR., RB – Steppes ran for 1,884 yards and 28 TDs while racking up 424 yards receiving and 7 TDs. He was a second-team All-Arkansas Preps selection.
Jashaud Stewart, Jonesboro, SR., DE – Stewart, an Arkansas commit, led the state with 17 sacks and racked up 117 tackles and was an All-Arkansas Preps first-team selection.
Brandon Thomas, North Little Rock, SR., RB – Thomas injured his hand in a fireworks accident last summer and missed significant time dealing with that injury and others during the season but still totaled 1,225 rushing yards and 16 TDs. The Memphis signee was an All-Arkansas Preps first-team selection.
J.T. Towers, Joe T. Robinson, SR., LB – An Arkansas commit, Towers racked up 180 tackles, including 47 for loss, with 12 sacks in leading the Senators to the Class 4A State Championship. Towers was a first-team All-Arkansas Preps pick.
Cannon Turner, Arkadelphia, SR., QB – A four-year starter at quarterback, Turner also played in the secondary. Turner, an Air Force commit, battled injury his senior year.