2019 GACfootball.com
Player of the Year

Cairo Payne

GAC Player of the Year 2019


2019 has been one of the best years in the history of GAC football, and there were plenty of spectacular players that made this year fun to be apart of. There were plenty of players that made a strong case as the best player in the 17-team GAC, but these six have set themselves apart from the rest.


“The short list”

These five players put on a show every Friday night this year, and here are the stats and facts about the finalists for the Player of the Year Award.


Brendan Sportsman

The two-way first team all-conference starting QB for St. Charles West, Brendan Sportsman, has the perfect last name. Over the past few years he has proven to be a phenomenal high school athlete and put up amazing numbers this year. He led the Warriors to their third straight GAC North title, and helped St. Charles West become one of the premier small-school programs in the St. Louis area. Sportsman had a great season on all 3 sides of the ball as a QB, defensive back, and punter.

Sportsman’s 2019 Stats:

Offense: 13 rushing TDs, 11 passing TDs, and 4 2-point conversions, 769 rushing yards, 740 passing yards

 Defense: 16 tackles, 8 assists, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery

Special teams: 41.57 yards per punt (led the GAC)


Izaiah Hartrup

Many people know Hartrup by, his OBJ-like one handed catch against Battle in the district championship. This single play proved that Hartrup is a pure athlete. The whole year the Zumwalt North slot receiver was breaking defenders’ ankles and zooming past them with his incredible speed, and he also became one of the best defensive backs and punters in the area.

Not only a threat out of the backfield, Hartrup was also dangerous on defense and special teams, as he led the GAC in total return TDs.

Hartrup’s 2019 stats:

Offense: 673 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs, 557 receiving yards, 6 receiving TDs

Defense: 4 interceptions, 3 pick-sixes, 29 tackles, 4 assists, 1 tackle for a loss

Special teams: 5 kick/punt return TDs, 39.31 yards per punt


Max Koviak

Two words: ball hawk. Koviak terrorized opposing offenses by being all over the place in the defensive backfield. Not only an elite defender, Koviak also led the GAC in receiving yards and led Zumwalt West in TDs scored. Koviak was able to step up and get the job done for the Jags no matter what position or side of the ball he was placed in. His pure aggressiveness and fantastic speed and agility helped him become one of the best all around players in the St. Louis area.

Koviak’s 2019 stats:

Offense: 1040 receiving yards (led GAC), 15 receiving TDs (led GAC)

Defense: 4 interceptions, 59 tackles, 24 assists,  5 tackles for a loss

Special teams: 10.58 yards per punt return, 21.04 yards per kick return, 1 return TD


Gideon Niboh

Comparing Niboh to a bolt of lightning would be an understatement. Even though he is not the tallest player on the field, when Gideon Niboh hits a hole and finds open space, you’d best assume that he’s going to score a touchdown. The Francis Howell running back showed that even against top-tier defenses, he has amazing open-field speed and just as impressive field vision. Niboh put up great statline after great statline every single week, and he was a key factor in helping Francis Howell become one of the best football teams in the entire St. Louis area.

Niboh’s 2019 stats:

Offense: 1449 rushing yards, 20 rushing TDs, 268 receiving yards, 4 receiving TDs

Defense: 29 tackles, 13 assists

Special teams: 12.55 yards per punt return, 19.75 yards per kick return, 1 return TD


Ulysses Ross

Not very often does a player earn his division’s player of the year award based primarily off of his defensive capabilities. This goes to show how dominant Ross was as a linebacker. The three-year starting middle linebacker for Zumwalt West. His aggressive and physical play style forced offenses to either pass the ball away from him or get their run game stuffed. Not only a defensive star, Ross also showed his skills at running back occasionally. The Jaguar team captain aided Zumwalt West in making it to the Class 6 final four and having one of the best years in school history.

Ross’s 2019 stats:

Offense: 229 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Defense: 102 tackles, 49 assists, 27 tackles for a loss, 9 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries


“Mr. GAC”

The winner of the 2019 gacfootball.com Player of the Year award goes to…


When the award for GAC Player of the Year is this obvious in a conference that has lots of skill, that really tells you something. Cairo Payne, the quarterback of Zumwalt North, has drawn many comparisons to Lamar Jackson throughout the year, as he has shown his skills with his leg and with his arm. To start, he led the GAC in rushing yards, rushing TDs, points scored, and defenders’ ankles broken. The team captain for the Panthers led them to a 12-1 year and yet another state semifinals appearance. With Zumwalt North’s option offense, Payne mauled opposing defenses on a weekly basis. Defending him is nearly impossible, and it is almost imperative to put a QB spy on him during pass plays. During said pass plays, defenses would get destroyed by Payne’s ability to scramble, as he is able to turn any well-covered pass play into a TD. Payne also was a serious threat on defense, where at safety he was able to swarm to a play and either knock down a pass or stuff a run play.

Payne’s 2019 stats: 

Offense: 1601 rushing yards (led the GAC), 26 rushing TDs (led the GAC), 984 passing yards, 15 passing TDs, 164 total points scored (6th in the St. Louis area)

Defense: 42 tackles, 10 assists, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 fumble recovery


Congratulations to Cairo Payne along with all of the others on the amazing season!