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Independence RB Judah Price wins Kennedy Award

BECKLEY — Judah Price’s first three years in high school were best summarized as “second best.”

The Independence senior running back finished as the state runner-up as a freshman and junior in the state wrestling tournament, the state runner-up last year in football and was second on the depth chart at running back behind last year’s Kennedy Award winner, Atticus Goodson.

Second-place finishes are now a thing of the past for the dynamic runner.

After a senior season in which he rushed for 2,587 yards and 49 touchdowns, Price cemented his place atop numerous lists. He broke the 100-year-old single-season state scoring record with 396 points, shattered the Super Six rushing record with 376 yards in a championship game and toppled the Super Six record for longest play from scrimmage with a 94-yard scoring scamper all while leading the Patriots to their first state championship in school history on Dec. 2.

“I told the guys before the (championship) game that I was tired of losing,” Price said. “I said ‘I’ve been through too much adversity and heartbreak to lose this game again’ and I told myself before the game I’d do everything I could to win the game for this team and these coaches and the community. They helped the entire way and I feel like I did everything I possibly could.

“Being second all the time, God is going to put you in positions you don’t want to be in and it says in the Bible he gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers and I feel like I’m one of his toughest soldiers. I’ve been through enough battles athletically and with injuries and emotionally. It all came together to make this moment special.”

Now Price has cemented his legacy as No. 1, as he was named the 2022 Kennedy Award winner by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. The award is presented annually to the best football player in the state. Price won the award decisively by a 21-point margin, besting Huntington quarterback Gavin Lochow and Martinsburg quarterback Ezra Bagent.

“It’s special for me and the team,” a glassy-eyed Price said. “We’ve been the best all year and I’m so glad this is something that’s going to be official. I’m happy for me personally but the team really. I think they’re going to react the same way I am and be so filled with joy and so happy. To have back-to-back Kennedy Award winners from the same school – not a lot of schools have done that and it’s awesome!”

Price’s victory marks the eighth time a school has produced back-to-back Kennedy recipients but only the third time it was achieved by two separate players. Goodson and Price’s back-to-back victories mark the first time the feat has been achieved by two separate players from a Class AA school.

While Independence’s two winners featured different skillsets, their head coach noticed the same intangibles. 

“In the biggest moments he shines,” Independence head coach John H. Lilly said of Price. “Whenever the pressure’s on he’s the type of kid where the bigger the moment the better he plays. Atticus was the same way. A lot of times they played so much better in the bigger games than in the games we were expected to win. Both of them are so competitive and when you had them both at practice at the same time you had some serious competition going on. They both got after each other.”

True to his word, Price did everything he could to help the Patriots win the title game and did so throughout the Patriots’ playoff run. That included making game-changing plays on defense.

He intercepted three passes in their first two playoff games against Bluefield and Fairmont Senior, returning one 80 yards for a touchdown. With the Patriots leading 8-0 in the title game and Herbert Hoover driving deep in the red zone after a fourth-and-long conversion, Price turned the tide by ripping the ball from Hoover running back Randy Hughart’s arm for a turnover.

His play on both sides of the ball bolstered his Kennedy candidacy.

“I feel like I made a name for myself in the playoffs because that’s when the good players come to show,” Price said. “You get better teams and the better athletes show out. The teams we played in the regular season usually couldn’t get past the defensive line so I didn’t have to make anything happen and I think our D-line had more interceptions than our defensive backs in the regular season. (The defensive backs) had more in the postseason because teams could throw the ball but I feel like that’s what threw me over the edge – the interceptions.”

“We’ve always said Atticus is a special talent and a great running back but Judah’s a special football player,” Lilly said. “And Atticus will tell you he loves running the football and getting downhill and running over people. But Judah’s a good football player. We could use Judah and spy their best player and shut him down. He’s just a special kid and you don’t get them too often.”

While Price saved his best for last, he had a memorable regular season that opened his eyes to what could be. 

He shattered the single-season regular-season scoring record with 300 points in nine games, erasing the mark of 276 set by Poca’s Ethan Payne in 10 games three years ago. He broke the program records for most points in a season, most two-point conversions in a season, most rushing yards in a season, most rushing and total touchdowns in a season and most points in a game with 56 against Shady Spring. The one program record he didn’t break in the regular season was toppled in the title game as he rushed for 376 yards, shattering the mark of 318 set by Goodson last season.

“Right after I broke the scoring record I kind of figured I was in the running for (the Kennedy),” Price said. “The argument – I knew it would be strength of schedule but I put up the same numbers I did in the regular season as I did against Bluefield, Fairmont Senior, North Marion and Herbert Hoover in the playoffs and those are four of the top five programs and up there with some of the triple-A teams. You can’t argue strength of schedule when I put up the same numbers.”

Like Goodson last year, Price passed most of the praise to his teammates and coaches. 

Lilly wasn’t surprised but notes it worked just as much the other way around.

“I think back to when he was a sophomore,” Lilly said. “He was sitting in the office crying for an hour because he couldn’t wrestle in the state tournament because of Covid. That broke our hearts as coaches and it broke our players’ hearts and from that moment on everybody in that building was going to do whatever they could to make his senior year special. I think the sign of a great player is everybody works hard for you.”

Price will be honored at the WVSWA Victory Awards Dinner May 7 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.

By Tyler Jackson, LootPress.com