MORGANTOWN - Chazzy Thomas was always more than just any football player to his Morgantown High teammates.
"Chazz is one of those guys, it's not just that he's a great player, but he's that symbol of belief that whenever we see him, whenever he's in the huddle, we think that, 'We are going to do this,' " MHS senior linebacker Will Rockis said. "Whatever the goal is, we think that we can accomplish it, just by him being there."
Now the senior running back stands out to the rest of the state, as well.
Thomas was named the 2013 Kennedy Award winner, signifying the state's best high school football player, as voted on by members of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
"Oh, nice," Thomas said, a huge grin spreading across his face when he heard the news. "Wow, that means a lot to me. It's overwhelming."
Just months after suffering a surgery-inducing, season-ending leg injury as a junior, Thomas battled back to become the top rusher in Class AAA this season.
While leading MHS to an 8-3 record and the first round of the playoffs, Thomas piled up 2,108 yards and 30 touchdowns on 174 carries, for an average of 12.1 yards per carry.
Thomas was best known for his shiftiness and explosive bursts of speed, making him nearly impossible to catch if he broke loose.
However, he was also the workhorse for the Mohigans, totaling 58 percent of their rushing offense. He ran deceptively hard for his 5-foot-9, 183-pound frame.
"He's the strongest kid on our football team," MHS head coach John Bowers said. "Not pound-for-pound the strongest, but the strongest we've got. He can out-lift everyone on our team, with legs and upper-body strength. He is a tremendously tough young man."
Thomas, whose first name is Jamie and middle name is Charles, set a Monongalia County one-game rushing record twice this season.
On Oct. 4, he rushed for 386 yards in a 52-21 win against DuBois (Pa.) Area High School. The performance broke the county record of 358 yards, by Clay-Battelle's Aaron LaPoe, in 2003.
On Oct. 11, Thomas broke his own record by rushing for 396 yards on 43 carries in a double overtime victory, against Wheeling Park. He added a 41-yard touchdown reception, to amass 437 yards of offense, with all six MHS touchdowns.
"If there was a signature moment, that would've been it," Bowers said. "He is very, very deserving, but the thing about Chazz is, for all the accolades he gets for being a tremendous football player, he is an even better human being. That Wheeling Park game typified how good he is, but all he wanted to talk about afterward was how good his offensive line was and how good Wheeling Park was."
Thomas also collected the Gatorade West Virginia Player of the Year award, and was named the National Player of the Week by Student Sports for his performance against Wheeling Park.
In winning the Kennedy, Thomas follows Morgantown High greats Mark Wigal (2000), Chris Yura (1997), David Mayfield (1989) and Tony Johnson (1983). With five recipients, Morgantown High has had more Kennedy Award winners than any other school in the state.
"It's pretty awesome to be in the same category as them," said Thomas, who is undecided on his college plans but hopes to stay in state, get a good education and play football. "To represent my school like that, it's pretty awesome."
Thomas finished as the third-leading rusher in the state despite missing nearly two games and playing two more, including MHS's first-round playoff game, while battling a high ankle sprain.
"What he did when he was healthy was absolutely ridiculous," Bowers said. "It was a video game. I really wish that injury wouldn't have happened because I think we would've seen multiple state records fall. But I give the sports writers a lot of credit for seeing true greatness and not holding that against him."
Thomas finished his three-year career with 4,541 yards and 59 touchdowns on the ground, plus 62 yards and two touchdowns on two receptions.
Madonna senior quarterback Ross Comis and Martinsburg senior quarterback Malique Watkins tied for second in the award voting.
On Madonna's run to the Class A state championship, Comis rushed for 1,942 yards and 35 touchdowns on 252 carries. He completed 98 of 151 passes for 1,688 yards and 22 touchdowns, with four interceptions.
Watkins led the Bulldogs to their fourth straight Class AAA title, with 1,811 yards and 20 touchdowns on 254 carries. He completed 65 of 113 passes for 973 yards and 16 touchdowns, with six interceptions.
They were followed in the voting by two junior running backs who led their teams to the Class AA championship game. Wayne's Mason Hodge was fourth, while Anthony Bonamico, of state champion Bridgeport, was fifth.
Hodge ran for 1,528 yards and 18 touchdowns on 164 attempts.
Bonamico was the second-leading rusher in the state, with 2,141 yards and 32 touchdowns on 205 carries.