HOWLAND - It was probably one of the easiest decisions Niles McKinley Red Dragons football coach Brian Shaner has made in his career.
That point was driven home Monday night when senior Kyle Paden was named winner of the Richard Alberini Award as Trumbull County's Player of the Year at the 39th annual Andy Pike Football Awards dinner at Leo's Ristorante.
Paden was the quarterback who made everything click for the Dragons, who underwent a facelift this season on offense. Shaner relied on a run-oriented offense in 2012, but with Paden's ability to strike through the air, Shaner decided to work the passing game to the fullest.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Tribune Chronicle Sports Editor Dana Sulonen, left, presents Niles’ Kyle Paden with the 2013 Trumbull County Player of the Year award.
The move couldn't have worked better as Paden adapted to the offense as if he had been in it for years. Paden set the Trumbull County record for passing yards with 2,977 (playoffs excluded). He also set the county mark for touchdown passes in a season with 28.
"The receivers were young last year. We knew we had a great line and we had a great running quarterback in Stefan Yuhas," Shaner said. "We knew going into this season that we were going to be different. We just didn't know how different. Everything we've achieved at Niles - and Kyle would reiterate this - has always been a team effort."
Kyle must have felt like a child on Christmas morning starting at quarterback in a pass-first offense.
"I had no idea we were going to chuck it that much," Paden said. "When we got into the year it came to that, and I was ready for anything they put on my shoulders."
Paden had many big nights for the Dragons, who finished the season with a 5-5 record. None was bigger than in a 70-62 double-overtime loss to Canfield. Paden passed for 505 yards and six touchdowns and ran for three scores.
It was performances like that that made Paden an easy choice for the Player of the Year honor. He had an idea his name would be announced.
"To be recognized with all the past winners and great players is crazy," Paden said. "Looking back on it I had no idea I was expecting these kinds of numbers."
Paden didn't set any individual goals. He was more concerned about what he hoped would have been a second straight playoff appearance.
"As a team I thought we fought pretty hard," Paden said. "We fought through injuries. I had to keep my head up so that everyone else would."
Shaner didn't anticipate relying as much on the pass as he ultimately did, but circumstances dictated that course of action.
"I don't think we wanted to be as one-sided as we ended up being, but injuries kind of forced us into doing that," Shaner said. "He's such a student of the game, and he works so hard for all of these accolades. I haven't seen a more deserving young man than Kyle."
Paden looks the part of a quarterback at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds. He showed an ability to throw any type of pass required by Shaner.
The next step in Paden's story is expected to unfold in the NCAA. He has a standing offer as a preferred walk-on at West Virginia University. Every school in the Mid-American Conference has expressed an interest, as have colleges and universities on lower levels.
Paden isn't certain which path he wants to follow after graduation. With two months remaining until national signing day, there's plenty of time to make a decision.
"We'll see," Shaner said. "Hopefully come February he's signing with somebody. It's a tough time now to be patient, but we have to be patient to see what comes along."
Howland graduate and Northwestern defensive lineman Tyler Scott shared The Korey Stringer Golden Helmet Award with Liberty graduate and Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. The award goes to former county high school athletes who excel on the next level.
Area coaches Randy Clark (Brookfield), Tom Pavlansky (Lakeview) and Brian Hoffman (Hubbard) were recognized for leading their respective teams to outstanding seasons. Hoffman was named Coach of the Year as the Eagles went 12-1, advancing to the third round of the Division III playoffs.