Tonawanda News — TOWN OF TONAWANDA — Coming off two division championships in 2012, there weren't many reasons to smile for the Kenmore West football team during its 5-6 season a year ago.
The Blue Devils were a young team taking their lumps, but coach Rich Harris always seemed like he was in on a secret that the rest of Western New York just wasn't privy to.
That secret was Alex Price.
"We were a younger team and we had some growing pains, but we really saw some of (Alex's) abilities," Harris said. "We knew he was a great runner, inside and outside, has phenomenal hands, great speed and great strength, but because he didn't get to finish the season and get the big numbers, nobody really knew about him."
Well, everybody knows who Alex Price is now.
The senior racked up 964 yards rushing in nine games to go with 17 rushing touchdowns, caught a pair of scores, threw a pair of TDs and finished the season with 1,468 all purpose yards. For his efforts, Price is the 2013 Tonawanda News Football Player of the Year.
"For him to rush for (almost) 1,000 yards in this AA division, which I think without a doubt was the toughest division around, is incredible," Harris said. "A lot of the coaches from the league thought he was the best running back in the division and it says a lot considering the type of competition he faced each and every week. He was a great leader, somebody you talk about wanting to go out and make a play, be a hero. He wants the ball and he wants to make the play."
Price almost didn't get the chance to compete for the Blue Devils this season.
After suffering a fractured C-5 vertebra in his neck against Kenmore East in 2012, Price was "iffy" on whether he'd be able to take the punishment for another season, especially in a physical and demanding AA division.
"I didn't know if I'd hurt my neck again. But I worked hard in the offseason and tried to get back in shape and it worked out," Price said. "Playing football is my life. I didn't want it to end."
And so the hard work began back in August, preparing for the season. The expectations in Kenmore were ratcheted up a bit for the Blue Devils, and most of the pressure fell on the shoulders of Price.
Ken West struggled early on in the year, losing to Lancaster and eventual Section VI Class AA champion Jamestown to start the season. That's when Price changed his team's fortunes, simply by being himself.
"He has an effect on everybody on the football team. … He's not a real flamboyant type of kid, he just does — he's a doer. He just goes out and performs," Harris said. "We were in a bad place at 0-2 and a lot of people didn't know what kind of football team we had. But I knew and the team knew. I don't lie to the guys, I tell them what's expected of them based on the type of talent we have. To have a guy like Alex with such a positive attitude when we're sitting there at 0-2, it really helped."
All Price did from there is lead the Blue Devils on a six-game win streak, which included wins over AA runner up Frontier, a 42-0 blowout over rival Kenmore East and a first-round playoff victory over Lancaster to avenge the early-season defeat.
Price accounted for 17 total touchdowns during the streak (14 rushing), showcasing his speed, versatility and big-play ability every step of the way. He said he's a field general when he gets the ball in his hands because of his vision and elusiveness, and it's tough to argue.
Harris said it's almost like he plays the game at another level.
"Especially when he got through the line of scrimmage to that second level. That's what makes a great running back — when they get through the line of scrimmage, their vision, their feel and their cutback ability to make the big plays," he said, "That's one of the things he was very good at. He was also very good at finding that goal line when we got in the red zone. But what he was real outstanding at was when we need first downs, big gains and to keep the chains moving, he was outstanding at getting the ball over that line to make a first down."
Price's drive and determination helped him overcome a serious neck injury that he doesn't even like to talk about anymore. It's in the past, and he's moved on.
"Last year was just a stumble with my neck, a bump in the road. But I got through," Price said.
Next up for the senior running back will hopefully be a college career in the game that he loves. He lives football and wants to continue to compete.
Harris thinks that wherever Price goes, if it's on a football field he'll be right at home.
"Alex is such an athlete you can call a double reverse, running back pass, whatever and he just runs it to perfection," Harris said. "I've never really seen anything like that in high school before."Alex Price • School: Kenmore West • Position: Running Back • Height: 5-foot-9 • Weights: 170 pounds • Stats: 964 yards, 22 total TDs Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.