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Editor’s note: Over the coming days, we will honor the best and brightest individual performers from the 2021 Arkansas high school football season, culminating with the unveiling of the inaugural SBLive all-state team on Monday, January 24.

By Kyle Sutherland | Photo by Jimmy Jones

Pulaski Academy’s Joe Himon, one of the most decorated players in the history of Arkansas prep sports, has been named the SBLive Arkansas 2021 Football Player of the Year. 

Himon helped Pulaski Academy to its third straight Class 5A state championship last month, the school’s seventh title in eight seasons. 

Along with the hardware he earned with his teammates, he will either have to leave some in Little Rock or find some extra space for his individual awards when he heads to Northwestern University for the next chapter of his football career.

Most recently, Himon was presented with the prestigious Landers Award given to the state’s top football player, and he was the 2021 Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year among other awards handed out by local and national media outlets.

In terms of numbers, he is second all-time in state history in offensive yards by a non-quarterback (7,602), first in total points scored by a non-quarterback (624), and fourth in career 100-yard rushing games (25). His senior year, Himon surpassed 2,336 all-purpose yards, which ranked in the Top 5 nationally, with 40 touchdowns.

Himon began his high school career under nine-time state champion Kevin Kelley, who left to take the head-coaching gig at Presbyterian College in South Carolina after the 2020 season, a position from which he has since resigned. In came former Razorbacks great and long-time Bruin assistant Anthony Lucas, who led the team back to War Memorial Stadium, and Himon knows he was fortunate to play under both.

“Playing for both coaches was very special to me,” Himon said. “Coach Kelley is one of the greatest minds in high school football, so playing for him, I learned a lot and he coached me really hard to get me to where I am today.

“With Coach Lucas, just having a role model like him in my life is very special. He’s like a second father to me as well as a coach.”

Prior to his junior season, Himon had five Division I offers, and then his recruiting continued to take off following a phenomenal season in which he was just shy of 3,000 all-purpose yards. He was offered by Northwestern in April of last year, took his official visit there on June 16, and committed to head coach Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats three weeks later on July 11. 

“I’m looking at a 40-year decision, not a 4-year decision,” Himon said. “Getting a degree from there would be amazing. It is just Big Ten football, and I would not want to go anywhere else.” 

Pulaski Academy has been known for a while to schedule out-of-state opponents, many of which have sustained great success in their respective states. Himon believes that playing against stiff competition really helped prepare him for the challenge of being a successful Power 5 running back.

“Going up against those schools helped me a lot,” Himon said. “Playing against those teams, they have these big Division I players, four stars and five stars, it is just great competition for me, and I like to compete, so that helped me for the next level.”

Though academics and football are two major priorities in Himon’s life, he also does his part to give back to the community in various ways as we have seen many examples of on social media. 

“I try to do as much as possible in my community,” Himon said. “Whether it is donating to the homeless or doing service work through my church, I just try to do it all because it really makes me happy to give back to other people.” 

Himon credits his parents for being a shining example for him and offering unwavering support.

“My parents have had a big impact on me,” Himon said. “When I started football at six years old, they have always been by my side and a big part of everything that I have done, with the recruiting process and everything else. I just love them for that.”

High school football fans in Arkansas will remember the highlight plays and eye-popping stats Himon produced, but more than anything he just wants to be remembered for the impact he made as a person as he begins the next chapter of his life.

“I want to be remembered as the guy who does everything right,” Himon said. “Coach Lucas, he preaches on character a lot, doing the right thing when no one is looking, and that is what I try to live by every day. Hopefully people remember me as a great leader on and off the field, just a great person overall.”