Players To Watch: Week 13

July 20, 2023
By Daniel Cohen

Since this weekend’s slate doesn’t carry the same level of playoff implications and top-end matchup potential as last week, we’re filling this week’s list with a handful of players that are just plain fun to watch. And if you need some more intrigue, several guys on this list are gunning for franchise and AUDL records in the final week of the regular season.

Justin Burnett, Atlanta Hustle

Winner of the 2023 Callahan Award—essentially the MVP award for the D-I College Division—Justin Burnett has had a breakout season for the Atlanta Hustle in his second year as a pro. He’s up to 19 blocks in nine games played this season; he currently leads the league in blocks per game (2.1). Burnett’s ability to sky over opponents downfield, sprint through underneath routes, and throw his body around horizontally has him on franchise record watch heading into Atlanta’s final game of the season against Carolina. Brett Hulsmeyer currently holds the regular season Hustle record for most blocks, with 23 in 2021. While four or more blocks seems like a big ask for a single game, it’s worth mentioning that Burnett has recorded two blocks in all three games vs. Carolina this season, and he tied Atlanta’s single-game record with six blocks against Dallas a month ago. He’s been one of the more fun-to-watch takeaway machines this season, and another strong game against Carolina will have the Hustle defense primed for the playoffs.

Walker Frankenberg, Oakland Spiders (Pictured)

Likely the leading candidate for 2023 Rookie of the Year, the Spiders have found themselves another young star in Walker Frankenberg. Thriving in a midfield hybrid role for the Oakland offense, Frankenberg has impressed in every game this season with the way he’s seamlessly fit into the Spiders system; he’s adept at playing small ball with Mac Hecht, Chris Lung, Evan Magsig and others, and he’s been a monster capping drives in the red zone. Frankenberg scored the game-winning goal last week against Los Angeles, and his four goals led the team. For the season, he’s leading the Spiders in total scores with 52, and he’s notched five-plus in each of his last five games. He’ll be another key piece of the offense both this weekend and in the playoffs, should the Spiders be able to get at least one win in their SoCal double header.

Michael Kiyoi, Los Angeles Aviators

First, congratulations to Michael Kiyoi for being announced as a quarter finalist for the 2024 Music Educator Award from The Recording Academy and Grammy Museum; it’s easy to lose sight of the fact most AUDL players have entirely different lives outside of ultimate and are incredibly skilled at other things not involving floating pieces of plastic. Kiyoi is the instrumental music director at San Marcos High School in Santa Barbara, which just so happens to be where LA is hosting their final home game of the season, so it’ll be a notable Game of the Week for him in LA’s rematch with Oakland tomorrow night. Kiyoi failed to get much going last weekend in their first meeting, as he finished with his lowest scoring output of the season (one goal, no assists). Prior to Week 12, Kiyoi had been a model of consistency for the Aviators offense; three-plus scores in five straight games, averaging 240 yards and 0.6 throwaways per contest. Capable of making some splash plays when the team needs them, an in-rhythm Kiyoi would give the LA offense a major boost as they look to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Rocco Linehan, Boston Glory

Boston Glory finds themselves just one win away from locking up their first playoff berth in franchise history, and Rocco Linehan should find himself in a featured role this week against Montreal. Linehan has been one of the more versatile pieces for Boston this year, as he’s one of just two players on the team that’s played 50-plus O-points and 50-plus D-points while looking equally comfortable in any role. Having mostly served on the D-line this year, his offensive prowess after turnovers has been huge for a Glory defense that’s really solidified an identity for the first time in their three-year history, and with the Royal getting broken at the second-highest rate of any team this season, it should be a busy week for the Boston counterattack. However, this could be a week Linehan slots in on offense with Orion Cable, Topher Davis, and Cole Davis-Brand all inactive; Linehan played mostly O-line in Boston’s first meeting with Montreal, when he recorded three assists and over 250 yards of offense in their 17-15 victory. Be on the lookout for plenty of production regardless of his O/D split.

Max Sheppard, Pittsburgh Thunderbirds

Since the league started tracking hucks (throws of 40-plus yards) in 2021, Jonathan Nethercutt currently owns the single-season record of 38 huck completions set last year. Max Sheppard leads the league in 2023 with 35 completed hucks, which is all the more impressive when you consider how many throws he’s made total; 14.5 percent of Sheppard’s 241 completions have gone for 40-plus yards, highest in the league by over five percentage points. I know the Indy vs. Pittsburgh game this week doesn’t matter for playoff implications, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of watching Max Sheppard live on the AUDL stage, this is the last time to do it this summer. Watching him without the disc is just as entertaining as his hucks, as the constant cuts, jukes, and spin moves have kept his defenders off balance all year, especially in front of the Pittsburgh home crowd. Shep has racked up a casual 24 assists and 23 goals in five home games this year and is having his best season since his 2019 MVP runner-up campaign.

Oscar Stonehouse, Toronto Rush

19-year-old Oscar Stonehouse has had a relatively quiet sophomore season after earning Second Team All Rookie honors in 2022, but after back-to-back O-line starts, Stonehouse and his All-AUDL hair are back to their playmaking ways. His two highest yardage outputs of the season have come in his last two games, including a career high 565-yard, eight-score explosion in Toronto’s Week 8 win over Pittsburgh. Stonehouse’s athleticism is on full display every time he’s on the field, and the way he attacks the disc in the air—both vertically and horizontally—has made him super highlight-friendly and a great end zone target. Stonehouse finished second on the team in goals last year with 27, and with leading goal scorer Ty Barbieri out of the lineup this weekend against DC and Philly, Toronto may need to lean on Stonehouse as a go-to receiver to keep their sliver of playoff hopes alive.

Sol Yanuck, Carolina Flyers

Sol Yanuck needs 44 completions on Saturday to surpass Noah Saul and become Carolina’s all-time franchise leader in completions (current record is 1,876). If he gets there, he’ll have done it in 21 fewer games than Saul, as Sol has quickly established himself as one of the best high-volume handlers in Flyers history. Yanuck’s throws are extremely valuable against the Hustle zone, which often forces big over-the-top throws or small ball give-and-gos through the middle, but his throwaway numbers are up this year without the consistent counterbalancing presence of Matt Gouchoe-Hanas. Yanuck has six throwaways in each of his last two games (against Austin and Atlanta), and had five in his first meeting with Atlanta; the one other Atlanta game, Carolina’s lone head-to-head win, featured zero Yanuck throwaways (and Gouchoe-Hanas in the lineup). A second straight week against the Hustle defense will be a good opportunity to tune up his throws prior to Carolina’s playoff run.

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