FROM THE SIDELINES: A road paved with winner

Published 10:24 pm Friday, May 28, 2010

Each year, selecting the Athlete of the Year becomes an increasingly difficult process. In our first year of doing it, we were faced with 14 tremendous candidates, including a three-sport standout with tremendous character in Jasmine Simmons and another all-around star whose academics were as impressive as his athletics. Simmons won the award. The runner-up? That was some guy from Linden named Sean Richardson. He is now the starting strong safety at Vanderbilt and led the SEC in tackles by defensive backs last year. Both were tremendous candidates and both epitomized the spirit of the award.

Last year, the field of 14 came down to a kid who overcame a torn ACL at the end of a productive football season to take the mound on opening day of baseball season and lead his team to the playoffs. That was Shelby Speegle and he edged out Sweet Water’s Antonio Landrum, who was a tremendous talent in three sports and stood out as much for his character as his accomplishments.

Then came this year. And, true to form, every single nominee stood out in some way. From players like A.L. Johnson’s Demarcus Woods and Ashley Edwards, who absolutely defied their youth to John Essex’ Nyesha Daniels and Keyandra Wheeler, who braved difficult circumstances to help lead a still-developing basketball team, this year’s nominees have had it all. At Linden, there was the first ever two-time nominee in Gerald Bruno, who even as a junior has been an invaluable part of the Pats’ football and basketball teams. Joining him was sophomore Terris Lewis, who is just beginning to show the near limitless potential of his athletic and leadership abilities.

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Demopolis nominated Hunter Wells, one of the most likable, intelligent kids anywhere in the county. He was the guy who never grabbed the headlines, but always made a different. And he was a nice contrast to classmate Jeremy Wallace, a boisterous personality who grabbed plenty of headlines while earning the Army Iron Man of the Year Award in football, serving as the do-it-all point guard in basketball and earning a spot at the state meet in track.

And then there was Marengo Academy, who put up two guys who are the closest of friends. One of them, senior Wood Collins, just wrapped up a stellar high school career that saw him grab numerous accolades as his immense production always gave the Longhorns a chance in everything they did. He was joined by our runner-up, Matt Wallace, a guy who will likely be back on this list again next year as continues to be the engine of Longhorn athletics.

Sweet Water provided a surprise nominee in Rachel Mayton, a girl whose story was not well known outside of the south end of the county until this process began. But her personality, determination and leadership have landed her on the volleyball team at Huntingdon College and on this list of the county’s best. Finally, there was the 2010 Athlete of the Year. While every athlete in the county had something to offer in terms of making their argument for this award, Johnny Lockett had absolutely everything. His athletic accomplishments, character, three-sport status and academic standing combined to push him to the head of a very strong, extremely impressive field. Now, he joins a list of exclusive company as the third Demopolis Times Athlete of the Year. Through it all, it is our sincere hope that you have enjoyed getting to know these student-athletes as much as we have and we sincerely look forward to next year’s nominees.