When I first started doing the Best of the Best athlete picks in 2011, Lee Carden was freshman of the year. He won the top athlete honors in 2012 and 2013, then was a runner-up as a senior. It was obvious from the moment Carden arrived on the scene he was going to be a big-time contributor in every sport he played.
I mention Carden because I feel like there’s another athlete graduating this week who would’ve enjoyed a similar domination of my ballot had I continued the tradition from 2015-17. Without further ado, let’s jump into the Best of the Best high school male athletes, selected by yours truly.
Athlete of the year
One of the most misguided selections I’ve seen by coaches this year was when Grayson wasn’t selected as the District 6AAA MVP in basketball. I know the award usually goes to a player on the top team, but I think Grayson’s overall dominance in district play trumped any individual performers from Cookeville (which looked like a great call when the Pioneers smashed the Cavaliers in the district tournament). He was a constant standout when the Pioneers needed him the most.
I also think basketball is Grayson’s second-best sport.
My memory doesn’t date back to the glory days of Pioneer football (because I wasn’t born until 1986), so I hate to proclaim Grayson as the best QB in the program’s history. I will say he’s in the discussion.
There are few guys who could’ve done what Grayson did last fall in Fayetteville, leading the Pioneers to a 28-21 victory by running for 200-plus yards and three touchdowns, throwing for a score and sealing the victory with a last-minute interception. It was a special performance.
Getting a front-row view of Grayson’s senior year has been one of the highlights of my comeback to the sports desk.
Ethan Smith (baseball), Tyler Hollingsworth (baseball), Jack Keele (baseball)
Senior of the year
Christian Locke (track)
I’ve seen Locke outside of sports many more times than I’ve gotten to see him perform. He happens to work where I shop, so usually when I’m catching up on his accomplishments, it’s as I’m deciding whether to get one or two packs of Reese’s.
Locke isn’t one to talk about his exploits, even if he’s one of the most decorated Pioneers in town.
On Thursday, Locke will run in the state track meet at MTSU. It will be the second time he’s qualified for state this school year – the first coming in the fall for the cross country team. He is in the field in both the 800 and 1,600 meters, though I suspect he’ll put his focus on just one (it would be hard for any athlete to go 100 percent on distance runs when they’re separated by 30 minutes).
I’m sure he’ll post some jaw-dropping number too, although it’ll never be as surprising as when he casually mentioned he typically runs 75 miles a week to train when I talked to him about signing his scholarship to Berea College. I looked at him, shook my head and grabbed some king-size Reese’s.
James Jackson (soccer), Chance Hobbs (basketball), Jayren Perkins (track)
Freshman of the year
Just two or three weeks ago, I don’t think I’d be making this choice. It probably would’ve gone to John Jackson or Braden Bottoms, two starters and likely all-district selections for the soccer and baseball teams, respectively. When spring practice cranked up though, I was reminded how vital Thompson is on the football field.
As a freshman, Thompson started in the secondary and as a receiver for the Pioneers, all while serving as the team’s backup quarterback by the end of the year. Unless Warren County adds 10-15 big-time athletes over the summer to ease the workload on the gridiron, Thompson will probably need to start both ways again this fall.
He seems up to the challenge and I think he’s a good bet to become a household name for Pioneer sports fans over the next three years.
Jackson (soccer), Bottoms (baseball), Ike Gillentine (wrestling)
Most underrated athlete
This is a first for my best of the best selections. Smith is the first non-WCHS athlete to take home an honor. And, of course, it would be for being underrated.
Recruiting is illegal in high school sports. That needs to be said, mostly so I can follow with this: I would recruit Jackson Smith if I coached at Warren County High School (one of the top reasons why I’ll never coach at WCHS).
He seems more than happy being one of the top athletes at Covenant Academy. And the Lions are obviously happy to have him on both the basketball and soccer teams. If you haven’t seen Smith play, I’d suggest getting a ticket soon.
Jay Rozier (football/soccer), Raven Lewandowski (football/basketball), Jerry Mrema (basketball/soccer)
Coach of the year
Chris Sullens (basketball)
How do you select between two coaches who were both honored as District 6AAA coach of the year in their respective sport? Well, you could flip a coin. I almost did, until I was asked which one coached longer in the postseason.
Sullens led the Pioneer basketball team to its first region win in decades in February, while Trice Powers – in his first year at the helm of the baseball program – fell 2-1 in the region.
Sullens wins on the scorecard this time, but I’d put Powers as the favorite in the rematch next year.
Powers (baseball), Tom Moore (football/track), Matt Turner (wrestling)