Honors roll in for local fall athletes

By Matt Hill

   The fall sports season may be over with, but the honors have recently been rolling in for several athletes in our area.
   All-State and All Northeast Tennessee teams have been announced in football, volleyball and soccer.
   We'll start with the football honorees, and that means it would be only fair to mention the Cloudland Highlanders first.
   Super-talented athlete Mark Byrd headlines the list of Landers receiving attention, garnering All-State on the all-classification AP team and on the Class A Tennessee Sports Writers Association team.
   "It feels really good," Byrd said. "It feels good to get some after-season awards after going through the season."
   Playing on a team that made the Class A state semifinals, Byrd wasn't the only Highlander to be recognized.
   Dakota Benfield and Mark Barnett each made the TSWA Class A team, while Dane Christman, Dale Baker, Jason Grant and Cole Gouge were honorable mention All-State selections by the AP.
   All of these accolades are things that the Highlanders treasure, especially considering it is hard for Class A schools in this neck of the woods to get recognized.
   "We have to work real hard to get them, nothing comes easy," Byrd said. "I'm just glad the hard work is paying off in the end.
   "For a long time, we haven't gotten any awards up here. A lot of people are noticing us and other East Tennessee teams."
   Elizabethton High School also had a couple of standout players make All-State teams. Vince Redd was a second-team selection on the AP squad, while Brown made the TSWA Class 4A team.
   EHS head coach Tommy Jenkins thinks this couldn't happen to two better guys.
   "These two guys are tremendously good people," Jenkins said. "Walter broke two school records, and both are big-time college prospects. They have good things to look forward to."
   Adam Turley and Lester Bailey were honorable mention All-State, and joined Redd and Brown on the All-Northeast Tennessee team.
   "Turley and Bailey are both juniors and had good years," Jenkins said. "We have them back next year, and hopefully they'll have bigger and better years next season.
   "This is a tremendous honor for these individuals, and honor for our football team. I'm really pleased."
   Also making an the TSWA All-State squad was Hampton's Robby England, who received the honor as a defensive lineman in Class 2A.
   "Robby played good defense and offensive center for us," Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell said, who split All TSWA-NET Coach of Year honors with Cloudland's Mike Lunsford and Dobyns-Bennett's Graham Clark. "He hardly sat out a play. When Robby started playing well, we started playing well."
   Jimmy Sarrett, Mitchell Morton and Michael Peterson all were honorable mention All-State selections by the AP.
   As for Campbell's honor, there was just one thing he had to say about that.
   "That's a reflection on the players," he said.
   Johnson County defensive end Justin Bishop also recently received some accolades. He garnered an honorable mention All-State selection, and was named to the TSWA All-NET Team.
   It was definitely big for Johnson County, as the school sometimes doesn't get recognized by the statewide media.
   "We're proud of him," Longhorn head coach Mike Atwood said. "We feel like he deserves some honors. He's had three good years starting on the varsity. We're proud of the way he played. We felt like he deserved it."
   Happy Valley's Cody Cannon and James Matherly each were honorable mention All-State choices, and Matherly was selected to the TSWA All-NET Team.
   Moving on to soccer, Elizabethton's Samantha McClay wrapped up an incredible year by being named to the Class A/AA All-State squad as a first-team choice.
   "It makes me happy," McClay said. "I didn't think I would get it."
   McClay's work ethic has led to success and this major honor.
   "I've put a lot of time into soccer," she said. "If I play hard, then I'm happy. I don't have fun if I'm not playing good, and if I'm not playing hard."
   Happy Valley cross country runners David Hughes and Katie Williams were recently honored as "cross country runners of the year" by the Northeast Tennessee Track Club. As you probably know, Hughes won the Class A/AA Cross Country championship this fall.
   In volleyball, Elizabethton's Michelle Collins and Johnson County's Rebecca Boney recently earned some recognition by local sportswriters. They were both TSWA All-NET selections.
   These athletes have shown that there happens to be a lot of athletic talent in our area. Congratulations to all of these young men and women on their achievements.