Former Heisman winner George Rogers looked around the hall and smiled at something he never had.
“Every one of these kids is doing something great,” Rogers said. “We didn’t have these kinds of things when I was coming up. I wish we did. (Moultrie News) does such a good thing for them. You’ve got to celebrate these kids.”
The Moultrie News honored nearly 40 of the area’s top athletes at the second annual Best of Prep Sports Awards Wednesday at Alhambra Hall in Mount Pleasant.
Players of the Year in each of the 22 sanctioned high school sports were selected from the nine high schools in the newspaper’s coverage area. Each was individually recognized, along with the recipients of six other distinguished honors.
Longtime Lowcountry news personality Dean Stephens ushered the event along, speaking to the standout student-athletes about enjoying the moment and appreciating those who have helped them arrive at this point. Rogers served as the night’s guest of honor, mingling with the winners and attendees and posing for photos while urging the athletes to lift his Heisman Trophy and try on his Super Bowl ring.
Stephens and Rogers shared a fireside chat early in the night, discussing a wide scope of topics ranging from his thoughts on the current state of the game to what the former South Carolina Gamecocks running back has learned over his journey throughout a life of athletics. He spoke of training both mind and body to maintain health. He discussed concussions and injury prevention. He said Hall of Fame New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was the toughest person he ever played against. And he offered his thoughts on recruiting and its effects on the game.
“I was hoping when I talked to the kids that they can learn something from me,” Rogers said. “Be strong and do the right things. Listen to your own mind. Don’t go out there and do what everyone else wants you to do. That’s where I made my mistakes. I want them to think positive and do the right thing.”
Stephens introduced each athlete personally, outlining their season and career as they met with Rogers, who presented their plaques on stage and posed for photos alongside them. First Baptist two-sport star and Clemson signee Michel Dukes was named Male Athlete of the Year. Rogers credited the Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney for their recent run of success but joked with Dukes that South Carolina might’ve been a better fit for him. Bishop England basketball and track standout Katie Brooks received the Female Athlete of the Year award, along with Basketball Player of the Year honors.
Bishop England led the night, as its undefeated four-time defending state champion girls lacrosse team won Team of the Year. Bishops girls basketball coach Paul Runey received Coach of the Year honors for leading Bishop England to its sixth state champion in the past eight years without a college commit on roster. The crowd was audibly impressed with the academic accomplishments of Bishop England girls lacrosse standout Grace Ann Carlson, who was named Scholar Athlete of the Year. Then the crowd was moved to tears, hearing the mixture of heartbreak and triumph that Academic Magnet running star and Courage Award winner Colin Baker has withstood this season.
“They’re running. They’re playing ball. They’re jumping. They’re evidently making good grades too. That’s a big part of it,” Rogers said. “The girls are taller than I am. The boys are going to be stronger than I was. One of them is going to South Carolina, so that’s nice to see. You just wish the best for all of them. You really do.”
Rogers was reflective throughout the night as the event stirred up memories of his own upbringing and high school career. He showed up early and stayed late to spend time speaking to the athletes individually, congratulating them on their accomplishments and encouraging them to appreciate what they have and remain focused on what’s ahead.
“It wasn’t for football, high school sports, my coaches, there would be no George Rogers,” he said. “It was nice to see everyone here tonight, and the parents too, to have them all behind these kids. I didn’t have all that really when I was their age. That’s special. All of this is special really. I hope they know that.”