Hero status is not easily earned.
But there are many groups and individuals that have made their way into that category. Firemen, policemen, rescue squad members, teachers, doctors. The list goes on and on.
Another group in the category for years is athletes, from the pros down. It includes high school football players, who older fans cheer on fall Friday nights and who younger fans look up to and dream of being like them when they grow up.
The youngsters storm the field after games, hoping to touch and say hello to their favorite players.
Back in the ‘60s it was popular for kids to go on the field after games and ask their favorite player for his mouthpiece. They were a lot different back then, attached to the facemask, rubber and oval shaped, with a small ledge built on the inside for the teeth to bite on.
If a kid got one, there was no sterilization. He’d pop the in his mouth and wear it home with pride. It was his trophy, a gift from his hero.
Youngsters get an extra bonus during the season when the players come to their grade schools and read to them.
“We’ve done it,’’ said South Pointe defensive lineman Zeek Rodney. “It’s a special time for the kids, but it’s just as special for the players; to see the smiles on the places. It’s important that we be good role models for them on and off the field.’’
Rodney, who had 27 sacks, is The Herald’s All-Area Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year. He belongs to a group of players who were selected as the area’s best on nominations by local high school coaches.
Heading the list is York’s Lee Wright, a linebacker with a knack of finding the football and returning kicks and turnovers into touchdowns. Wright was the Cougars tailback last season and rushed for over 1,800 yards.
Wright was asked by York coach Bobby Carroll to move across the line this year and he stood out. Wright was named to South Carolina’s Shrine Bowl and helped the Sandlappers to victory. He named South Carolina’s Defensive Player of the Year by the Charlotte Touchdown Club, getting his award at the Bronco Nagurski Banquet.
He is The Herald’s All-Area Overall Player of the Year. Wright had 140 tackles, 8 QB pressures, 5 passes broken up, 4 sacks, 4 interceptions (3 run back for TDs) and 6 defensive TDs. He is being recruited by UNCC , Furman, Toledo, App. State and UMass.
“This is an honor for me and my team,’’ Wright said. “You look around and see all the good players locally, and to be chosen the top player by the coaches is really something I appreciate.’’
The other players chosen to the top spots include Northwestern junior quarterback Mason Rudolph, Offensive Player of the Year; Lewisville senior tailback Malcolm Means, Lower Classes Offensive Player of the Year; Chester linebacker Daryl Foster, Lower Classes Defensive Player of the Year and Northwestern coach Kyle Richardson, All-Area Coach of the Year.
All but Rudolph (at a family commitment) met downtown at the Rock Hill Fire Department and were hosted by Fire Chief Mike Blackmon and several firefighters for the 2012 Herald All-Area cover photo.
“This is a good group of players, worthy of their honors,’’ said Richardson, who led his Trojans to a 12-3 record and the runner-up in the Class AAAA Division II state championship. “They are good choices and we’ve played against several of them.
“If South Pointe lets Zeek graduate this year, I’ll sit on the front row and hand him his diploma when he walks across the stage. I can’t believe he’s just a junior.’’
Richardson has a pretty good junior of his own in Rudolph, who completed 346-of- 504 passes for 3,990 yards and 41 TDs. He rushed for 475 yards and 10 TDs on 131 carries.
Rodney also had 133 tackles, 26 for a loss, and two blocked kicks.
Means also played in the Shrine Bowl. He helped lead the Lions to the Region 3-A title with 143 carries for 1,043 yards and 10 TDs. He had 28 catches for 525 yards and 7 TDs.
Foster had a monster junior season in leading the Cyclones to the Region 4-AAA title, with 211 tackles, 4 interceptions, 6 fumble recoveries and 4 defensive TDs. He was named Region 3-AAA Defensive Player of the Year
The area was blessed with many more good players and coaches. South Pointe’s Strait Herron, York’s Bobby Carroll, Chester’s Anthony Sterling; Nation Ford’s Michael Allen and Lewisville’s Will Mitchell are worthy of special mentions for Coach of the Year status.
And players? Check out the first team in this section and the honorable mentions on this page. Most are heroes to some kid out there, and all have earned that right.
Among them are the quarterbacks, the hardest spot to select this year because there were so many good ones. Rudolph was player of the year, with South Pointe’s Devin Pearson on first team.
But there were others in the running, in what could be called: The Year of the Quarterback. The list included York’s Spencer Carroll, Nation Ford’s Dalton Helms, Lewisville’s Qua Walls and Chester’s Tony Sanders.
All are deserving of mention and helped their teams to good seasons as the passing game continued to be a staple for local offenses.
So Merry Christmas to all of them and may they have many more.
Barry Byers • 329-4099