We always pay close attention while our local athletes are excelling on the prep sports field, but what happens when they turn in those high school duds for some collegiate ones? Do we forget about them?
There is plenty to celebrate about Greater Alton area athletes standing out in collegiate competition. I’ll begin with Alton native Ezekiel Elliott.
Though Elliott played his prep football at John Burroughs in St. Louis, he did grow up in Alton and has deep family ties to the city and that’s why we need to celebrate him winning the 85th annual AAU Sullivan Award on April 19. The award has been given to the top amateur athlete every year since 1930 and Elliott joins such prestigious winners as Bobby Jones (1930), Bill Bradley (1965), Bill Walton (1973), Carl Lewis (1981), Peyton Manning (1997), Michael Phelps (2003) and Tim Tebow (2007). The James E. Sullivan Award is often called the “Oscar” of sports awards and is older than the Heisman Trophy.
Elliott, an Ohio State running back, led the Buckeyes to football’s national championship. He ran for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore and has gained the national spotlight entering his junior season.
He was named the Offensive MVP of the national championship game against the Oregon Ducks, rushing for 246 yards on 36 carries and four touchdowns in the win.
“I’ve got to thank my parents for pushing me to being the person I am,” Elliott said in a press release on Ohio State’s website. “They demand excellence out of me and that drove me to be the person I am today.
“I also want to thank Ohio State University for this and for all the opportunities it has presented me. And I want to thank my coaches and my teammates for making this opportunity possible. Football is a team sport and I’m nothing without my boys around me.”
While it’s impossible to match what Elliott accomplished on April 19, other locals are doing their parts to excel in college, too.
Marquette Catholic grad Alexis Silkwood has enjoyed plenty of success at Mississippi State as a softball pitcher.
Entering this week, the sophomore southpaw pitcher had a record of 22-12 and an ERA of 2.73, while fanning 180 in 192 innings pitched. She was also second on the squad with a .342 batting average to go with three home runs and 20 RBIs.
The 5-foot-4 Silkwood has already been named Southeastern Conference (SEC) Pitcher of the Week twice this season for the Bulldogs, who were 31-16 overall entering this week.
Staying with the softball theme, let’s move closer to home and look at the SIUE Cougars and a pair of Civic Memorial graduates who are contributing for a program that was getting honorable mention votes for the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25.
Rachel Keller, a junior and former Eagle, is the starting first baseman for the Cougars (35-10). Keller is fifth in hitting for SIUE with a .289 average. She also has two homers and 23 RBIs and a team-best 24 walks and just 16 strikeouts.
Keller transferred to the Cougars from Lake Land College prior to last season.
CM grad Allie Hill is a backup infielder at SIUE also. Hill, a junior, is in her first year at SIUE after transferring from Kankakee Community College. She has played in five games on the season for the Cougars.
Shifting across campus to the SIUE baseball team (12-20), Alton High grad Nick Lombardo is a senior outfielder for the Cougars and sixth on the team in hitting with a .287 batting average entering this week. Lombardo also has five homers and 18 RBIs and is second on the team with six stolen bases. He leads SIUE in plate appearances on the season.
He had a .935 fielding percentage entering this week with just four errors in 31 games played.
In other SIUE news, new Cougar men’s basketball head coach Jon Harris has filled two of his three assistant spots by hiring Kent Williams and Tarrance Crump.
Crump, a Chicago native, had worked with Harris under head coach Cuonzo Martin at California as assistant director of basketball operations last season. Crump followed Harris and East St. Louis native Martin to Cal from Tennessee, where he had also been an assistant.
Williams didn’t coach at Cal, but worked with Harris at Tennessee and Missouri State under Martin. Williams was a standout at Southern Illinois University Carbondale from 1999-2003, where he scored 2,012 points, good for No. 2 on the all-time scoring list.
Charlie “Chico” Vaughn, who played for coach Harry Gallatin at SIUC, is the Salukis’ top scorer with 2,088 points from 1959-62. SIUC went 79-35 during that stretch. Gallatin, an Edwardsville resident and 1944 Roxana High graduate, was inducted into the Saluki Hall of Fame two months ago.
Alton basketball fans will remember Williams from his high school days at Mount Vernon, where he was an all-stater. In 1997 after the Redbirds defeated Harris’ Edwardsville Tigers in six overtimes in the sectional finals at SIUE, Williams, a freshman at Mount Vernon, led the Rams past Alton in the supers to earn a Class AA state berth.
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