The Alton Knights of Columbus Quarterback Club Awards Banquet enjoyed a large turnout Tuesday.
A plethora of football coaches, players and fans attended to find out the player of the year recipients, listen to the message of the night’s speaker, Alton native Dr. Ed Hightower, and of course eat some delicious chicken.
The festivities started with Hightower’s speech. He’s a longtime educator who retired as the Edwardsville District 7 superintendent at the conclusion of the ‘14-15 school year and enjoyed a lengthy career as a NCAA Division I basketball referee.
John Keller of the K of C Board of Directors introduced Hightower and highlighted his resume, his 1992 Naismith Division I Men’s College Basketball Official of the Year Award, his 1998 induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and his 12 NCAA Final Four appearances as a referee.
But as Hightower stepped to the podium, his message wasn’t about his career in basketball; instead it was one of team unity and hard work for the many players in attendance. He said it’s “about winning as a team” and putting the good of the team over the good of the individual.
He implored the kids to look at themselves and the ones returning to the prep ranks next year to strive for excellence and improve for the future. He used Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk and Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey as examples of players mired in selfishness due to their suspensions for breaking team rules and substance abuse respectively.
He noted those acts of selfishness probably started in the junior high and high school ranks and for Greater Alton athletes not to travel that same path. Hightower said no one achieves greatness without the help of others along the way and to lean on the support of teammates and coaches.
It was a powerful message; one I hope sunk in to the impressionable young minds in the crowd.
After a round of applause it was time to hand out the awards. It started with the weekly winners for Weeks 5-9 and then it was onto the prodigious yearly awards.
First was the Defensive Lineman of the Year, given to the top lineman or linebacker from the five Greater Alton schools. Roxana’s senior linebacker Billy Mathis took home the honors. Mathis finished the year with 111 total tackles, including 62 solos for the 7-3 Shells. Mathis was key in the Shells earning their second consecutive playoff berth.
Next was the Offensive Line of the Year. Civic Memorial garnered those bragging rights. Senior Jordan Stagner (6-2, 220) and juniors Cody Reynolds (6-0, 270), Andrew Deckard (6-1, 230), Brandon Deckard (6-1, 280) and Curtis Deckard (6-4, 300) comprised the O-line for the Eagles. They did a tremendous job blocking for a potent passing and running game for 7-3 CM. They helped the program reach the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and earn its first winning campaign since 2005.
The Defensive Back of the Year — allocated to the top safety or defensive back — went to another Eagle. Junior defensive back Rikki Lafferty nabbed that honor. Lafferty had 110 total tackles, including 51 solos, to accompany a sack, 3 fumble recoveries and 2 interceptions.
Finally the Offensive Back of the Year was divvied out. It goes to the top quarterback, running back, or receiver from the area. That distinction went to CM running back John Whitworth. Whitworth enjoyed a record-breaking senior season for the Eagles in 2015. He rushed for a school-record 1,466 yards, breaking former standout Joe Odom’s previous benchmark. He also tallied 19 total touchdowns, 16 on the ground, 1 through the air and 2 more in the return game.
The sad part is Tuesday marked the conclusion of the 2015 season on the prep gridiron and the end of a talented group of seniors’ careers. There were plenty of underclassmen in the crowd though, hungry for the 2016 season to begin already.
Alton head coach Eric Dickerson admitted at the end of the night that it’s time to start hitting the weight room and start preparing for the next campaign. I’m sure CM coach Justin Winslow, Roxana’s Pat Keith, East Alton-Wood River’s Garry Herron and Marquette Catholic’s Darrell Angleton are all trumpeting that same sentiment.
I know I’ll miss the great football that took place in the area in ‘15. And of course I’ll miss those sensational chicken dinners until they roll around again next September.
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