CBHS football star Cameron Cook survives freak neck injury, starts own business

 

COOL, CAM, AND COLLECTIVE --- Cameron Cook had quickly come under the radar among college scouts during his stint as a football player at Christian Brother High School until a freak neck injury ended his career prior to his senior season. Cook is now a well-known graphic designer in the Memphis and surrounding areas. (Photos submitted by Lakina Sidney)

COOL, CAM, AND COLLECTIVE — Cameron Cook had quickly come under the radar among college scouts during his stint as a football player at Christian Brother High School until a freak neck injury ended his career prior to his senior season. Cook is now a well-known graphic designer in the Memphis and surrounding areas. (Photos submitted by Lakina Sidney)

Cameron Cook first began playing competitive football when he was five years old.

Like many of his peers, he had developed a deep admiration for the sport.

So much, in fact, that within the first year after making the transition to prep football for Christian Brothers High, he quickly came under the radar by college scouts.

Maryville College in Tennessee was heavily recruiting him, as was Augustana College in Illinois, Tennessee-Martin, Tusculum University, and Aurora University, among others.

But weeks before the start of his senior season, an unfortunate sequence of events transpired during a scrimmage game.

While making a routine tackle, Cook, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound safety made a routine tackle and landed awkwardly on the surface. He lay motionless on the ground for approximately 20 to 30 minutes before what was a stunned CBHS sideline as trainers tended to him.

“One of the trainers asked if I was okay,” Cook told MemphiSport during a recent interview.

For a while, all seemed well for Cook, who managed to walk off the field unassisted. However, after team doctors draped ice packs over his neck, bad news would ensue. After undergoing an MRI and CAT scan the next day, it was revealed that Cook had broken his neck in three places, news that sent shocks waves throughout the CBHS athletic department, a development that effectively ended his playing career.

For the 18 year-old Cook, who will be graduating next month, the news of his career-ending injury was difficult to stomach for someone who clung to lofty aspirations of playing college football.

STAR WATCH --- Cook's heroics on the field generated an array of interest from areas colleges before his career-ending neck injury.

STAR WATCH — Cook’s heroics on the field generated an array of interest from areas colleges before his career-ending neck injury.

“I didn’t even know my neck was broken at the time,” Cook explained. “I thought it was a stinger. You know how you get a stinger in your arm? So I just stood on the sideline and watched the scrimmage. But I got a little worried. My neck wasn’t supposed to feel like this.”

Said Cook’s mother, Lakina Sidney, regarding his  injury: “It was a mother’s intuition that I knew something was wrong with him. I insisited that they not put him in the game.”

As Cook recalls, he’s fortunate he chose not to resume playing after the unlikely tackle.

“I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he said. “To me, I think they were trying to say it in a nice way. I think it’s hard for a doctor to tell you that you can’t do something you love. It hurt. I cried. I was like, ‘Why me? What did I do?’ It was my time to shine. I didn’t have to compete for a job. Then I broke my neck before my first game (as a senior). I didn’t even get to set foot under the lights.”

With his football career all but a distant memory, Cook wore a neck brace for roughly five months. Still, after reality had set in, he was determined not to allow his emotions to consume him.

In other words, Cook was a fixture at CBHS’s games, doing everything from inspiring his teammates to assuming the role as he describes as a “player coach” from the sideline.

“I mean, I’ve been with them for four years,” Cook said. “I didn’t want to give up because I broke my neck.”

Lakina Sidney was amazed at how her son, who had huge aspiration of playing college football, overcame the odds and has emerged as a rising entreprenuer as young graphic designer.

Lakina Sidney was amazed at how her son, who had huge aspiration of playing college football, overcame the odds and has emerged as a rising entreprenuer as young graphic designer.

With strong support from his family, teammates, and the CBHS community, Cook managed to come to grips during arguably his most challenging encounter of his young life. Although the possibilty exist he will never play football again, college, according to him, is a foregone conclusion.

“Basically, he was worried that he wasn’t going to play (football) anymore,” said Lakina Sidney, Cook’s mother. “(Doctors) said he should consider playing a less-impact sport. We cried together. But I’ve always instilled in Cameron that what God has for him, it’s for him.”

Sidney’s son will enroll this fall at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and plans to major in Civil Engineering with a minor in Graphic Design. For Cook, he has already proven to have found his niche as flourishing graphic designer, a craft he embraced when he was 10 years old with the help of his uncle, Reggie Sims.

Cook owns ICAM Graphic Designs and is considered one of the most popular high school promoters in Memphis and the surrounding areas.

“My uncle is an artist,” Cook said. “He’s not just a graphic designer. I watched him design things on the computer and I just took it and ran with it, and my skills have gotten much better.”

Luckily for Cook, whom his mother describes a “resilient child,” life, as he knows it, couldn’t be any better for someone who’s destined to have a bright future.

Never mind that his cleats, shoulder pads, and helmet are hung up for good.

Among Cook's projects as a graphic designer was the cover of CBHS's latest yearbook for the Class of 2014.

Among Cook’s projects as a graphic designer was the cover of CBHS’s latest yearbook for the Class of 2014.

“I couldn’t be more proud of how he’s handled the adverse situations on and off the field,” said Patrick Cook, Cameron’s father.

Cameron, meanwhile, admittedly accepts the fact that he has likely played his last competitive football game.

“I think I’m blessed,” Cook said with a smile. “Like I said, I could be dead, sitting in a wheelchair, or paralyzed from the neck down. I wished (the injury) wouldn’t have happened. But it could have been worse.”

Spoken like someone who has embraced the real meaning of life.

Wholeheartedly.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Durant for league MVP: ‘I don’t care’

Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger wasn’t in mood to talk about Kevin Durant on Thursday, particularly all the hoopla surrounding what has been an MVP season for the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar.

“I don’t care,” said Joerger, when asked if Durant is the frontrunner for league MVP.

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T --- Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant's MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, "I don't care." (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

NO R-E-S-P-E-C-T — Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger on Thursday appeared disinterested in discussing Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Kevin Durant’s MVP season. When asked if Durant is the frontrunner for the award, the rookie head coach replied, “I don’t care.” (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Whether Joerger’s remarks will serve as bulletin board material, of sorts, for Durant, the NBA’s most-talked-about player, remains a mystery. Regardless, when the Grizzlies (50-32) square off against the Thunder (59-23) Saturday night at 7:30 CST in Game 1 of their best-of-7 opening round playoff series in Chesapeake Arena, the Memphis rookie head coach is fully aware Memphis will be facing a team that’s destined to atone for last year’s second-round upset.

Last year, the Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in team history after knocking off Oklahoma City four games to one. While Durant was as good as advertised in that series — he averaged 28.8 points and 10.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists through five games — his superb numbers weren’t enough to overpower a deep Grizzlies team, which won four straight after dropping Game 1.

Memphis extended its season, in large part because the Thunder were without All-Star point Russell Westbrook, who missed the remainder of the playoffs after he injured his right knee in Game 2 of OKC’s opening-round playoffs series against the Houston Rockets. Westbrook injured his knee after he collided with Rockets guard Patrick Beverly while attempting a steal.

When the teams meet Saturday in what figures to be an intense, rugged postseason matchup for a third consecutive year, OKC will have Westbrook back in the fold. That, according to Joerger, will provide the second-seeded Thunder with something they missed in last year’s series — another efficient scorer to complement what has been arguably the best year in Durant’s six professional seasons.

“Oh, they’re much better (with Westbrook in the lineup), a much more potent team,” Joerger said. “They’re switching a lot of stuff defensively and they’re very athletic and their defense has gotten better and better.”

Still, despite all of the Durant-for-MVP discussions in recent months, Joerger elected to assume the hands-off approach when given the chance to assess the season of the league’s most explosive player. Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in an April 8 win at Sacramento.

PURE DOMINANCE ---Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami's LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

PURE DOMINANCE —Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone Miami’s LeBron James of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games. (Photo by Bill Waugh/Rueters)

When asked if sense Durant will use the MVP award as motivation, or sorts, heading into this series, Joerger once again said, “I don’t care.”

Even if Durant isn’t using his MVP season as inspiration throughout the postseason, last year’s upset to the Grizzlies will almost certainly fuel the fire of the league’s premiere player.

“He’s not going to use the trophy as motivation,” Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince said. “He’s going to use us beating them last year as motivation. That has nothing to do with the MVP season. I don’t think that has anything to do with it at all. It’s more so, ‘These guys got us last year.’”

Earlier this season, Durant publicly pinned most of blame on himself for how last year’s playoff series against Memphis unfolded.

“Individually, I took a lot from that series and looked at what I could have done differently,” Durant told MemphiSport prior to a December 11 game against the Grizzlies. “But it was a learning experience for us all not having our point guard for that series and having to adjust on the fly.”

THUNDER STORM --- Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year's playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

THUNDER STORM — Despite averaging 28.8 points during last year’s playoff series against Memphis, Durant and Co. were eliminated in five games. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

Now with Westbrook back in the lineup, his presence will restrict the seventh-seeded Grizzlies from placing so much emphasis on Durant, who averages an NBA-best 32 points per game.

“The attention is going to be a lot more tougher with Westbrook being in there this time around, so our job is going to be much harder,” said Prince who, along with shooting guard Tony Allen and reserve swingman James Johnson, will likely be assigned to guard Durant. “The success we had on (Durant) last year, we had so many bodies we could throw at him, so many different things we could do, so many different aspects with Westbrook out.”

Which, of course, will make for an entirely different playoff rematch this time around, especially for a Thunder squad in which its featured player will be christened as the NBA’s No. 1 player in any day now, something about which Prince has paid close attention to.

“I don’t think he’s the frontrunner (for league MVP),” Prince said of Durant. “I think he’s already won it. I mean, they have the second best record in the NBA. He played well throughout the whole year. His basketball awareness went up another level as far as rebounding more, finding other guys, dictating the tempo on the floor.

“Every part of his game went up a notch,” Prince continued. I’m not just talking about putting the ball in the basket. I’m talking about other things on the offensive ends. I think that’s what people wanted to see from him this year and he’s done that. I think Kevin has won it pretty handily this year.”

Regardless of who isn’t in the mood to talk about it.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist

Zach Randolph on his future with the Grizzlies: ‘I’m dedicated to this team’

Zach Randolph has been in the NBA long enough to realize that with the playoffs comes a flurry of distractions.

Among the potential perplexities the Memphis Grizzlies’ franchise player is facing on this, the last day of regular season, is whether he intends on exercising his player option for next season.

DEVOTED VET --- Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to "stay a Grizzly." (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DEVOTED VET — Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph on Wednesday said he has yet to assess whether he will exercise his player option for next season, but reiterated that he wants to “stay a Grizzly.” (Photos by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Randolph, 32, who can opt out of his contract at season’s end, is in the third of a four-year, $71 million deal the former Michigan State star signed in April 2011. If Randolph returns to the Grizzlies for a sixth full season, the two-time All-Star would make around $16 million in 2014-15.

Following Wednesday morning’s shoot around as Memphis prepares to face the Dallas Mavericks in a nationally televised game at 7 p.m. CST in FedExForum, Randolph fielded questions about his future with the organization.

“No, I haven’t thought about that,” Randolph told MemphiSport when asked if he has thought about whether he will exercise his player option next year. “I’m still dedicated to this team, all day, every day.”

Selected with the 19th overall pick in 2001 by Portland, the 6-foot-9 Randolph was traded in July 2009 to the Grizzlies for Quentin Richardson and has since been the catalyst of a Grizzlies team that generated its highest winning percentage last year (.063) and advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

And, after having blossomed into an All-Star caliber player with the Grizzlies following brief stints with Portland, the New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers, the 13-year-veteran on Wednesday reiterated that he wants to finish his career with the organization.

“I’m a Grizzly,” Randolph, the team’s leading scorer, said. “I want to stay a Grizzly. I haven’t even thought about (next season). I’m worried about the task at hand and that’s winning in these playoffs.”

Tied with Portland for the NBA’s longest winning streak (four games), the Grizzlies solidified a fourth consecutive playoff berth with 97-91 win Monday night at Phoenix.

Just as he’s done in recent years, Randolph, who averages 17.2 points and 10 rebounds per game, has played a pivotal role in Memphis’ surge, particularly after the All-Star break.

Randolph appeared to be in playoff form when he scored a season-high 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting against the Suns, energy Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said his star big man must match if Memphis is to manufacture a deep postseason.

 

GAME CHANGER --- Randolph was a force in Monday's playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

GAME CHANGER — Randolph was a force in Monday’s playoff-clinching win for Memphis when he scored a season-high 32 points in a 97-91 win at Phoenix.

“That was a heckuva performance against Phoenix the other night,” Joerger said of Randolph. “He’s been such a problem for teams. You know, you have teams that want to take out of the perimeter, stretch him out, and make him play pick and roll. And with him, whether they’re putting two guys on him of whatever it may be, he’s been aggressive.”

What’s even more astounding, Joerger acknowledged, is how Randolph has steadfastly assumed the business-like approach in a year mired by distractions. In mid-December, for instance, Randolph became the subject of trade rumors in a reported deal that would have sent him to the New Orleans Pelicans for fellow big man Ryan Anderson.

Then after the Suns inquired about Randolph just days before the All-Star break, the Grizzlies reportedly turned down the offer, thus removing Randolph from the trade block.

While Randolph has publicly said he was “hurt” over being rumored to be dealt, Joerger said the Grizzlies managed to play up to their identity during a critical stretch in the season, in large part because Randolph didn’t appear fazed by such talks.

“He’s been professional about it,” Joerger said. “He’s stayed focused. He’s been the consemate teammate. Guys go to him. He’s got a lot of advice, a lot of experience. It’s been more than just what people see on the court.”

Now that Randolph is starting to field questions once again about his future with the playoffs set to start this weekend, he contends his primary focus is the monumental task that awaits the upset-minded Grizzlies.

That is, a first-round date with either the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.

“That’s a part of the business man,” Randolph said of the inquiries about his future. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity…injuries, guys going down, missing a lot of games. So that’s a part of the game. You just have to overcome stuff like that, stick together, and keep fighting.”

All day, every day.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Grizzlies rush to LeBron’s defense in his decline to meet with St. Jude patient

Memphis Grizzlies veteran swingman Mike Miller joined the Miami Heat the same year LeBron James bolted Cleveland for South Beach.

FULL PLATE --- Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with St. Children's Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

FULL PLATE — Miami Heat superstar LeBron James was heavily criticized after he reportedly declined to meet with a St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient earlier this week. Grizzlies players Zach Randolph and Mike Miller were among those who defended James. (Photos by Joe Murphy/NBAE Getty Images)

Among the things Miller deemed mostly intriguing about James is how he often went out of his way to give back to the community.

“He’s about as giving as I’ve ever seen,” Miller said of James.

 

Which, of course, is why Miller was among those who sensed there was more to James’ decision in declining to meet earlier this week with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital patient Josh Hardy as reported by Memphis’ WREG News Channel 3.

Hardy was a recipient of St. Jude’s Make A Dream Come True. Among his wishes was to attend Wednesday night’s Heat versus Grizzlies game so he could watch James, his favorite player, in action. However, after a request by WREG through a Heat media relations representative to have James meet with Hardy, the two-time reigning league MVP reportedly declined the inquiry.

Still, Hardy was among the 18,000-plus witnesses in attendance and sat in a luxury suite to watch Memphis outlast the two-time defending champs, 107-102, and keep alive its playoff hopes.

Though Hardy didn’t get to meet James, he was given paraphernalia by the Grizzlies organization and got to meet Quincy Pondexter, his favorite player on the team.

Pondexter, the Grizzlies reserve shooting guard who is sidelined with a season-ending tarsal navicular stress fracture in his right foot he suffered in a December 7 game against Golden State, sat with Hardy during the game and gave him a basketball that was signed by his teammates.

Grizzlies All-Star power forward Zach Randolph was among the players who autographed Hardy’s basketball, although he said he wasn’t aware that James had declined to meet with the St. Jude patient until after shootaround Friday morning.

Memphis played host to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday at 7 p.m. CST.

Randolph, who in November was given NBA’s Community Assist Award in recognition of his charitable efforts and contributions in the community, said James’ decision not to meet with Hardy could have been because of a conflict in his schedule. Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies was the last on back-to-back nights for the Heat, who hosted the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to  the community.

Miller played three seasons with James and said he was a fixture in giving back to the community.

“LeBron does a lot,” Randolph said. He probably was busy. LeBron is a great guy. You know, he does a lot for the community and for the kids. So that’s (Wednesday’s decline) nothing. He’ll probably fly the kid to meet him.”

Miller, who re-signed with the Grizzlies in July after a six-year absence, also rushed to James’ defense, saying the situation likely was a misunderstanding.

“Knowing LeBron as much as I know I him, I doubt the information even got to him,” Miller said. “He takes all of those requests.”

Asked if he believed because the Heat played on consecutive nights was a factor in James having turned down a request to meet with the patient, Miller said, “I think he would have met with him still. I think with that, it had to do with a situation where he probably didn’t get the information.”

While Randolph and Miller wouldn’t say whether they sensed the controversy surrounding James has been blown out of proportion, both agreed the 10-year veteran and four-time league MVP’s track record is such that he is committed to giving back to underprivileged individuals. “He gets those request a lot,” Miller said. Believe me, when it comes to St. Jude and children and giving back, he’s going to do that.”

That James was labeled a “punk” and “thug” by several WREG viewers was unwarranted, Miller said.

“The bottom line is no one knows anybody,” he said. “Until you get to know somebody, it’s difficult to judge them. I reserve judgment on everybody I know.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

LeBron appears ready to pass league MVP crown to OKC superstar Kevin Durant

HEADS UP --- Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night's 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant has been the "most consistent player" this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HEADS UP — Miami Heat star LeBron James Heat goes up for his second of three first-half dunks in Wednesday night’s 107-102 loss to the Grizzlies. Before the game, James spoke about the MVP race, saying Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant has been the “most consistent player” this year. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Two world championships. Two NBA Finals MVPs. Two league MVPs.

Surely, the previous two seasons couldn’t have been any better for LeBron James, the NBA’s most celebrated player whom many have labeled the best on the planet.

However, when asked before Wednesday night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies about this year’s MVP race, James sounded like someone who seemed inclined to deliver a concession speech for the first time in three years.

“I think KD (Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant) has had one heckuva season and if he’s rewarded with the MVP, that’ll be great,” James said. “I mean, it’ll be awesome for him, for his family, whose done a great thing for him. He’s played MVP-type basketball.”

Still, the 29-year-old James, who’s won the award four times in 10 NBA seasons, seemed reluctant to say whether the league’s premiere individual hardware is Durant’s to lose.

“I don’t really get caught up into what people say,” James said. “At the end of the day, they have their own votes and they’ll go from there.”

Heading into the final week of the regular season, it appears all signs point toward Durant being the heavy favorite to possess the league’s MVP award. Through 77 games, Durant undoubtedly has been the NBA’s most efficient player, averaging a league-best 32 points per game. In addition, the seven-year veteran and five-time All-Star is shooting .505 from the field, which is best in the NBA, and shooting .875 from the free throw line, second only to Golden State’s Stephon Curry (.878).

Second only to New York’s Carmelo Anthony in minutes played (38.5), Durant emerged as the leading candidate to dethrone “King James” of back-to-back MVPs when he scored at least 25 points in 41 consecutive games, a streak that came to a halt in Tuesday night’s win at Sacramento. While Durant appeared relieved to witness the streak end, James, meanwhile, was complimentary of Durant’s display in recent months.

Asked if he felt Durant is the frontrunner for MVP, James, the NBA’s third-leading scorer said, “I would say he’s playing the most consistent basketball as far as MVP this year. I mean, he’s put up some great numbers.”

James' game-high 37 points Wednesday weren't enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami's leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

James’ game-high 37 points Wednesday weren’t enough against Tony Allen and the Grizzlies, who are fighting for their playoff lives. Miami’s leatest setback dropped it a half game behind Indiana in the East.

 

Indiana’s Paul George, whose Pacers appear to be on a collision course to meet Miami in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, said while the winner of the MVP award is of “no concern” for him, he hinted that James still has a chance to make up ground.

 

 

“It’s up for grab,” George told MemphiSport during a recent interview. “It’s a lot of guys who are doing a great job. (Durant) is having a heckuva year.”

James’ teammate, Heat center Chris Bosh, on the other hand, was rather candid while chiming in on the league MVP race following Miami’s 107-102 loss against the Grizzlies. Bosh, in fact, believes James’ streak of consecutive MVP awards will end in the coming weeks.

“I don’t think so,” said Bosh, when asked if James has a legitimate chance of surpassing Durant in the MVP race. “I think they’ve made up their minds. But you know, no matter what happens, it’s easy for me to say it’s a trophy and you can’t win it every year.”

Although Durant will likely win this year's MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

Although Durant will likely win this year’s MVP award, James said his main focus is winning a third straight title.

What the Heat can accomplish as they prepare to defend back-to-back NBA titles, Bosh said, is use Durant’s likely dethroning of James as motivation, of sorts, once the playoffs commence.

“You can look for anything as motivation for sure,” Bosh said. “When you’re on top, it puts a big X on your back. So it’s not just (motivation) for LeBron, but for everyone.

You know, it’s a unique situation. I don’t know how (winning MVP feels). I never will.”

Regardless of who is named league MVP, James said his primary focus is to help the Heat accomplish the necessary things to ensure the franchise maintain the NBA’s most covenant award for a third consecutive year. In doing so, he said Miami will need a healthy Dwyane Wade back for what figures to be another intense postseason run.

Wade ran sprints on the FedExForum court roughly 90 minutes before Wednesday’s game, but sat out while he continues to recuperate from a strained left hamstring. It was the eighth consecutive game Wade has missed. In all, he has missed 27 outings this year.

Wednesday’s loss dropped the Heat a half game behind Indiana for the top spot in the East.

“It’s very important,” James said of having a healthy Wade in the lineup. “He’s one of Big Three. We’ve won two championships for the most part because we had our Big Three on the floor. When he’s out there, we’re a dynamic team.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Memphis martial arts guru Darren Yancey teaching discipline, life lessons to youth

 

TRUE PRO --- Darren Yancey, an eight degree black belt, has been teaching martial arts for the past 26 years. The native Memphian runs Scorpion Marital Arts in Cordova, which is comprised of about 45 participants who train two nights a week at Hope Presbyterian Church. (Photos submitted by Avis Abram)

TRUE PRO — Darren Yancey, an eight degree black belt, has been teaching martial arts for the past 26 years. The native Memphian runs Scorpion Marital Arts in Cordova, which is comprised of about 45 participants who train two nights a week at Hope Presbyterian Church. (Photos submitted by Avis Abram)

Darren Yancey was about a half an hour removed from having wrapped up a two-hour training session Monday night at Scorpion Martial Arts in Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova.

He didn’t seem to be in a rush to leave the building.

Instead, Yancey, who runs Scorpion Martial Arts, deemed it necessary to speak one-on-one with 12-year-old Cameron Davis, one of his academy’s newest members.

“When one fall, we all fall,” Yancey told Davis. “When one do pushups, we all do pushups? We’re a team. We can’t go out and represent Scorpion Martial Arts without having good representation.”

Fortunately for Yancey, a veteran Shelby County Sherriff Deputy, the close-knit relationship he has established with his colleagues and is among the reasons his martial arts business is among the most popular throughout the Mid-South.

Scorpion Martial Arts specializes in the PaSaRyu system, created by Ninth Degree Master Ox, Kang Rhee.  The PaSaRyu, or the “Way of Honor” style, is a blend of elements of Karate, Kung Fu, and Taekwondo. By and large, the style is more open and free than the traditional forms. Also, the PaSaRyu requirements, self-defense, sparring, board breaking and grappling techniques are taught and required to promote.

Yancey was taught martial arts by the legendary Kang Rhee (left), who is widely known for training Rock 'N Rock icon Elvis Presley in the early 1970s.

Yancey was taught by legendary martial arts guru Kang Rhee (left), who is widely known for training Rock ‘N Rock icon Elvis Presley in the early 1970s.

Yancey, a native Memphian and eight-degree black belt champion, has been training martial arts classes for a little more than 26 years. According to Yancey, martial arts isn’t merely a craft by which participants can learn to fight, but rather it teaches an array of concepts, most notably self-discipline and good character, especially for youngsters such as Davis.

 

“Martial arts is not just about kicking and punching,” Yancey told MemphiSport. “It’s a respect and discipline. You don’t fight until you get your black belt.”

Having grew up in the heart of North Memphis, Yancey first acquired in interest in martial arts years ago when he attended Snowden Junior High. Accompanied by his mother to Overton Park, which is in close proximity of Snowden, Yancey noticed a man punching what appeared to be a sign that featured bricks.

From that point, he was sold on a sport that, nearly three decades later, has become a way of life for him.

“I told my mom I wanted to try martial arts,” Yancey said. “And she said, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’”

Consequently, Yancey began taking martial arts lessons from Master Kang Rhee, an internationally-acclaimed instructor who is widely known for having taught Rock ‘N Roll icon Elvis Presley.

Yancey first met Kang Rhee in 1985. The two have since established a solid rapport, one in which Yancey said has aided him considerably with regards to what his career has become today.

“I’ve never thought I’d be this far,” Yancey said.

However, a strange thing happened on his way to his reaching the pinnacle of his career.

Yancey and his troops have competed in various places throughout the region, most notably Atlanta, Dallas, Jackson (Miss.), Little Rock, and Chattanooga, among others.

Yancey and his troops have competed in various places throughout the region, most notably Atlanta, Dallas, Jackson (Miss.), Little Rock, and Chattanooga, among others.

A year after capturing a green belt, Yancey took a 10-year hiatus from martial arts and began taking up other sports. He played football. He played baseball. Neither, it seemed, grasped his interest the way martial arts did.

“I missed martial arts a lot because that’s what I always wanted to do,” Yancey said. “I always wanted to get my black belt. As a kid, you always get side-tracked. Once you get off into something, you keep going until you establish your goals.”

Once he resurfaced on the martial arts circuit in the late 1990s, Yancey ultimately fulfilled his dream of capturing a black belt. Today, he’s destined to share his success with those who, like him, aspire to become knowledgeable about martial arts.

Over the past 26 years, he has trained more than 300 individuals, many of whom have started their own academy. Scorpion Martial Arts have students ranging from ages 4 to 50.

“Not only does he specializes in martial arts, but he enjoys working with children,” said Scorpion Martial Arts secretary Avis Adams. “He can actually get on their level so they can get involved. He brings out a lot of personalities that we haven’t seen.”

Which, according to Yancey, is relative to his academy’s longstanding mission of promoting self-discipline.

“When parents say, ‘I see a difference in my child’s,’ you’re doing something right,” Yancey said. “If your attitude don’t change, if your thought process don’t change, I’m not teaching you. I care about the child. I care about the student. When I see a child’s confidence go up, I’m doing my job.”

Even if means staying a while after class ends.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist. 

Memphian Darreon Moore making noise on gridiron in the Pacific Northwest

Growing up, Memphian Darreon Moore loved football.

RISING STAR --- Memphian Darreon Moore is making a lot of noise in the Pacific Northwest for Kamiakan High's football team. As a freshman this past season, Moore started the final 10 games for a Braves team that made a deep playoff run. (Photos courtesy of Tricity Herald)

RISING STAR — Memphian Darreon Moore is making a lot of noise in the Pacific Northwest for Kamiakan High’s football team in Washington state. As a freshman this past season, Moore started the final 10 games for a Braves team that made a deep playoff run. (Photos courtesy of Tricity Herald)

 

So much, in fact, that whenever he finished playing games for the Whitehaven Cowboys youth league, he and several of his teammates would attend practices of Whitehaven High’s football team.

As Moore recalls, among the things he deemed mostly intriguing about the Tiger football program is the way Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry interacted with his players, a trend he believes inspired him as an up-and-coming player.

“It was nice to hang around high players at a young age,” Moore told MemphiSport Friday in a telephone interview from Kennewick, Washington. “And seeing how (Saulsberry) would talk to players and get them hyped for the game, it showed me that every player goes through situations, but you’ve for to fight through it.”

Moore, 15, is a highly-touted cornerback for Kamiakin High in the Kennewick area. While his football prowess initially was discovered in the Mid-South roughly four years ago on the recreational circuit, this speedy, two-way athlete is starting to draw reviews as a young standout in the Pacific Northwest.

For starters, Moore accumulated interests from a number of major Division 1 colleges during what was a memorable freshman campaign this past season for the Braves, one in which he didn’t sense would come full circle this early as a newcomer to the high school ranks.

 

“When I first started (varsity), I was a little nervous,” Moore said. But when I got under the lights, it’s a different environment as opposed to playing on Thursday nights.”

Fortunately for Moore, his stint as a member of Kamiakan’s freshman squad was short-lived. In fact, the 5-foot-10, 155-pound athlete who boasts an impressive 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, last just two games on the freshman roster before the huge break of his young prep career occurred.

Installed as a starter on the varsity squad just three games into the season, Moore was as good as advertised for a Braves team that finished 9-3 and advanced to the third round of the Washington Class 3A playoffs, where it fell to Shadle Park of Spokane, 34-16.

In 10 appearances, Moore was a catalyst for what evolved into a much resilient defensive unit by season’s end. He amassed 23 solo tackles, three of which resulted in yardage lost. In addition, he had 11 batted down passes and one interception.

Moore proved to be just as efficient on special teams, where he assumed a majority of the kick return duties. In 10 games, he had eight kickoff returns for 190 yards and a single punt return totaling 55 yards.

That Moore was among the most durable players on Kamiakin’s roster — he also played the wideout position — was a testament of his tireless work ethic prior to this past season, said Jerry Mercado, who coached Moore during his tenure with the Tricity Elite football team in the Kennewick area.

“When I got him, I felt like he got a real taste of what the next level of football would be like,” Mercado said. “He played on our team, which is not an easy squad to make. These consists of some of the best ball players in the area. Darreon made some big plays right away, but what separates him is his ability to be coached. Darreon right now as a freshmen is considered one of the best DBs in the area and maybe the best in the State of Washington for (the Class of 2017). But as good as he is at DB, he is equally underrated as a wide receiver. When he finally gets the opportunity to catch passes, I think we will be talking about one of the best prospects in Washington for 2017…period.”

NOT SO FAST --- During what was a remarkable freshman year at the cornerback position, Moore (right) had 23 tackles, 11 of which resulted in yardage lost.

NOT SO FAST — During what was a remarkable freshman year at the cornerback position, Moore (right) had 23 tackles, 11 of which resulted in yardage lost.

Not only that, this flourishing athlete also is making strides off the field, particularly where it counts the most — in the classroom. Currently, Moore boasts a 3.3 grade point average. Arguably his grandest supporter pertaining to his favorable showing in the classroom is his mother, Cassandra Moore-Thomas.

“As a mother, I feel proud in knowing Darreon exhibited great qualities on and off the field that most people in the community who address me or know me as “Darreon’s mom…it’s such an awesome” feeling,” Thomas said. “Right now, there is no other place Darreon would rather be than at Kamiakin High School.”

Moore’s father, Nickolas Thomas, also has been instrumental in his success as a rising athlete.

Nickolas Thomas, a native Memphian and 1988 Kingsbury High graduate, spent years coaching high school football in the Shelby-Metro area before his job relocated him and his family to Washington state. Among the things about which he labels mostly impressive about Moore’s display is his willingness to broaden his mechanics.

“It’s hard to say what makes him special,” Nickolas Thomas said. “He’s gone through what coaches calls the “it factor.” Wherever you put him on the field, he’s willing to adjust and play that role.”

To his credit, his skills as a newcomer to the varsity ranks have recruiters already inquiring about his services once his prep career ends.

According to Nickolas Thomas, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Southern Cal, Arizona State, Ole Miss, and Washington State are among the schools currently recruiting Moore. He made an unofficial visit to Washington State over the weekend.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even think he’s reached his prime,” Nickolas Thomas said. “He’s still developing. He’s a student of the game.”

That was evident years ago when he attended Whitehaven High’s football practices.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Grizzlies reserve Nick Calathes silencing critics, earning respect from home fans

The Florida Gators will continue their quest for a third national title Thursday night in FedExForum.

No one, it seems, is pleased by that more than Memphis Grizzlies backup point Nick Calathes.

RISING ROOKIE --- Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes was booed early and often by the FedExForum crowd weeks into the season. He has since evolved into one of Memphis' most efficient reserves and was rewarded for his efforts recently when he was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

RISING ROOKIE — Grizzlies backup point guard Nick Calathes was booed early and often by the FedExForum crowd weeks into the season. He has since evolved into one of Memphis’ most efficient reserves and was rewarded for his efforts recently when he was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

“I’m happy for the Gators,” Calathes told MemphiSport. “I’m happy for coach (Billy) Donovan. I think they have a chance to really go far. They have a bunch of seniors. They have a deep bench and coach Donovan got them rolling.”

That the top-ranked Gators, the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed who will face UCLA, will continue postseason play in the same venue where Calathes play home games as pro is a microcosm of how well things have gone of late for the Memphis rookie.

The NBA announced recently that Calathes, who starred at Florida from 2007-2009, was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in February. For the 25-year-old Calathes, who was presented with his award prior to Saturday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, receiving such an honor in front of a sellout FedExForum crowd was a moment of redemption, or sorts, for an NBA newcomer who wasn’t a fan favorite during the season’s early stages.

That was evident during the Grizzlies’ home game against Oklahoma City December 11. After checking into the game midway through the third quarter of Memphis’ 116-100 loss, Calathes was met by scattered boos from fans.

As if the unpleasant reception wasn’t enough, the loss began a season-long five-game winless streak for the Grizzlies. Calathes, meanwhile, was trying to find his niche on a Memphis team that was hampered by a slew of injuries and out of playoff contention.

“Man, it’s been a long time, it’s been an up and down year for sure,” Calathes said.

Still, Calathes, a two-time Florida Mr. Basketball and McDonald’s All-American, didn’t seem affected by the early-season heckling from the hometown fans. If nothing else, he used the unpleasant welcome as motivation, given the resilience he has exhibited since the season’s halfway point.

After the Grizzlies on January 7 traded then-backup point guard Jarryd Bayless to Boston for veteran Courtney Lee, Calathes became the relief man to Mike Conley.

He didn’t disappoint.

Instead, February turned out to be a coming-out-party, of sorts, for the Casselbury, Florida native who holds Greek citizenship. While producing the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the NBA for that month, Calathes was second among Western Conference rookies in scoring (10.7 ppg) and assists (apg).  Also, he was tied for second in rebounds (3.6 rpg) and was second among NBA rookies in field goal percentage (.495) and steals (1.75 spg).

How to explain the swift progress for a rookie who Grizzlies fans had essentially written off less than one month into the season?

“I think the trade helped me out when they traded Jarryd,” Calathes said. “That gave me an opportunity to play a lot more and I just tried to take full advantage of it and I knew my teammates began to have more confidence in me.”

Conley, the Grizzlies’ longest-tenured player, was among those who felt the harsh reaction Calathes acquired from fans was uncalled for.

“I hated the boos and all that stuff that were geared toward Nick because we all were playing bad,” Conley said. “It wasn’t just one person. It was a collective effort. It was like they were looking for someone to blame and that’s not the case. And I’m so happy he got his chance to show people what he can do and to show people those boos weren’t warranted.”

Two months removed from having been installed as Conley’s backup, Calathes’ surge is among the reasons the Grizzlies are back in playoff contention as they begin a season-long five-game road trip starting Wednesday night at Utah.

Prior to entering the NBA ranks, Calathes, a two-time Florida Mr. Basketball, was a McDonald's All-American and starred at the University of Florida from 2007-2009. The top-ranked Gators will continue NCAA Tournament play in FedExForum Thursday night against UCLA. (AP Photo)

Prior to entering the NBA ranks, Calathes, a two-time Florida Mr. Basketball, was a McDonald’s All-American and starred at the University of Florida from 2007-2009. The top-ranked Gators will continue NCAA Tournament play in FedExForum Thursday night against UCLA. (AP Photo)

 

Having won 15 of its last 20, Memphis (42-28) is currently seventh in the Western Conference standings with 12 regular-season games remaining.

“He’s done good job of running the team,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said of Calathes. “He took care of the basketball. He still played his game. He’s just been a little more aggressive. He’s great in the pick and roll, a lot better defender than people think. He plays his position and he uses his size, which is good. He’s been great for us.”

Drafted with the 45th picked by Minnesota in the second round in 2009, Calathes — who was traded to Memphis last summer after a brief stint with the Dallas Mavericks — is now a fan favorite in FedExForum. That was evident before Saturday’s game.

“It’s always great to hear that,” Calathes said of the boos. “It obviously gets me going as a player. But fans are going to be fans. All I can do is go out and give my best. We’re all blessed to have an opportunity to play.”

An opportunity that, to his credit, hasn’t gone unnoticed in this, his first year in the NBA.

So much for the scattered boos.

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Marc Gasol shines against Pacers despite ankle injury he suffered against Miami

HUGE CENTERPIECE --- Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night's game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis' 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

HUGE CENTERPIECE — Grizzlies center Marc Gasol gave Indiana Pacers big man Roy Hibbert all he could muster during Saturday night’s game in FedExForum. Though he was a game-time decision due to an ankle injury he suffered Friday at Miami, Gasol played a pivotal role in Memphis’ 82-71 win against the top team in the Eastern division. (Photos by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)

During his pregame media availability session Saturday night, Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger took all but 26 seconds to provide reporters with an update surrounding the latest injury to center Marc Gasol.

“He’s going to be a game-time decision, but we’re hoping he plays,” Joerger said. “But we’ll see how his warm-ups go and how comfortable he is.”

Though Gasol did not participate in pregame shoot around, the 7-foot-1 Spaniard underwent treatment for a Grade 1 left ankle sprain a source close to the team told MemphiSport before Saturday’s game versus the Indiana Pacers.

During pregame warm-ups, Gasol appeared unfazed by an ankle injury he suffered in the third quarter of Grizzlies’ 91-86 loss at Miami Friday. While it is unclear just how severe the injury was, the Grizzlies elected to hold Gasol out the entire fourth for precautionary reasons after he scored 14 points and managed six rebounds against the Heat.

However, the six-year veteran and reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year was in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game, wearing a protective brace around his knee.

Gasol finished with 10 points on 4–of-11 shooting in 38-plus minutes as the Grizzlies earned a gutsy win against the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers, 82-71, before an announced sellout crowd in FedExForum.

Late in the second quarter against Indiana, Gasol erased any doubts as to whether his ankle would be a concern for a Grizzlies team that entered Saturday’s contest eighth in the West and fighting for its playoffs lives.

With Memphis clinging to a nine point lead, Gasol fielded a backdoor pass from Zach Randolph, penetrated hard to the basket then converted a two-handed slam at the 2:44 mark. That play was followed by Gasol’s baseline jump hook over Indiana’s David West that increased the Grizzlies’ lead to 43-30 at the half.

Among those relieved to see Gasol return after he was limited to approximately 2 ½ quarters of action the previous night was Randolph.

“We need him,” Randolph said. “That’s our big fella. That’s our anchor. I was just praying he would be all right.”

Fortunately for the Grizzlies (41-28), who are seeking their fourth consecutive postseason berth, Gasol’s ankle injury didn’t cause him to miss a significant amount of time. For starters, Memphis got back into playoff contention, in large part because the 2012 All-Star returned to the lineup in mid-January after nearly a two-month absence. He had been efficient ever since.

Prior to suffering an MCL sprain in his left knee during a Nov. 22 loss to San Antonio, Gasol was the Grizzlies’ second-leading scoring, averaging 16 points per game. Since his return, his 13.8 points is third-best for Memphis, which went 8-2 in March with Gasol in the fold.

NO WORRIES --- Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday's game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

NO WORRIES — Gasol erased all doubts as to whether the ankle injury he suffered in Friday’s game at Miami would be a concern with this two-handed dunk late in the second quarter against Indiana.

Indiana coach Frank Vogel, whose Pacers (51-19) entered Saturday’s game with a three-game lead over Miami for the top spot in the East, said having a player of Gasol’s caliber in good health is crucial at this stage in the season.

“Anytime a player like Gasol is out, it certainly weakens what they do,” Vogel said. “But certainly they’re capable of winning basketball games (without Gasol) as they’ve shown. They played a lot with him this year, so to me, there’s some familiarity there. In some ways, it’s rewarding for other guys to get a chance to step up. But anytime you have a key guy to go down, it challenges everything you’re doing.”

That Gasol’s ankle injury wasn’t serious enough to keep him out of the lineup Saturday caused the Grizzlies to breathe a collective sigh of relief with 13 regular-season games remaining.

With the Grizzlies well in command, 79-65, against the Pacers, Gasol left the game for good with 1:52 left in the fourth and was replaced by fellow big man Kosta Kufos, who started 22 games when Gasol went down in November.

“As the day went on, I was pretty confident I was going to be able to play,” Gasol told reporters afterward. “Everyone who got in the game contributed. Everybody played the right way. It was a really good win for us after a tough loss (Friday) night on the road. I thought we did a good job of coming in and playing our game.”

Andre Johnson covers the NBA for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

Whitehaven linebacker Zackery Merritt drawing rave reviews from coaches, colleges

 

TIGER PRIDE --- Zackery Merritt was installed as a linebacker for Whitehaven High this past season and was a force a Tiger that allowed just 16 points to the opposition the first half of the season. (Photos submitted by Willie Merritt)

TIGER PRIDE — Zackery Merritt was installed as a linebacker for Whitehaven High this past season and was a force a Tiger that allowed just 16 points to the opposition the first half of the season. (Photos submitted by Willie Merritt)

When Zackery Merritt joined Whitehaven High’s football program two years ago, he had already heard of all the tradition and success that program had produced.

“When I think back to it now, I think about how intense and motivated you had to be for big games and rivals,” Merritt told MemphiSport.

In Merritt’s estimation, that the Tigers, who were heavy favorites to capture a second consecutive TSSAA Class 6A championship, compiled a 9-3 mark this past season essentially was unsettling for the junior linebacker.

Among the reasons is that like most of the Whitehaven faithful, Merritt believes the Tigers, despite entering the 2013 campaign as Shelby-Metro’s No. 1-ranked team, undersachieved in a year in which they returned the nucleus of last year’s state championship squad.

Whitehaven, a year after going 15-0 for the school’s first state title, started the 2013 season 6-0 before enduring an array of struggles at the season’s halfway point. The Tigers, in fact, witnessed their 21-game undefeated streak (dating back to the 2013 season) come to an abrupt end in a 49-27 loss to Sacred Heart-Griffin of Springfield, Ill. That showing was followed by a 13-10 upset loss at cross-town rival East two weeks later, a game Merritt sensed exposed an array of weaknesses for one of the area’s premiere teams.

In a nutshell, that the Tigers dropped three of its final six outings is something by which Merritt hopes will inspire the team, particularly in the offseason.

“I say that because I know my team can do way better than 9-3,” Merritt said. “Those three games we lost, we played well, but we weren’t focused enough. When we lost our first game, we lost by a lot. And then we came back to Memphis and we played East, then we had multiple mistakes. It was disappointing, but it wasn’t as big as losing six games compared to three. No one wants to lose that many games.”

Especially a team such Whitehaven, a program in which making deep postseason showings has become a customary trend in recent years.

While Tigers had fallen well below expectations last year after being eliminated by White Station in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, Merritt admittedly assumed part of the responisibility for the team’s struggles the second half of the season. For the 17-year-old, 205-pounder, last year brought about a new role for Merritt, most notably on the defensive side of the ball.

That’s because Merritt had to embrace occupying the linebacker position, something the Tigers coaching staff believes he handled with ease. To his credit, Merritt was a force for a Whitehaven defense that alllowed just 16 points to the opposition through the season’s first six games. Having started each of Whitehaven’s 12 games, Merritt amassed 20 tackles, five sacks, and 10 tackles for loss, many of which resulted in yards loss for the opposition.

Credit his poise, assertiveness, and his willingness to upgrade his mechanics in the offseason as the reasons Merritt flourished in his new role this past season. Fortunately for him, the tireless hours he devoted to individual workouts and watching film ultimately left a favorable impression on the coaching staff.

MAKING STRIDES --- Merritt, who has already generated interest from a several colleges, is scheduled to attend a host of 7-on-7 camps and combines this summer as he prepares for his senior season.

MAKING STRIDES — Merritt, who has already generated interest from  several colleges, is scheduled to attend a host of 7-on-7 camps and combines this summer as he prepares for his senior season.

 

How else to explain why one of the starting linebackers’ position was Merritt’s job to lose months before the start of the 2013 season?

“I knew I was going to have to work harder to get the starting position,” Merritt said. “I didn’t want to lose that position after we won the state. I always played on the defensive side of the ball ever since I was eight years old.”

After a year in which he drew rave reviews on defense, Merritt’s skills as a high school standout haven’t gone unnoticed by college scouts. So far, he has garnered interest from Southern Arkansas University, Central Arkansas University, Kentucky Christian University, and Jacksonville University, among others. Expect that slim list to increase, considering this rising senior is scheduled to attend a slew of camps and combines this summer, most notably at Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Austin Peay State, among others.

As Merritt’s father, Willie Merritt, tells it, the sky’s the limit for his son, whom he said has blossomed into a quality athlete for one of the area’s finest prep football programs.

“He understands his potential, Willie Merritt said. “He’s focused on getting bigger and stronger and faster. He clocked in a 4.6 last year. He’s chose this sport on his own. We didn’t push him to it. He understands what it takes to be successful.”

An attribute that benefited Whitehaven mightily this past season.

Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. To reach Johnson, email him at andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.