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Baylor's Curtis Blair, right, gives a pat on the back to Times Free Press sports writer David Paschall after receiving the Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year award during the Best of Preps banquet Thursday night at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

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Bradley's Rhyne Howard, Heritage's Cole Wilcox, Baylor's Curtis Blair earn top Best of Preps honors

Two dominating athletes and a double-state-championship coach were the big winners at Thursday night's Best of Preps banquet at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

Bradley Central's Rhyne Howard and Heritage's Cole Wilcox were named the Scrappy Moore female and male athletes of the year, while Baylor's Curtis Blair earned the top coaching award.

The sold-out event featured Tennessee Titans dynamic quarterback Marcus Mariota, whose message to the athletes in attendance was simple and to the point.

"Just enjoy the journey," said Mariota, a former Heisman Trophy winner. "I had no idea when I was your age where I was going to end up, but have fun and listen to your coaches, parents and teachers."

Howard has been anything but fun for Bradley Central basketball opponents, having been named the Jackson-Lacy girls' basketball player of the year earlier in the evening on the heels of earning Tennessee Class AAA Miss Basketball honors. The five-star Kentucky signee, Gatorade state player of the year and U18 Women's National Team member averaged 21.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 5.2 steals a game in leading the Bearettes into the state semifinals.

"I am grateful to know that people think I am one of the best of the best in the area," Howard said. "I just want to set a good example so that the following winners and other basketball players and other athletes have someone to look up to."

Wilcox, also named the Wirt Gammon Sr. baseball player of the year, earned the top male award after a senior season in which the 6-foot-5 right-handed pitcher won eight games with a 1.67 earned run average and batted .435 with eight homers and 42 RBIs. He was ranked the 19th-best prospect in the country prior to the recent major league draft but spurned pro offers and will attend the University of Georgia.

He was also a Best of Preps all-star in basketball for the second consecutive season after averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds.

"It's even more special to be here and see all these talented athletes sitting here," Wilcox said. "It's a really good sports area, and it's a big honor to be named athlete of the year knowing there are a lot of deserving athletes here."

Blair was honored as Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year over a strong field after directing both the Baylor girls and boys to soccer state championships.

"This is an amazing award," Blair said. "Just to be nominated is something very special, and to win it I have to give credit to our school, the athletes, our coaching staff, my wife — there are so many people who deserve this award."

The large crowd was also moved by the three special award winners and the videos that accompanied each honor.

Meigs County junior football player Martin Smith earned the Bobby Davis Heart and Desire Award after overcoming personal tragedy to become a 1,000-yard rusher and a Mr. Football semifinalist.

Judy Rogers has been helping kids for more than four decades and was honored with the Guy Francis Going the Extra Mile Award for her efforts. The City High School graduate taught special needs children and was instrumental in helping Orange Grove director Lloyd Ray Smith organize the Area 4 Special Olympics, and she later became the director until retiring this spring.

Joe Smith also has made a living out of helping young people, including the foundation of the YCAP boxing program. For helping turn around the lives of numerous kids he was named the Sandy Sandlin Unselfish Sportsman.

Individual awards were also handed out for 17 sports players of the year. In addition to Howard, the female sports winners were Baylor's Sarah Sumida (volleyball), Meigs County's Ashley Rogers (softball), Cleveland's Rheagan Hall (golf), GPS's Maddox Bandy (tennis), Baylor's Avery Davis (soccer), Baylor's Makayla Packer (track and field) and home-school student Kathryn Vradenburg (cross country).

Joining Wilcox as male sports winners were Ridgeland's Markeith Montgomery (football), Dalton's Carter Pendley (golf), Baylor's Brandon Kali (tennis), McCallie's Ben Brock (soccer), home-school student Chase Faudi (cross country), McCallie's Hakim McMorris (track and field), Van Buren's Caden Mills (basketball) and Soddy-Daisy's Ty Boeck (wrestling).

Baylor baseball player Teddy Lepcio, who is headed to West Point after earning National Merit and AP Scholar with Distinction honors, was the John Franklin Academic Award winner.

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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