Simmons Superlatives - Under the radar athletes
As we officially close down the 2020-21 school year this week, WCSA editor-in-chief Jeffery Simmons wanted to go back and hand out his final awards for the year. Simmons has been picking the defining athletes, teams and moments in high school sports for years, but this will be the first on our new website.
Welcome to the Simmons Superlatives!
Tuesday we honored the Best boys moment and yesterday Pioneer leader Matt Turner was named top boys coach. Today, we’re looking for the best under-the-radar athlete.
First, let me explain what this superlative means. I was looking to honor some of the athletes who had outstanding seasons, but maybe weren’t talked about as much (either because of dominant teammates, the position they played or school they attend). I like to think the Warren County Sports Authority did a good job of being at all schools at all times this year, but it’s never a bad thing to dig a little deeper and find some hidden gems.
1. Christian Rogers, Boyd basketball
There are two groups of people who are well aware of Christian Rogers on the hardwood: Boyd fans and any team who played against the Broncos this year. Rogers is a scoring machine and a pretty good Windex man too – he cleans the glass with regularity.
According to MaxPreps, Rogers led the state of Tennessee in both scoring and rebounds this year. Even though that may not truly reflect all players in the state (MaxPreps only can compile numbers for teams who submit their stats), it’s still extremely impressive. Rogers averaged over 25 points per game while grabbing just shy of 13 boards each contest.
Those are monster numbers. He had some monster games too. My personal favorite was a 40-point, 24-board performance back in January to lead the Broncos to a victory. He also was outstanding in the TNCAA championship game, even if it was in defeat.
Local rival Covenant knew better than anybody Rogers’ capabilities, but even the Lions couldn’t do anything to stop him in the title tilt. Rogers had 39 points and 13 rebounds in a losing effort.
With every huge game Rogers had, I was inevitably asked the question, “How do you think he could with the Pioneers?” As a homegrown talent, most just assumed a prolific scorer like Rogers would just end up playing for Warren County.
My answer has been the same all year – I think Christian can score at about any level of high school sports (not many 6-foot-3 posts have his touch from the line – 72.6 percent – or the outside – 68 made 3s this year). I also think he’s in the right spot for his talents and would like to see him break the 2,000-point barrier at Boyd.
As a former big man who liked to command the paint, I’ve become a huge fan of Rogers’ game. I’m just glad I get to see him go to work one more season.
2. David Netherton, Covenant basketball/tennis
When I had the Covenant basketball seniors over to tape a podcast, I got a ton of enjoyment from the Lions giving Netherton a hard time about his spring sport. Most of the guys who had helped Covenant win a TNCAA basketball title were headed to the soccer field, but Netherton was going to indulge his “hobby” as they put it and play tennis.
Turns out, Netherton is pretty good at that hobby. The senior helped Covenant win a TNCAA title in tennis, dominating competition on his way to a coveted championship.
I didn’t get a chance to see Netherton take on any of his TNCAA foes, but I did get a front-row seat to watch him play top Pioneer Alessandro Prando this year. Prando, who went on to win the District 6AAA championship, was able to win both of their matches this year, but it wasn’t easy. Netherton made him sweat, pushing the local tennis star to the brink in a majority of their games.
Netherton never minded going toe-to-toe with stars. On the hardwood, he was the Lion usually tasked with taking on Christian Rogers when Boyd and Covenant battled. Netherton was giving up plenty of size in the matchup, but he never let it get to him. He was always giving 100 percent.
He’s going to be hard for the Lions to replace in all sports next year.
3. Braden Bottoms, WCHS football/baseball
Want a guy to go out and do all the dirty work and not ask for any praise? Just call Braden Bottoms. The Pioneer senior just puts on his hard hat, grabs his lunch pale and does the gritty things that helps teams win.
It shouldn’t be overlooked just how big it was for the WCHS football team that Bottoms decided to put on a helmet again for his senior year. Without him, the Syrup Squad would have been one man short and maybe all those holes that the Pioneer backs blasted through wouldn’t have appeared.
As far as being under the radar, Bottoms wasn’t when it came to awards. The senior was named all-region in football and all-district in baseball, a feat few others can claim over the years for the Pioneers. Still, he’s not the first guy you probably think of when celebrating the success of the baseball or football programs.
The thing I liked about Bottoms is he didn’t care. He wasn’t doing any of it for glory – he just wanted to win. I knew he was all about the sacrifice when I was watching a pivotal District 6AAA baseball game down the stretch and the big man squared to bunt.
Think about it – how many times do you see a 6-foot, 220-pound catcher lay down a bunt? Add in the fact Bottoms flirted with a .400 average most of the year and you’d think he would be swinging away, especially late in a game where the Pioneers were looking to add a little insurance.
Instead, Bottoms executed a perfect squeeze play, getting his job done and pushing a run across. He jogged back to the dugout, put on his catching gear and went back to work.
Warren County needs a lot more guys like Braden Bottoms in the future.
4. Dante Elam, WCHS football/basketball
Speaking of guys that you need to win, Dante Elam was a perfect team-first guy for the Pioneers this season. Elam spent most of his younger days as one of the stars in Warren County, but by his senior year it seemed like he had settled in as being an impact guy outside of the spotlight.
Ask Matt Turner or Chris Sullens about Elam and they’ll tell you he’s another coach on the field. He always had a deep understanding of what the Pioneers were trying to get done, whether it was as a lockdown corner or a spot-up shooter. Elam had a knack for knowing where the ball was going on the gridiron or making the right read on the hardwood.
He was the perfect fifth option for the Pioneers this season, a knockdown shooter who didn’t need the ball to be effective. He just hit shots when Warren County needed it the most.
My favorite moment involving Elam came in Sparta this year when Warren County beat the Warriors in overtime. CJ Taylor put the game away with a steal and score in extra time, but the Pioneers would’ve never been in that position without Elam.
In the waning seconds of regulation, the Pioneers trailed by 3 and needed a deep ball to tie it. Everybody in the gym, including White County’s players, assumed Taylor would take the shot. He was swarmed at the arc and decided at the last second to dish it off to Elam.
Most players – particularly those who aren’t asked to be the star – wouldn’t be ready in that moment. They would freeze. Elam didn’t. He caught the pass and calmly swished a shot at the buzzer to shock Sparta.
When I think of Elam, I’ll think of a guy who wasn’t asked to be a star, but didn’t shy away from the spotlight when it was thrown on him.
5. Elijah Smith, Covenant basketball/soccer
Elijah Smith is another guy who I think could have been thrust into a bigger role if needed, but was always happy to do the little things asked of him to help the Lions succeed. He was the perfect second banana on the hardwood and soccer field, helping Covenant win TNCAA titles in both.
I’m always fascinated with how good athletes deal with being the next guy on good teams. Just as a general rule, I always assume athletes want to be the man. We’re all the star of our own show, so to speak (this is also why my dad nicknamed me Jeffery Legend as a kid because, “I was a legend in my own mind”).
When you’re outside shooting by yourself and start that countdown, “3… 2…. 1…,” there isn’t a time where you mimic making the last-second pass so somebody else wins it. You’re taking the heave. We all want to be Jordan – nobody thinks of being Pippen.
Elijah was the perfect Pippen for the Lions (I guess making Terry Hines the program’s MJ – we’ll get to that later). He played hard, always did what was asked and was a big part of title teams.
People sometimes forget though, when Jordan retired, Pippen took the Bulls to an ECF and was in the running for MVP. He was really, really good.
When Covenant looks to rebuild its teams next year, they’ll have to replace some stars. Elijah Smith was one of them.