Sunday, December 23, 2007

Looking Back on 2007

We've made it a Christmas tradition to air the top local sports stories of 2007 during our Christmas Eve or Christmas Day sportscasts. You can go on our main sports page or the web video player to watch the top 10 local sports stories as it aired. This is something that Hags and I enjoy putting together as it gives us a scope of what we've seen over the past year. We put the top seven stories up on the website for people to vote to set the order.

#10 Local Awards
The Waccamaw Warriors made it back to back Zone Cup championships - the Pawleys Island school had the best overall performance in varsity sports. Myrtle Beach junior guard Ashley Clark captured WPDE's Miss Hoop Zone award while Cheraw's Cliff Matthews captured Mister Hoop Zone before leaving to play football for the Gamecocks -- and earlier in December Myrtle Beach linebacker Bruce Taylor won the 8th WPDE Zoneman Trophy.

Waccamaw has taken great pride in winning the Zone Cup for two straight years and hopefully this award will grow over the years as different schools get the chance to win it. Considering that Cliff Matthews may never take the hardcourt again, I'm glad he got to close his high school career with a Mister Hoop Zone. Cliff finished 2nd in the Zoneman at the end of 2006 - it would have been amazing to have an athlete who won the Zoneman and Mister Hoop Zone. I really feel that Cliff and Bruce are going to carry the Zone banner well not only in college, but beyond that.

#9 A banner year for CCU golf
Alan Terrell's trailed Stanford by just one stroke heading into the final round - the Chants wound up finishing 5th in the NCAA Championships, the highest finish for a CCU athletic team in Division I competition - Dustin Johnson finished his Coastal career as a three time All-American and went to PGA's Q-School and earned a PGA Tour Card - Johnson will compete as a rookie on the PGA Tour in 2008

Alan told Hags and I a couple of years ago that Dustin would be on the tour and he was right on the mark. It's going to be fun to cover the PGA now knowing we've got a local guy who can hopefully do some damage. I don't know if people truly have an idea of how grueling it is to earn your PGA Tour Card through Q-School. It starts with two four round stages and wraps up with six straight rounds that is one of the most pressure filled challenges in all of sports.

#8 Jeff Gordon wins at Darlington
The driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet captured a win for the 7th time in his career when he won the Dodge Avenger 500 in May. It was the 78th career Cup win for Gordon who went on to finish 2nd in the Nextel Cup chase behind teammate Jimmy Johnson.

I was convinced that Gordon was going to win the Nextel Cup championship and he would have under the old rules. I remember this race being pushed back to Mother's Day thanks to a Saturday night rainout - Gordon's Mom was in Darlington for the pre-race festivities but didn't stick around until the end. Gordon stayed out on old tires, which is usually a cardinal sin at Darlington. The number of drivers who could pull that feat off at the Lady in Black is a very short list.

#7 Buzz Peterson leaves, Cliff Ellis comes back to coaching

Buzz Peterson left Coastal after two seasons to join the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats as Director of Player Personnel. The Chanticleers were able to lure Cliff Ellis out of retirement. The Former Auburn and Clemson head man came to CCU with over 500 victories and is in the midst of his first season with CCU.

I wrote a blog earlier about Buzz and I really feel fortunate to have been able to work with him closely for those two seasons. His opportunity with the Bobcats is something that could not be passed up and I hope that he can help be a part of turning Charlotte into a winner. Kudos to CCU for going from one big name coach to another. Cliff Ellis has the fire in his belly to build the Chanticleers into a mid-major power. The arena hitting a dead end should also be lumped in with this story as it will be awhile before we see a facility that can really take CCU basketball to the next level. I still think that CCU basketball will get that shot in the NCAA Tournament in the next 3-5 years.

#6 CCU Baseball wins 50, hosts NCAA Regional

The CCU baseball team takes top local sports story #6. Gary Gilmore's crew reached the 50 win mark in 2007 and won a Big South Championship to earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Baseball Regionals. The Chants earned a host bid by playing at the home of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans - the highlight of the weekend was a sellout crowd as #2 seed Clemson outlasted CCU 11-8. The Chants reached the championship game, but lost to the Tigers 15-3 to have their season come to an end.

My two favorite images of 2007 are the top story (see below) and sitting in the bullpen during the Clemson/CCU game and seeing the sold out crowd at Coastal Federal Field. Gary Gilmore has poured his heart into making Chanticleer baseball a legitimate power and the program took a huge step that weekend. The whole weekend gave Myrtle Beach some serious credibility in terms of hosting a major sports event. CCU is close to getting over the hump and making it to a Super Regional. They were literally one arm away from doing that in 2007.

#5 Clemson wins 9 on the gridiron, beats the Gamecocks on a last second field goal
The Clemson Tigers 9 win season is our 5th biggest story of the year. Clemson put themselves in a position to reach the ACC championship game, but faltered late in a loss to Boston College. Following that disappointment, the Tigers went to Williams-Brice Stadium and delivered a clutch performance against the Gamecocks. Mark Bucholz's field goal as time expired gave the Tigers a 23-21 win over their archrival and reached the 9 win mark. Clemson is in the Chick Fil A Bowl on New Year's Eve against the Auburn Tigers.

After losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, Tommy Bowden was ready to get fired, then Clemson was thinking ACC Championship game until Aaron Kelly dropped a ball that was painful to watch and gave Boston College a trip to Jacksonville. Then Mark Bucholz not only save Tommy Bowden's job, but gives him a big pay raise to boot. I think it's unfortunate that Bowden has spent more time on the hot seat than any other college coach in the nation, but it's amazing how he handles it.

#4 Gamecocks lose five straight, miss out on a bowl
An up and down season at South Carolina is story #4. The Gamecocks were flying high following a Thursday night win over the Kentucky Wildcats and a #6 national ranking, but after getting to 6-1, South Carolina proceeded to lose five straight games and miss out on a bowl invitation.

It was shock on both ends - when the Gamecocks beat Kentucky and sat at #6 after beating UNC, I couldn't believe that USC was a top 10 team. On the other end, I couldn't believe this team was playing its way out of the bowl landscape. Every team has injuries and excuses, but I think that Jasper Brinkley's injury was more devastating than people took stock of. The Gamecock fans continue to be the most loyal and patient fans in all of sports. Steve Spurrier's recruiting efforts over the last couple of years should begin to pay dividends.

#3 - Six players with local ties selected in 2007 NFL Draft

Story #3 is a Draft Day to remember. Five former WPDE All Zoners were selected in the 2007 Draft highlighted by 2003 Zoneman winner Lawrence Timmons selected in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. His Wilson high teammate Justin Durant went to the Jaguars in round two, Lake View's Anthony Waters was a 3rd round selection by San Diego, while Brandon Frye and Fred Bennett were drafted by the Houston Texans. Coastal Carolina got their first ever draftee when Tyler Thigpen was a 7th round pick by the Minnesota Vikings - Thig was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs and made his debut against the San Diego Chargers - teammate Quinton Teal went undrafted, but has seen significant playing time with the Carolina Panthers.

For Hags and me, this was the clear cut no-brainer #1 local sports story, but I give credit to our local viewers who are passionate about high school sports and I really do respect that. We knew that Lawrence Timmons was going to go in the first round, but it was still surreal to hear a guy that we covered so extensively in high school sit next to Drew Rosenhaus and see his dreams come true. We were also so happy for Darryl Page who had not one, but two guys drafted in the first two rounds. That's crazy! Then there was the total shock when we heard Tyler Thigpen's name called in round seven. We were in the office and five minutes later, I was at Thig's apartment and he already had his Minnesota Vikings hat on. I don't know if anyone realized how good he was until he was gone.

#2 Back to back state football titles for Cheraw
The Braves went to Williams-Brice Stadium and put on a dominating performance against Chapman in the 2A state title game. Cheraw scored on its first 9 possessions and used the star power of Travis Small, Montrell Evans and Jaron Brown to score a 58-14 win. Johnny White's team has now won 28 games in the last two years and has two championship rings to go with it.

I've seen some steamrollers in my day, but this may have been the most dominating high school performance by a team that I witnessed in person on the big stage. On the first play from scrimmage, Travis Small busted one for about 50 yards and all the camera people were scrambling. We all had our track shoes on for the next 90 minutes. I knew Jaron Brown was a good player, but he showed me that he is going to be a great college player with his individual performance in Columbia. Everyone had Dillon pegged to win it all in 2A, but Cheraw bounced back from a couple of early losses to become a juggernaut.

#1 Wilson wins state crowns in basketball and football

Not one, but two state championships at Wilson. The Florence school delivered a 3A state basketball championship in March when Mister Hoop Zone Finalists Dominique Lacy and current Gamecock Sam Muldrow were electric in a 67-50 win over Greenville at the Colonial Center -- the Tigers weren't done there - this time on the gridiron. Wilson won four straight playoff games on the road and then perservered in a 14-12 win against Chester.

Here's the amazing stat of this story. How many home playoff games did Wilson have in basketball and football during their state title runs? Answer: ZERO. Both teams did it as #3 seeds which is indeed a rarity. I spoke earlier about my two personal favorite images of this season. One was the scene at the CCU baseball regional and the second was standing just a foot away from Darryl Page as he got his Gatorade bath and the tears streaming down his face. Fifteen years coaching the Tigers and he finally got to feel what it was like to be a state champion. I hope one day to be there when Jackie Hayes, Chuck Jordan and Scott Earley get to do the same thing.

It really was a great year. Myrtle Beach is not considered a "big time" market, but there's such a great array of things to cover and the list of the top sports stories of the year reminds me of that. I hope everyone has a safe and Merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ballots and Choices

I probably should put the effort into voting for the President of the United States that I do for my Zoneman and Heisman ballots, but the fact of the matter is that I will most likely not break down Giuliani, McCain, Obama and Hillary like I do Tebow, McFadden, Brennan and Daniel.

When it comes to the Heisman, I usually like to get a personal list of guys that I really try and eyeball. Here's what I had for this year:

Colt Brennan, Hawaii QB
Chase Daniel, Missouri QB
Dennis Dixon, Oregon QB
Glenn Dorsey, LSU Defensive End
Darren McFadden, Arkansas Running Back
Tim Tebow, Florida QB
Pat White, West Virginia QB

In the end, it really came down to this: Tebow or McFadden for the top vote, Brennan/Daniel/White for 3rd place. Tebow's only real knock is the three losses, but considering all that happened in college football, everyone got knocked down in 2007. I watched McFadden run crazy on both the Gamecocks and LSU. But Tebow is just a freak (I mean that in the complimentary nature, not the join the circus label). Over 20 TD passes, over 20 TD runs - it's never been done. I never have and never will penalize a player for being a freshman or sophomore. Tebow is not the best pro prospect, if that were my basis then it would be McFadden followed by Colt Brennan then Glenn Dorsey. So here is my Heisman ballot:

1st - Tim Tebow
2nd - Darren McFadden
3rd - Colt Brennan

Dennis Dixon getting hurt really showed how valuable he was to Oregon, and the same can be said for Pat White who got hurt in the Pitt game and then the Mountaineers fell apart. It was very tough to pick Brennan over White, but I go with Colt in a photo finish.


We really use the same criteria for the Zoneman as the Heisman does for its award. Real open ended: the most outstanding player in the WPDE viewing area. The 40 ballots go to the 34 head coaches along with 6 media members representing the area. My ballot is just one of 40 and has no extra weight or influence, but for me the legacy of the award is very important. For me, I will not vote for a player that has questionable grades. It is my preference to have players who are qualified to play Division I FBS or FCS football. I am looking for the total package, both on and off the field. The person who wins this award is a representative of what it stands for. The fact that we have one Zoneman winner in the NFL and hopefully more to come in the future just gives the award instant credibility. There have been years where my first place vote did not win the Zoneman and there are times where the player I vote in the top three doesn't even make the podium (this year is an example).

Here's my Zoneman Ballot for 2007:

1st - Bruce Taylor, Myrtle Beach
2nd - Dakota Derrick, Conway
3rd - Jordan Lyles, Hartsville

When I first posted the blog, I thought my ballot was Taylor/Golson/Derrick, but looking back on some notes, I eventually made it Taylor/Derrick/Lyles. I was torn between the four and finally put it in the order above. I truly think that Everett Golson could win more than one Zoneman if he continues to be the path he is on. Dakota Derrick was the definition of a leader and really fell under the radar. It is a shame that he was not a North South All Star and I'm sure he's disappointed that he's not on the Zoneman podium, but he was on my podium as well as Hags and I hope that it is a small consolation.


The first thing we do is get the Zoneman ballots from our 40 voters. Once that is done, we begin to piece together the 50 man All-Zone team. It is something that Hags and I take very seriously. We've established two criteria to "lock you in" on the All-Zone team for starters:

1. Shrine Bowl selection
2. Division I commitment or offers from major D1 schools

This year, that list was longer than most years (which is a great thing!)

Most times, a North South All-Star selection will get you on the team, but we have left off some North Southers in years past. This year, we took all 13 local NS All-Stars. From there, we get nominations from all 34 coaches and try and assemble the best team we can. I'll admit on a lot of tie-breakers, I'll take the senior over the junior or sophomore, but we have had more than our fair share of youngsters on the roster. We will always have guys who deserve to be on the roster and aren't on for the simple reason of a numbers game. Myrtle Beach's Matt Smith who led the area in sacks and Tashon Fredrick of Hemingway who was tops in interceptions are both off the team and quite frankly should be on. But you run out of spots too quickly. We had 6 Myrtle Beach players, 2 Hemingway's and just couldn't see us go to 7 and 3 - in a nutshell, that's why those guys are not on. You have a seven win 3A team like Carolina Forest get only one player (Devontre Perason) and a seven win 1A team not get a player at all (Green-Sea Floyds). The decisions are gut wrenching. We try to watch as much game footage as we can and those players that stepped up and made a big play in front of our cameras only help their cause. Teams that go deep in the playoffs certainly get extra consideration. Wilson and Cheraw originally had two players each, but after their great play in November they more than deserved an extra player each. Looking at the spread of players in the final issue of Palmetto Pigskin Preview makes you feel good about the roster we picked, but there will always be those 10 guys that we wish we could get on the roster. We've gone from a 40 man to 45 to now 50 along with 3 Zoneman Finalists.
Congratulations to all of this year's All-Zoners. We are putting the finishing touches on the banquet and truly hope it is a special night for the 53 players we are honoring. It's amazing to think that we already have 7 All-Zoners in the NFL!
A special thanks to everyone at the station who chipped in and made the Chevy End Zone a great showcase for high school football.