FLORENCE — Colt Smith and Sara Puckett earned individual honors for their athletic achievements Tuesday night, but they were quick to share the spotlight with their friends.
Smith, a graduate of Mars Hill Bible School, and Puckett, a rising junior at Muscle Shoals High School, were announced as the male and female athlete of the year, respectively, at the TimesDaily’s Athlete of the Year banquet at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum.
Smith’s senior year went about as well as he could have hoped, with the Panthers claiming Class 1A state championships in football and baseball.
“I’d give anything to just go back and relive my senior season. It was so much fun,” Smith said. “A lot of memories made. I’ll cherish them forever.”
Smith was a running back/linebacker who scored five touchdowns in the Panthers football team’s state championship rout of Linden, and he threw an eight-inning shutout in the semifinal round of the baseball tournament in one of the Panthers’ few close wins all postseason.
“I owe a lot of my success to my teammates. Football and baseball, they are team sports,” Smith said. “My O-line — Brooks Thompson, Hayden Nelson, Logan McInnish, Mack McCluskey, Jack McKinnon — they were opening lanes that you could drive trucks through for me. Baseball, my defense and my catcher Collin Huntley, that’s who I owe a lot of my success to."
He also thanked football coach Darrell Higgins and baseball coach Jay Mitchell.
Puckett opened the school year by helping coach Maggie Finley’s Muscle Shoals volleyball team to the Class 6A state tournament, where they fell to eventual state champion Spanish Fort.
But she shines brightest in basketball and had another stellar season, helping the Trojans basketball team take a step forward under coach Blair Woods. Muscle Shoals won a sub-regional game and advanced to the Class 6A Northwest Regional in Hanceville, where it lost to Carver-Birmingham.
“It was just a really fun year in both sports, and I’m really happy with how far we went in both sports,” Puckett said. “It was fun to be a part of the team, on each team, and I was just really proud that we accomplished what we did and we went as far as we went. It was just a really good year.
Puckett is a forward who can handle the ball like a guard and hit a jumper but also cause problems in the post with her height, particularly blocking shots. She has offers from over 20 Division I college basketball programs.
Puckett thanked her parents, Rayfield Ragland and her coaches for pushing her and keeping her on the right path. Puckett has two more years of high school to get even more work done.
“I’ve got some (goals), but really I just want to have fun and just grow closer with my team and help them to get better, too. Just us all grow together as a team and as people,” she said.
The Rogers girls and Mars Hill boys were selected as the athletic programs of the year.
The speaker for the evening’s banquet was Clay Dyer, a professional fisherman from Hamilton. Dyer has only half his right arm and has no left arm or legs, and he talked to the audience about choosing not to seek pity or let that physical difference define him but instead achieve his dreams anyway.
He congratulated the athletes for their achievements but pointed out his friends who have won championships in athletics impress him more by their character.
“To me a true champion is not worried about the stats. A true champion does not worry about the stats because if you do what’s right all those things will come,” Dyer said. “What’s a true champion? Are you making a difference in somebody’s life, a positive difference? Are you helping someone else by simply the way you live?”
Dyer, 41, attributes his success in life to the Christian faith he developed since he was a young adult. He challenged the athletes to wake up each day and ask themselves if they’re being the best they can be, and if they’re being the best they can be for someone else.
“When you do what’s right, you’ll be blessed and you’ll be rewarded,” he said.