Photo: Ashville High School senior signed a cross country scholarship with the University of Mobile last Wednesday (Jan. 11). Pictured, sitting, from left: Johnnie Stevens, Patsy Stevens, Joe Stevens, Martha Montgomery, Jim Montgomery. Standing, from left: AHS athletic director/head football coach Shea Monroe, Joe’s dad J.P., Joe’s mom Leigh, AHS cross country coach Michele Rogers.
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
While weighing several college scholarship offers over the past several months, Joe Stevens’ top priority was joining a cross country program for which he would be a contributor sooner than later.
The Ashville High School senior got his wish on Wednesday, January 11 when he signed with the University of Mobile in Saraland.
“I’m excited to get down there and compete for the next few years,” said Stevens, who was selected MVP of the All-Messenger cross country team for both his junior and senior seasons.
“I really like the coach (Andy Canegitta) and the guys on the team and the campus. I’m looking forward to finding my spot and having the opportunity to race against some really good competition.”
The 2022 UM men’s cross country team finished second overall out of nine teams at the SSAC Cross Country Championship last November in Oakville.
As the defending Class 4A state champion this past cross country season, Stevens improved his career PR by 11 seconds at 16:06.36 at the AHSAA state meet in November while finishing third out of 167 runners. He placed no lower than sixth in all nine of his 2022 races, with two first-place showings and three runner-up finishes.
In the Class 4A/5A meet last February, Stevens and his 4×800 relay teammates Ashton Vann, Wyatt Knight and Clayton Knight were awarded the gold medal after both Randolph and Saint John Paul II Catholic were disqualified. Stevens was also was the Class 4A 3200-meter run champion for 2021 outdoor track season.
Stevens, who is considering majoring in computer science, pointed to his development in the mental part of distance running over the past few years as a major factor in his success on the trails.
“When I started, I just thought that I’d improve if I kept on getting faster, but I’ve learned that you need just as much mental strength as physical strength to push through the pain and get to that next level.”
Stevens eventually learned the subtle art of getting into an opposing runner’s head.
“In certain spots, like around a curve or up a hill, I like to put pressure on a runner who is close by,” he said. “If I can get past that part of a course and stay strong while he struggles, it kind of psyches him out and plants a little seed of doubt in his mind whether he can beat me.”
A four-year starter for the AHS soccer team, Stevens was named to the All-Gadsden Area second team for the past two seasons.
“Cross country is an individual sport, but Joe made it a team sport for us,” said AHS cross country and track and field coach Michele Rogers. “Joe’s approach was always, ‘What can I do to help my team?’ Joe always picks up on what teammate might need some encouragement, and we’ll definitely miss his leadership. I’m looking forward to seeing who will step up to carry on his legacy. We’re definitely going to miss Joe, and the University of Mobile is getting a great student-athlete.”