Photo: Thirteen Southside High School seniors signed college scholarships on April 20. Pictured, sitting, from left: Keelan Vice, Sydney Hughes, Alexis Valentine, Shelby Hughes, Kaci Boyd, Lacey Rich, Mallory Rich. Stan-ding, from left: Daimon Hitchcock, Taylor Carr, Jacob McFarling, Tucker Pearce, Drew McBurnett, John Doster. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The futures of several Southside student-athletes recently got a little brighter.
Twelve of the school’s seniors signed college scholarships on April 20 at the SHS auditorium.
Kaci Boyd signed with Jacksonville State for cheer-leading. A six-year member of the SHS cheer program, Boyd was selected as a UCF All-American last year and a member of the All-Etowah County Schools team this past season.
“Kaci wasn’t sure if she wanted to cheer in college, but here she is,” said SHS cheer coach Amy Hassell. “She’s a great leader, and I can’t wait to see her see her on the sideline cheering on the Gamecocks.”
Shelby Hughes signed with Southern Union for golf. As a junior, Hughes helped the Lady Panthers qualify for the substate playoffs for the first time in school history. This past season, she finished runner-up as Southside won the area tournament for the first time.
“Shelby has been a spiritual and vocal leader on our team for the past two years,” said SHS golf coach Michael Jaggers. “This year, Shelby has been the low medalist in numerous matches and finished with multiple scores in the 70s and 80s. Shelby has worked extremely hard and has our team primed and ready for substates and a shot at [the] state [tournament]. We’re extremely proud of Shelby, and we look forward to seeing how well she does at Southern Union.”
Jacob McFarling signed with Huntingdon College in Montgomery for baseball. In 14 appearances this past season, he went 4-1 with a 2.56 earned run average and 50 strikeouts.
“Jacob for us has been a prime example of what a leader is,” said SHS baseball coach Shane Chappell. “To see where his development gotten to at this point after coming in four years ago as a freshman is a tribute to Jacob’s hard work and his tenacity to always try to get better. He’s a guy who is never too big to do the small things and is an example of what a leader and what a great teammate should look like. He’s got a bright future as he moves down to Huntingdon.”
Drew McBurnett signed with Northwest Shoals Community College in Muscle Shoals for baseball. A three-year starter at catcher, Mc-Burnett finished with a .333 batting average, a .509 on-base percentage, 26 hits, nine RBI and nine runs. He had one home run, a triple and two doubles.
“Drew is another prime example of what a leader is,” said Chappell. “He’s what a student-athlete at Southside should look like, both on and off the field. He’s been great for our pro-gram and he’s leaving a legacy for our younger guys to follow.
“Drew’s also going to the same college that I went to and will play for the same coach I did, who I thought a lot of, and it’s a neat thing to see that program get started back up.”
Daimon Hitchcock signed with Faulkner University for football. Hitchcock was named to the 2021 All-Etowah County Schools, All Class 6A Region 7 and All-Messenger football first teams after finishing with 35 catches for 575 yard and six touchdowns. He helped the Panthers make the state playoffs for the second straight season.
“Damion going to play at the next level for a guy (Rob Gray) who I grew up with,” said SHS head football coach Miles Holcomb. “I know what (Gray) stands for and what he believes in, and no one is a better fit for him and Faulkner than Damion. I can’t wait to see what Damion does in the future.”
Taylor Carr signed with Huntingdon for football. As a safety, Carr was selected to 2021 All-Etowah County Schools, All Class 6A Region 7 and All-Messenger football first teams after finishing with 20 tackle, four interceptions and three pass-breakups.
“Taylor’s one of those guys that you love to coach,” said Holcomb. “He’s always there, he never complains and he’s always doing what he’s supposed to be doing. Taylor’s as fun to coach as anybody is. The way Taylor took the time to make sure our younger guys are doing things the right way and the fact that he was willing to step outside his comfort zone and do that, showed me that there was a guy who was invested in what we’re trying to build. Whether it’s in the classroom or on the field, I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of this than Taylor is. I know that good things are in store for Taylor in his future.”
Tucker Pearce signed with Birmingham Southern for football. Pearce made the 2021 All-Etowah County Schools, All Class 6A Region 7 and All-Messenger football first teams as the anchor of the SHS offensive line.
“Tucker was the guy on the line that everyone else looked to as a calming presence,” said Holcomb. “He’s a physical player who works hard and is always doing what he should be doing. Playing on the offensive line in general is a pretty selfless position where there is not much recognition. We’re going to miss Tucker, but we can’t wait to see what’s in store for him at Birmingham Southern.”
Mallory Rich and Lacey Rich signed with Gadsden State for cross country. Mallory and Lacey’s freshman team in 2018 was the first SHS team to win a sectional meet and advance to the state meet. The Lady Panthers repeated as sectional champions in Mallory and Lacey’s sophomore year of 2019 and finished runner-up in 2020 and 2021. Southside won the Etowah County Schools title all four of Mallory and Lacey’s high school careers.
“Our 2022 class has had a great impact on our program, and Lacey and Mallory were integral parts of that group.” said SHS cross country coach Kim Nails. “It didn’t take me long to realize that they both had potential as distance runners. Both girls have made tremendous strides during their high school careers. It’s been ex-citing to watch both girls take what they’ve learned and reach out to our younger girls and lead them in the right direction so they too can achieve success. I wish these two girls and the Gadsden State Cardinals the very best as they re-start the school’s cross country pro-gram.”
“When you [sign] at stu-dent from Southside, you know that you’re getting a high-quality athlete, a high-quality student and a high-quality person,” said Gads-den State cross country coach Roseanne Green. “Southside is known for its cross country program under the leadership of Coach Nails, and we hope to continue to develop those runners.”
Sydney Hughes and Ale-xis Valentine signed with Wallace State for cross country. Hughes qualified for the state meet in both her junior and senior seasons and was made the All-Etowah County Schools team this past season.
“Sydney joined our program as a junior, and while her time with us was relatively short, she made great strides while she was with us,” said Nails. “I re-member that Sydney was nervous when she first came out for the team because she had never run much, but she quickly saw that if she could discipline herself and invest the time and effort into her running, that could not just do cross country but excel in the sport. Sydney’s cross country career is just beginning, and I’m anticipating the progress I believe she will make at Wallace State.
A member of the school’s cross country program since middle school, Valentine was a top five runner for Nails the past five years and the team’s No. 1 runner this past season. She was a member of the All-Etowah County Schools team the past four years.
“There are two words that sum up Alexis and her running – consistent and persistent,” said Nails. “Her attitude of ‘keep on keeping on’ resulted in a personal record of 21:10 her senior year. There are people and runners who are like thermometers; they just go up and down. Then there are those who are like a thermostat who set the standard, and that is Alexis. She too was a great teammate with encouraging others along the way. I’m very thankful to have had Alexis and her parents and excited about her opportunity to continue what she’s very passionate about.”
According to Nails, the above four runners, along with fall signees Luke Holcomb and Ryan Maudsley, makes eight Southside graduates who will run cross country in college this fall.
“We always are excited to sign student-athletes from Southside, because they’re always quality people,” said Wallace-Hanceville cross country coach Stan Narewski. “Only seven percent of high school athletes go on to participate in college, so you’re all special.”
John Doster signed with Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, for soccer. A four-year starter, Doster led the 2021 Panthers with 22 goals and 11 assists as Southside won an area championship and made it to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs. He was selected to the Greater Gadsden Area boys high school soccer first team and participated in the Alabama High School Athletic Association North/South all-star soccer game last summer in Montgomery.
“I’m just so proud of this young man,” said SHS boys soccer coach Randy Vice. “I’ve coached him for four years and I’ve had him in my classroom, and I can’t say enough about him. Today says a lot about John’s work ethic, his attitude and his character.”
Keelan Vice signed with Gadsden State for volley-ball. This past season, Vice finished with 347 kills, 168 digs, 77 blocks, 50 aces and 19 assists as the Lady Panthers went 45-15 record, won the program’s 12th straight Etowah County Schools Tournament and qualified for the Class 6A Super North Regional Tournament. Her postseason honors included being named to the All-Etowah County Schools first team, the All-Messenger first team, the All-Gadsden Times first team and the Alabama High School Volleyball Coaches Association second team.
For her career, Vice com-piled 834 kills, 243 digs, 189 blocks, 136 aces and 28 assists. She was a part of two area championship teams and helped Southside ad-vance to the super regionals three out of the past four years.
“Keelan has always been a hard worker,” said former Southside volleyball coach and current Gadsden State volleyball coach Courtney Brothers. “I’m very proud of what Keelan has accomplished as both a player and a person these past four years, and I’m excited to have her at Gadsden State. Not many coaches can say that they’ve coached a player for eight straight years.”