Southside seniors sign college scholarships

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Photo: Four Southside High seniors recently signed college athletic scholarships. Pictured, clockwise from top left: Cayden McMichael (football, Bellhaven (Miss.) University), Kutter Johnson (baseball, Gadsden State), Mallory Brooks (golf, Wallace-Hanceville) and Laylah Davis (basketball, Shelton State). (Chris McCarthy/Messenger) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Four Southside High seniors recently reaped the benefits of their academic and athletic prowess.
At the school’s spring signing day on April 24, Laylah Davis signed with Shelton State for basketball, Mallory Brooks with Wallace-Hanceville for golf; Kutter Johnson with Gadsden State for baseball and Cayden McMichael with Bellhaven (Miss.) University for football.
`“It feels like everything’s paid off, considering how much work I’ve put in over the summers,” said Davis. “It’s very fulfilling, and I’m looking forward to getting things started at Shelton State.”
In her two years at Southside, Davis helped the Lady Panthers go 48-14, win two Etowah County Schools championships and two area titles and twice finish as the Class 5A Northeast Regional Tournament runners-up. Her two-year statistical total included approximately 500 points along with 104 steals, 125 tipped passes, 234 rebounds and 85 assists.
Davis was a first-team selection for the All-Messenger, All-Etowah County Schools and All-Area squads both seasons.
“As soon as Laylah moved here (prior to her junior year), she said she wanted to play college basketball and that she would do whatever it took to accomplish that goal,” said Southside girls head basketball coach Justin Bowen. “Laylah’s the type of player who is always asking for the key to the gym so she can try and get better. She’s worked really hard and she’s going to a very successful team.”
Davis will join a Shelton State program that has won 19 Alabama Community College Conference championships along with 200 straight conference victories. The 2023-24 Lady Bucs went 30-3 and won the program’s eighth consecutive ACCC title.
`“Everybody knows Shelton has a great program and that they send a lot of their players to bigger and better schools,” she said. “I also really like [Shelton State] Coach [Madonna] Thompson and the girls that are down there. They all seemed like great people. I think going to Shelton will not only help me become a better basketball player but become a better person. Also, Tuscaloosa is not too far away from home.”
According to SHS girls and boys golf coach Jake Nichols, Brooks won six tournament championships over the past two years, including three Gadsden Area Tournament titles. She twice qualified for the Class 5A state tournament.
“It’s such a great opportunity to play [golf] in college,” said Brooks, who also lettered in volleyball and basketball. “It’s something that I worked really hard at, and just to be able to do what I love is a blessing.
“I chose a two-year school [for college] because of being able to have more playing time and the opportunity for improvement. Being a three-sport athlete, I haven’t always had time to devote to golf. It’s is by far my favorite sport, but I didn’t stop playing the other sports because of all of my teammates and coaches and the great experiences we shared.”
During her junior season, Brooks placed first in the Gadsden Area Tournament and Glencoe Invitational and finished runner-up in the Gadsden Kick Off Classic and Arab Invitational. She finished first at the Class 5A Section 3 Tournament to become the school’s first girls player to qualify for the sub-state playoffs, where she took third place. Brooks then competed in the AHSAA North/South All-Star golf competition last July.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being Mallory’s golf coach the past two years, and she’s one of most talented and hardest-working student-athletes I’ve ever been associated with,” said Nichols. “The amount of things Mallory did for this school, no one person could ever replace her. Mallory’s one of the most decorated golfers in the history of this school, male or female. Her record of excellence at Southside will be hard for anyone to match moving forward. Wallace State is getting an outstanding individual and an outstanding player.”
In the past two years at receiver for the Panthers, McMichael had 93 catches for 1,044 yards and 10 touchdowns. This past season during which McMichael had an area-best 72 receptions, Southside went 8-3 and won the program’s first region title since 2014. McMichael also played varsity basketball and baseball.
“Just seeing all the hard work pay off, it feels great,” said McMichael. “When I went on my visit [to Bellhaven], they treated me like me like family. It seemed like a great place with a great atmosphere.”
McMichael provided perspective on Southside’s 2023 season, which saw standout senior quarterback Gage NeSmith lost for the year in the second game of the season.
“I thought we had a pretty successful year after the hand we were dealt. Our group was tight, and it was sad to see guys go down, but we kept fighting and we got through it.”
Competing in the NCAA Division III, Bellhaven last season went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in the USA South Athletic Conference.
“I’ve had the blessing of being able to coach Cayden and be around him for several years,” said SHS head baseball coach Shane Chappell speaking on behalf of head football coach Ben Stewart. “Being able to watch Cayden work in a football setting was fun. Cayden has been a hard worker and a great leader, and he probably knew the offense as well as anyone on the field and played just about every receiver slot. You know what you’re getting with Cayden at every practice and every game – he’s going to be prepared, he’s going to work hard and he’s going to be a good teammate. I know he’ll have big things ahead of him at Bellhaven.”
Johnson will join a Gadsden State baseball program that recently concluded its first season after an 11-year layoff. In 37 games this past season, he batted .414 with 48 hits, 25 RBI and 21 runs as Southside went 20-18 and made it to the second round of the state playoffs for the first time in several years.
“It’s really exciting, because this has always been my goal,” said Johnson. “I wanted to stay close to home so I could figure out what I was going to do as far as a future job. I had [Gadsden State baseball] coach [Blake] Lewis as a coach at a showcase in Troy, and I really liked being around him. When he called and offered me [a scholarship], I knew that was where I wanted to go.”
Johnson did not consider transferring to Appalachian after his dad Brandon was named head baseball coach at the school two years ago. The elder Johnson led the Eagles to the Class 1A state championship in 2023.
“I always knew that I wanted to stay here, because I loved the bond this group had, which I always thought is the most important thing with a team.”
“Cutter is one of those guys that is very high-energy,” said Chappell. “He’s knows when it’s time to lighten the mood and knows when it’s time to turn up the intensity. Cutter works tremendously hard, and I couldn’t be prouder of him for the things he’s accomplished while he’s been here. He’s always been a team-first guy who pushes and encourages his teammates. People love to be around him.”

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