Reminded that they should be grateful for all the support they received throughout their school years, 29 football players from eastern North Carolina have been recognized as NFF Scholar-Athletes by the National Football Foundation’s Bill Dooley Chapter.
Five collegiate players and 24 high school players and were honored Monday night with a dinner and recognition ceremony inside the Loudermilk Center’s “Blue Zone” at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium. Most were from Wake County schools, and most were accompanied by their family and their high school coach.
“If these young men are representative of the future of the United States, then we are in fine shape,” said keynote speaker Ken Huff. A former UNC and NFL player, Huff also received the NFF chapter’s Distinguished American Award, presented by former Northern Durham and UNC assistant coach Ken Browning.
The high school honorees included: Jalen Malik McNish (Athens Drive); Manny Paredes (Broughton); Thomas Ruocchio and Stephan Shank (both from Cardinal Gibbons); J.T. Berkowitz (Cary); A.J. Daodu (Enloe); Austin Pluckhorn (Fuquay-Varina); Stephen James Moore (Garner Magnet); Conner Redick (Green Hope); Harrison Freeman (Leesville Road); Matt Schmitt (Middle Creek); Asa James Rogerson (Millbrook); Cameron LeBlanc (Panther Creek); Ryan Baldy (Sanderson); and Cole Westberry (Wake Forest).
Durham Public Schools were represented by: Maliik Marcin (Jordan); Ankhenaten Truitt (Northern Durham); and Frank Adams III of Riverside.
Three from schools in Orange County were recognized: Theodore Bilden (Carrboro); Connor Korfas (Chapel Hill); and Eryk Brandon-Dean (Orange).
Pitt County players honored included: Malik Jordan (Greenville Conley) and Jajuan Rogers of South Central Pitt. John Winslow of Ayden Grifton was the lone NFF Scholar-Athlete not present; he played in a baseball game Monday night, when Ayden-Grifton lost 1-0 to Green Central.
The chapter’s University Scholar Athletes were: placekicker Ross Martin (Duke); offensive guard J.T. Boyd (East Carolina); letterman and graduate assistant Jarrod James (North Carolina); center Carl Jones (N.C. Central); and center Joe Thuney (N.C. State).
Each player received a plaque from the members of the Dooley Chapter, the NFF’s largest. It comprises players, coaches, administrators and fans from Durham, Orange, Pitt and Wake counties – all of whom support amateur football.
“Amateur football has given to me more, many times over, than I ever gave it,” said UNC administrator and former player Rick Steinbacher, master of ceremonies for the evening. Steinbacher received the chapter’s award for Outstanding Contributions to Amateur Football, presented by former high school and UNC assistant coach Moyer Smith.
Recipients of the NFF’s Scholar-Athlete Award all achieved a grade point average of at least 3.5, helped their football program and worked to better their respective community, said NFF board member Charlie Adams, former executive director of the N.C. High School Athletics Association. Most of the high school seniors have committed already to a college program.
“All these young men excelled, and they’ve done it the right way – on the football field, in the classroom, and in their community,” Adams said. He told the players before dinner that they should all “thank everyone who helped you – your coaches, your teachers, your principals, your athletic directors, your teammates, your classmates ... your family, your friends and your God.”