The Northeast Texas Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ annual Heart of a Champion All-Star games are Friday and Saturday in Tyler.
On Thursday morning, the players, coaches and cheerleaders gathered at Tyler Junior College for media day with the Red and Blue All-Stars teams taking a group photo.
This year’s Heart of a Champion week features an All-Star football game, softball game and for the first time, an All-Star baseball contest.
The Blue and Red All-Star teams are comprised entirely of seniors that were first nominated in February at a banquet as All-Stars and then drafted by either the Blue team coaching staff or Red team coaching staff.
“Just to see the athletes that are here today, with the cheerleaders, it is remarkable,” said Robert Bardin, FCA director for Northeast Texas. “I can’t wait for us to get to the games (Friday) and Saturday.”
The Red All-Star football team will be coached by Marshall’s Clint Harper with Bishop Gorman’s Coby Gipson leading the Blue All-Stars.
Gipson said he was honored to have the opportunity to coach so many exceptional athletes and Christian men.
“This will be one of the highlights of my coaching career,” Gipson said. “It’s just great to see the talent we have in East Texas, but more than that, it’s great to see the high school programs are teaching them to be great young man of character and great football players.”
The softball and baseball games begin the all-star festivities with the second annual HOAC All-Star Softball Classic and inaugural HOAC All-Star Baseball Classic taking place simultaneously at UT Tyler. Both are slated for a 7 p.m. first pitch.
The second annual HOAC All-Star Softball Classic will be at Suddenlink Field and the inaugural HOAC All-Star Baseball Classic will be at Irwin Field.
“They mentioned to us they are going to start one about 15 minutes earlier than the other one, so we kind of have it a little bit of a different time,” said Troup’s Samantha Weeks who is coaching the Blue All-Stars. “They will be going on side-by-side at UT Tyler, which is a great facility for this.”
Coaching the Red All-Stars in the HOAC softball classic is White Oak’s Rob McFall. On the baseball diamond in both dugouts as head coaches are Quitman’s Hayland Hardy for the Blue Team and Hallsville’s Scott Mitchell for the Red team.
Being named a baseball All-Star came as bit of a welcome shock for Robert E. Lee senior pitcher Jonathan Randall.
“I am filling in for Landry Mayo because Whitehouse is at state,” said Randall, who will toe the rubber for the Blue team.
“I think it’s going to be a great event and I am looking forward to playing with all of (these guys) because they are all talented and strong in their faith. I think it’s going to be a great way to end (my high school career) with a bunch of talented guys.”
Pierre Leonard, who signed with Texas A&M-Commerce, also likes the feeling of getting back on the high school gridiron a couple months before he begins his college career.
“It’s a blessing that we get the opportunity to come; out of 200 kids nominated we were the 100 selected,” Leonard said. “We are meeting new guys, learning new things … since football season has been over, this is a chance to somewhat get back in shape. The coaches have been taking it pretty light on us, but I am pretty sure (the tempo is going to increase).
“East Texas football is not just the best in the state, but in the nation and I would put these athletes up against anybody.”
“We’ve been trying to beat the Blue team at the bowling alley, dressing nicer - we’re trying to beat them in every aspect and it’s a lot of fun.”
Roger McCuller, Hallsville
“It’s cool because you get to spend time with old friends and make new ones. I want to improve myself, but the thing with top skill level players like this is you can (challenge) yourself.”
Bryson Davis, Longview
“What makes this so unique is everyone is an All-Star, everyone can really play. I think that magnifies everything and makes it that much more impressive and exciting. I am looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a pretty intense game and pretty competitive.”
Kendrick Price, Lufkin
“Our offense is just like Tyler Lee’s offense. We are out of control. We have speed, we have size and I think we are going to ram through them.”
Tryec Grayson, Robert E. Lee
“We have a lot of offense, with a lot of speed. If we had all of these going to the same school, we would have been state champions.”
Deundre Phillips, Chapel Hill
“It has been an experience to be around all of these people from different communities, and to be able to play the sport we love, it has been a great (experience). You have to go out there and give it all of you got one more time.”
Erik Owen, White Oak
“It is really special and a great honor to be chosen to be a part of this (first baseball all-star game). Especially for me; it’s going to be my first-last because I am not playing baseball after this.”
Marc Schwartz, Robert E. Lee
“We are getting recognized for something that we love to do. It’s kind of bittersweet because you’ve been doing it for so long and it’s like the closing of a chapter in our lives.”
M.J. Alexander, Brownsboro
“This is all for fun. For a lot of us, this is our last high school game. I just want to come out and do the best I can, represent my school and represent FCA like it should be represented and play to the best of our ability for what God gave us and honor him the best way we can.”
Morgan Moss, Bullard Brook Hill School