Drew Nelson named TB&T Athlete of the Year

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The inaugural Troy Messenger/Troy Bank and Trust Athlete of the Year for the 2021-2022 athletic season is Pike Liberal Arts senior Drew Nelson.

Nelson was a starter and leader on two AISA State Championship teams this season as he and his teammates on the basketball and baseball teams both won state titles.

On the basketball court, Nelson was a guard for Pike, starting in all 29 games and averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 assists per game. In the AISA Class AAA State Championship game, Nelson came away with 12 points and five rebounds.

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Nelson saved his best for baseball season, however. The senior pitcher and outfielder was unquestionable the top baseball player in the AISA and one of the top players in the entire State of Alabama.

“He’s meant a lot,” Hixon said of Nelson. “He has pitched on the varsity level since the eighth grade and has been a huge part of the success we’ve had for the past 4-5 years.

“Having someone like that you can count on in the middle of the lineup and on the mound is something you cannot replace.”

He boasted a 1.00 ERA with 106 strikeouts, giving up just 18 total hits in 49 innings pitched in 2022. On the offensive end, Nelson earned a .463 batting average with six home runs, seven doubles, eight triples and a .895 slugging percentage. He earned All-Tournament honors for his play during the AISA State Playoffs, as well.

“We’ll definitely miss him,” Hixon said of the senior. “The way he went about his work, he led by example with his work ethic, and his production on the field spoke for itself. I said it after the state championship, he’s the best player to ever wear the Pike jersey and we will definitely miss him.”

Nelson was a part of state championships in both basketball and baseball this season. He also won a football state title as a junior. (Submitted photo)

Nelson was a member of the Pike football team until the end of his junior season and has won state championships in football, basketball and baseball during his career with the Patriots.

“They’re all really special,” Nelson said of his championship seasons. “I was lucky enough to tag along for one in football my junior year and win two in basketball, and they were all earned. We worked really hard and it paid off in the end.”

His play has earned him a number of area and statewide honors. So far this postseason, he’s captured The Messenger’s Spring Athlete of the Year, Dothan Eagle Super 12, Gatorade Alabama Baseball Player of the Year and was voted the Alabama Sports Writer’s Association (ASWA) AISA Baseball Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year along with earning ASWA First-Team All-State and Super All-State honor. Nelson has now added The Messenger’s Overall Athlete of the Year to his list of postseason honors.

“It’s definitely something I’m thankful for and I think I’ve earned it,” Nelson said of the accolades he’s received this season. “All the hard work over the past years, you’re finally getting recognized for it.

“That’s not what you play for, though. You play for the championships and friendships and teammates you make over the years. It’s special to get that recognition, though, no doubt.”

Nelson’s athletic career doesn’t end here, however, as he prepares to head to Auburn later this month to begin his college career with the Auburn Tigers, fresh off their recent birth in the College World Series.

Fall, Winter and Spring Athletes of the Year 

The inaugural Troy Messenger/Troy Bank & Trust Athletes of the Year spotlight stellar athletes and recognize the effort these players put into their teams on and off the field for each season of the 2021-2022 athletic season.

Boyd caught 38 passes for 867 yards as a sophomore in 2021. (Photo by Dan Smith)

Jywon Boyd – Athlete – Charles Henderson Football

The Male Fall Athlete of the Year is Charles Henderson’s sophomore playmaker Jywon Boyd. Boyd was the true definition of an “athlete” for the Trojan football team, playing receiver on offense, defensive back on defense and also returning kicks on special teams. He was selected as the team’s Best Wide Receiver and Offensive MVP following the season, as well.

On offense, Boyd hauled in 38 catches for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns, while securing 71 tackles, three tackles-for-loss, four interceptions and a 98-yard interception return touchdown on defense. He also returned one kickoff for a touchdown and another punt return for a score as a sophomore. Additionally, two more of Boyd’s punt returns were taken back for touchdowns before being called back on penalties along with a second pick-six that got called back on a penalty. In total, Boyd amassed 13 all-purpose touchdowns in his sophomore campaign.

Boyd jumpstarted his junior season with a three-touchdown performance – in just one half of play – in Charles Henderson’s win over Class 7A R.E. Lee in the Spring Classic on May 20, as well.

Madison Stewart – Middle Hitter – Charles Henderson Volleyball

The Female Fall Athlete of the Year is Charles Henderson senior volleyball player Madison Stewart. Stewart was one of the leaders of the Lady Trojan volleyball squad, earning Best Offensive Player and Team MVP for her leadership and production on the court. As a senior, she amassed 277 kills, 2.5 total blocks, 57 aces and 142 digs in 2021.

“As a senior, she was a leader for us and she was extremely important in every aspect of our team offensively and defensively,” CHHS volleyball coach Sonny Kirkpatrick said. “She was a finisher for us, she puts balls away when we need points and we couldn’t have been more proud of her accomplishments over her years at Charles Henderson volleyball.”

Stewart is also a star softball player at CHHS and signed a scholarship with Northwest Florida State College to continue her softball career.

Austin Cross was Pike’s top shooter in back-to-back state championship runs. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

Austin Cross – Guard – Pike Liberal Arts Basketball

The Male Winter Athlete of the Year is Pike Lib junior Austin Cross. Cross was the leading scorer and top shooter for the Patriots as they won their second consecutive AISA State Championship in 2022. Cross finished the season averaging 21.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as he earned AISA All-State first-team, AISA All-Tournament and was a finalist for AISA Mr. Basketball, as well.

“Austin is probably one of the best shooters I’ve ever been around at any level I’ve played or coached at,” Pike coach Matt Brown said. “He has the ability to change the game and (opponents) have to game plan around him.

“That allowed for a lot of other stuff to open up for us to work, because they had to always keep an eye on him. He’s also doing better at getting to the goal, which has helped his game. He’s a really special player.”

The son of Troy University men’s basketball coach Scott Cross, Austin Cross has the game of basketball in his DNA but Brown emphasized that his work ethic is what has propelled him to constantly get better leading up to his senior year next season.

KK Hobdy was a star for the Lady Trojans in 2022, earning all-state honors. (Photo by Joey Meredith)

Makala “KK” Hobdy – Guard – Charles Henderson Basketball

The Female Winter Athlete of the Year is Charles Henderson junior KK Hobdy. Hobdy was the guiding force behind the Lady Trojans’ return to the Class 5A Final Four this season.

“She’s the leader,” Charles Henderson coach Dyneshia Jones flatly said. “We believe in and depend on her daily with every game.”

In her junior campaign, the 5-foot-5-inch guard averaged 17.2 points, .72 blocks, 6.2 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 4.6 steals per game as one of the best all-around players in the state. Hobdy earned second-team All-State honors for the second consecutive season in 2022, won All-Area Tournament and All-Regional Tournament, as well.

“I can’t say there’s just one thing,” Jones said of the best part of Hobdy’s game. “I can put her anywhere on the court. She mainly handles the basketball but she can score and was our leading scorer.

“She’s small in size but there were times we had to have her to do the jump ball for us. She can rebound, she was great on defense and she was versatile. You can put her anywhere on the court and know she’s going to get the job done.”

Drew Nelson – Pitcher – Pike Liberal Arts Baseball

The male Spring Athlete of the Year is Pike Lib senior Drew Nelson. Nelson was one of the top baseball players in the state this season and the accolades have come in since the end of the season to support that. After winning All-Tournament for his performance during the playoffs, Nelson has also been named Gatorade Alabama Baseball Player of the Year and Dothan Eagle Super 12, as well.

Nelson capped off his senior season with a fourth straight state championship and boasted a 1.00 ERA with 106 strikeouts, giving up just 18 total hits in 49 innings pitched in 2022. On the offensive end, Nelson earned a .463 batting average with six home runs, seven doubles, eight triples and a .895 slugging percentage.

Nelson saved his best play for last as he struck out 42 batters, while giving up just five hits and one earned run during the playoffs. Nelson will also continue his baseball career in college as he gets to set to play for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers.

McKenzie Cain – Catcher – Charles Henderson Softball

The Female Winter Athlete of the Year is Charles Henderson senior McKenzie Cain. Cain was The Messenger’s All-Area Player of the Year as a junior had an even more successful senior season. She finished the 2022 season with a .450 batting average and .813 slugging percentage along with earning 72 hits, 17 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs, 22 stolen bases, 60 RBIs and 53 runs scored. On defense, she was Charles Henderson’s starting catcher and earned 218 putouts along with 28 assists and a .984 fielding percentage.

“McKenzie was and still is a great leader,” former Lady Trojan coach Khadija Neely said. “She meant a lot to the team. She caught all of our games except maybe one or two and was a real leader on the field.”

Cain has also earned first-team all-state honors from the Alabama Sports Writers Association and she signed a letter-of-intent to continue her softball career in college at the University of Tennessee-Southern. Neely said that it’s not just her play on the field that makes her standout.

“She was a leader, not only on the field but in the classroom with her grades,” Neely emphasized. “She’s a well-rounded player and meant a whole lot to the program.”