More than 800 prep athletes in the state of Kansas were honored Thursday night at the second annual Best of Kansas Preps awards banquet, presented by The Topeka Capital-Journal and GateHouse Kansas and sponsored by Envista Credit Union and University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus.
The event was held at the Stormont Vail Events Center in Topeka on the day venue management announced the name change from Kansas Expocentre. The venue was filled with some of the top athletes in the state, along with family and coaches to honor the athletes from more than 350 schools in 22 sports. Recent Basehor-Linwood graduate Jace Friesen (football) and Lansing’s Karli Schmidt (volleyball) and Terry Robinson (track) were those honored from Leavenworth County.
The event began with Capital-Journal publisher Stephen Wade welcoming those in attendance and thanking the sponsors for the event as dinner was served. He also had the athletes all stand to be recognized before he also had parents and coaches stand for their work with the athletes.
Wade then introduced Bruce Steinbrock, assistant athletic director at Washburn, to read the player of the year awards for all 22 sports. Steinbrock would have the all-stars for each sport stand before announcing that sport’s athlete of the year. He would then give a brief summary of the accomplishments of the winning athlete as those in attendance walked on stage to receive their award.
After all 22 players of the year were awarded, Matt Galloway of the Capital-Journal introduced the guest speaker, Jordy Nelson, a Kansas native and graduate of Riley County High School before going to Kansas State as a walk-on. After a successful senior year, Nelson was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and helped his team win Super Bowl 45 over the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also was Pro Bowl player in 2014 and the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year winner in 2016. He recently announced his retirement from the NFL after 11 seasons.
Nelson spoke in a Q&A with Rick Peterson and Brent Maycock of the Capital-Journal about various topics about his career, living in Kansas and more.
The Super Bowl champion is back in Kansas working on the family farm and is looking forward to tailgates and season tickets at K-State this fall.
He talked about how he played as many sports as possible growing up and how he looked up to Jon McGraw, a K-State walk-on from Riley County who made it to the NFL as a safety, playing 10 seasons with the New York Jets, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs. Nelson credited McGraw for helping make the decision to be a walk-on at K-State over scholarships at Washburn and Emporia State.
Members of the crowd also got to ask Nelson questions, including the impact his parents had.
“My parents were huge,” Nelson said.
He talked about how they always traveled to games and pushed him. His mom was the clock operator for his prep basketball games. He said this kept her quiet at games. He was also asked the best player he went against. His pick was facing Charles Woodson and Al Harris at practice.
After Nelson spoke, Peter Loo from the University of Kansas Health System St. Francis campus gave out the inspirational athlete award. The Manhattan Indians boys’ soccer team received the honor after matching the school record for 18 wins and finishing as runner-up in 6A. The team did that while coach Frank Alonso battled stage IV pancreatic cancer. Alonso died on Nov. 4, one day after the state title. The team adopted the motto “You’ll Never Walk Alone” during the season and the coach was posthumously named the 6A coach of the year.
Envista president and CEO Ron Smeltzer then announced the female and male athletes of the year with Carly Bachelor of Washburn Rural and Maize’s Caleb Grill winning the top honors.
The full list of winners can be found at www.cjonline.com