MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Austin Sanders felt calm as he stood behind the curtain, waiting to be introduced as a finalist for Tennessee's Class AAA Mr. Football Lineman of the Year award. But once he was on stage, in front of more than 500 people at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center, the second time his name was called caused the nerves to kick in.
"My palms got sweaty and all I heard was, 'The winner is Aus... .' I didn't even hear them say the rest of my name," the first Bradley Central player to be a Mr. Football said later. "After that, it was like seeing a ghost for the first time. I just kind of went blank.
"To know I'm the first from the program, and that I'll be a part of Bradley history, is an awesome feeling."
Sanders was the only one of the five Chattanooga-area finalists to be a 2012 Mr. Football. Howard's Brandon Walters in Class AA and Boyd-Buchanan's Malik Brewer in Class A were other Lineman of the Year finalists, and South Pittsburg's Demetric Johnson was a finalist for Class A Back of the Year. Baylor junior Kicker of the Year candidate Rafael Gaglianone was the only area underclassman to be a finalist.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Sanders, a University of Tennessee commitment, beat Brentwood High's Logan Teichmann and Memphis Central's Frank Herron, an LSU commitment, for the AAA lineman award. Herron is a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end who had 14 sacks and seven tackles for loss this season and is rated the state's No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com. He and Sanders could face one another in the Southeastern Conference.
"I thought about that when we were standing next to each other," Sanders said. "He's a great player and I wondered if him going to a program like LSU and me going to Tennessee, which has struggled, if that would play into [the voting]. I'm glad it didn't.
"I met him at Nike camp in Memphis and we went up against each other twice. He beat me once and I beat him once."
Walters (6-9, 290), Brewer (6-4, 320) and Johnson (6-0, 180) are all uncommitted and will be making college visits in the coming weeks. Walters and Brewer have visited Tennessee and will make other visits in December.
"I think just being a finalist for an award like this will increase my chances of getting to a good school where I feel comfortable and can play," said Brewer, who also has visited Eastern Kentucky and will visit Clemson in December. "It's an honor just to be a finalist and considered one of the top three players at your position."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...