Sometimes it just feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, and it’s hard to get everything done.
For a student-athlete, a normal day involves a full day of school, practice or a game and hoping there’s enough time and energy left to get homework done. It can be a draining proposition, especially for those aiming to excel athletically and academically.
Nobody did that better this year than Crawford salutatorian Jake Talbert and Midway valedictorian Emily Neubert, the Tribune-Herald ’s first-ever Student-Athletes of the Year. Senior boys and girls who lettered in at least one varsity sport and maintained a 90 average or better were eligible.
“It takes a lot of concentration,” said Talbert, who was in Crawford’s valedictorian race going into the final semester. “There are times when you have to come home from practices and sit down and do your work, and really focus on that. Then there are times when you just can’t help it, and you have to go with it and see what happens because of all of your other events.”
Talbert was a key member of Crawford’s undefeated regular season in football and its basketball team that reached the Class 2A Region II tournament, and he also advanced to regionals in track. He’s enrolled in the business school at Baylor.
Neubert was solely focused on swimming, and that year-round commitment paid off with multiple state 4A championships.
She will major in business honors and join the swimming team at Texas A&M in the fall.
Girls’ Student-Athlete of the Year:
Emily Neubert, Midway
Finishing first is nothing new for Neubert, but she did it in different ways in the classroom and swimming pool.
In four state gold-medal performances spread over her junior and senior years, Neubert was always at the front of the pack, making the competition chase her down.
In the race for valedictorian, it was Neubert by a nose at the wire.
“I was really surprised,” Neubert said. “It was my first time being No. 1 right at the end. I was No. 2 at the semester, so I was just screaming when my principal told me on the phone. I was so excited because it is super competitive at Midway. My (grade-point average) only moved up two-tenths since the semester, so I had to just slip right in there.”
Neubert had plenty of incentive to take over the top spot, as she’ll receive free tuition at A&M her freshman year.
She will also continue her swimming career in College Station, and she’s excited about the prospects of being able to stay on campus to get her work done in the pool.
For most of her high school career, Neubert swam with a club team in Temple and worked out with it more often than not. The drive got even longer at the end of her junior year, when she joined a team in Pflugerville.
Neubert said she would usually take a nap on the way to practice, then would try to do homework on the way back, but “that didn’t really work so well.”
“Most of the time I’d just stay up late,” she said. “. . . I was really good at time management during the school year. It’s really my love of the sport that’s kept me going all this time because it’s so time-consuming that if I didn’t love it as much as I did, I probably wouldn’t do it. And academics is the most important thing, so I just had to fit it all in.”
The dedication to her swimming paid off with six total medals at the state meet. As a sophomore, Neubert finished second in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, then left the rest of the field in her wake in both events as a junior and senior.
So it’s easy to see why when Neubert’s name pops up, most people’s immediate thoughts go to her gliding through the water with ease, then graciously collecting yet another medal to add to her collection.
The Trib’s Student-Athlete of the Year is just another first for Neubert, whose state championships as a junior were the first in Midway swimming history.
Because of her swimming success, her academic prowess flew under the radar — even though she finished with a GPA of better than 104 on a 100-point scale.
“I feel really honored to get this award because I’m mostly recognized for my swimming accomplishments,” Neubert said. “Most of the people in my class didn’t even know I was up for valedictorian because they just know me as the swimmer. It’s nice to be recognized for my academics. Then this award is perfect because it’s both together.”
Neubert’s father, Mitchell, is a professor in the Hankamer School of Business at Baylor, and that helped push her to pick business as her major. She said she’s not exactly sure what she wants to do after college, but she’s going to “try it out.”
“Hopefully, I’ll fall in love with something in that area,” she said.
Boys’ Student-Athlete of the Year:
Jake Talbert, Crawford
Numbers always made sense to Talbert, so it stands to reason that math was his favorite subject in high school.
“I’ve just always had an interest in numbers,” he said. “My teacher, Mrs. (Christy) Walker, was an amazing teacher and made it fun.”
Talbert also specialized in statistics, whether it was his GPA of better than 101 or those that reflected his contributions to the Pirates’ athletic program.
In football, Talbert threw for 1,388 yards and 16 TDs and rushed for 629 more yards. Defensively, he finished with 126 tackles and seven interceptions.
He was honored as the District 4-2A Division II MVP and picked up his second straight Super Centex and all-state first-team nods at free safety.
“He always gives great effort,” Crawford football coach and athletic director Delbert Kelm said. “He obviously has some talent, but a great deal of that comes from his commitment. As coaches, we always prod kids to do that best they can be, and he always did that in whatever sport he was playing.”
Talbert was also part of a four-player nucleus that carried Crawford to the 16-2A championship and into the regional basketball tournament, scoring 12.3 points per game and earning first-team all-district nods.
He reached the regional track meet in the 400 and as a member of Crawford’s mile relay team as a senior.
But the true measure of Talbert can’t be measured in numbers. His greatest impact during his time in Crawford might have been all the organizations and service projects in which he involved himself in and out of school.
He described Crawford as a close-knit community where everybody knows everybody and tried to help out in any way he could.
“He’s an outstanding young man,” Kelm said. “We’ve been fortunate in Crawford that he’s not the first, but he’s a great kid. He’s very mature for his age, and he knows what he wants to do. He’s very focused on the task as an athlete and a student-athlete.”
In school, he was a class president, a member of the National Society of High School Scholars, National Honor Society/Beta Club, Peer Assistance and Leadership and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, among others.
One that stands out to him is PALs, which allows him to spend time with younger students.
“We interact with them, play games with them and read to them,” Talbert said. “It’s a good experience.”
“Jake’s a great role model for kids, and he takes that responsibility very seriously,” Kelm added. “He’s the quarterback at a small school, so all the kids look up to him. In today’s society, sometimes it’s hard to get kids to realize how hard that is, but he just has a commitment to doing things right.”
Away from school, Talbert assisted with organizations like the Crawford Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity and Carter Blood Center Blood Drive, along with volunteering for a pair of Vacation Bible Schools.
Talbert was selected for this award over some stiff competition that included Lorena valedictorian Cody Lovejoy and Fairfield’s Cory Black, who posted the highest GPA in the history of the school.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Talbert said. “I’m blessed to receive this award. There are a lot of people out there who could have received it, and just feel really blessed to have it.”