They’re not freaks, these two.
Robinson graduate Ashley James and La Vega graduate Danzel Wilson might not stand out in an athletic combine of elite players in their age group. Based on their size and strength and speed, they might even register as average.
But let’s not overrate freakish athletic skills.
James and Wilson, the 2008-09 Super Centex Athletes of the Year, led their respective teams to great heights this past season.
In doing so, they displayed leadership, intelligence and the determination to keep working long after others quit. Above all, these two in particular showed the will to win no matter what.
“He was just a great competitor,” La Vega football coach Willie Williams said about Wilson. “He hated to lose. It didn’t matter what the obstacles were. The kids kind of fed off of that. When the kids walked on the field, they were going to compete.”
While Wilson elevated the Pirates to a 35-7 record in three seasons as their starting quarterback, James proved equally adept at taking her teammates with her to the top.
“She’s pretty confident in what she does and part of that is because of her work ethic,” Robinson coach Brenda Gomez said. “She is one of the few that, as athletic as she is, gives 100 percent. She’s going to give more than the average kid because she wants it a little bit more.”
Girls’ Athlete of the Year: Ashley James, Robinson
James brought an impressive athletic resume into her senior year.
By the start of the 2008 fall semester, she had earned Super Centex first-team honors one time each in soccer and basketball. She had run in the state cross country meet three times and the state track meet twice, and she was a key member of the Robinson volleyball team through her junior season.
In a sense, though, she traded her status as Ms. Everything for a shot at a state crown in basketball.
James helped the Rockets reached the Class 3A Region III tournament as a junior in 2007-08. Under first-year Robinson coach Brenda Gmaez that season, James and the Rockets began to see how far they could go.
“Basketball was always the focus, but this season I put everything into it,” James said. “I mean, I quit a sport for it, and volleyball was a big part of my life.”
There were good reasons for James to put most of her chips on the basketball square this school year. A fiery and sharp point guard, James drove the Rockets, but she had plenty of useful tools around her.
Robinson junior post Rachel Hargis dominated the interior on many occasions, including in the state championship game when she earned game MVP honors. Rockets sharp-shooters Hannah Abbe and Mackenzie Roach seemed to take turns burying opponents from 3-point range, and Alex Alexander gave the Rockets a fourth guard who could create her own shot as well as bomb from the outside.
But James, the point guard, was the motor.
As a senior, she put together a do-everyhing stat line with 6.8 points, 4.2 assists, 2.8 steals and 3.6 rebounds per game.
Not a scorer by trade, there were moments when she knew she had to be the one to get the ball in the basket. Case in point, the middle game in Robinson’s brutal three-game march to the state tournament.
The Rockets entered the playoffs at No. 4 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 3A rankings, but had to go through No. 2 Bullard, defending regional champ Navasota and No. 1 Diboll to get to the state tournament. The Rockets battled Navasota, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in 2008, in their regional tournament opener. James made sure Navasota didn’t end her senior campaign as she scored a season-high 20 points to help the Rockets stomp on the Rattlers.
James scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds the next night to lead Robinson past Diboll and into the state tournament. For her efforts, James earned regional tournament MVP and then landed on the all-state-tournament team as Robinson crushed Lubbock Estacado and Argyle to win the 3A state championship.
The Robinson girls’ basketball team announced its intentions via the school’s Web site, posting photos before the season with Interstate 35 signs that clearly stated they were headed for the state tournament in Austin.
Then they went out and did it.
“It lasts a lifetime and no one is ever going to take that away from us,” James said. “We publicly displayed what we expected. I was afraid it would jinx us, but it gave us the confidence to get through.”
By the end of her senior year, when James graduated as Robinson’s salutatorian, she had added another state cross country meet, a Super Centex hoops first team and a state title to her lofty list of accomplishments.
She signed with Angelo State to play college basketball and said she wants to coach basketball after college.
“It’s a passion to me,” James said. “There’s a lot of things you learn and I’m still learning a lot, but a lot of it has to do with instinct too. It’s just a feeling. They say, ‘You’re hot’ or ‘You’re feeling it.’ You just get this feeling where it’s your game. Just when you think you’re going through all the work and it stinks, something like that happens and it’s all worth it.”
James edged out a class of worthy senior competitors for the Athlete of the Year honor, including Marlin’s Tamariah Manigo, who excelled at volleyball, basketball and track and field, and Bruceville-Eddy’s Arianna Rodriguez, who starred for the Lady Eagles in volleyball, basketball, softball, cross country and track and field.
Boys’ Athlete of the Year: Danzel Wilson, La Vega
Of course Danzel Wilson had the ball in his hands when the La Vega Pirates plunged ahead to a regional title last fall.
It would hardly make sense any other way.
Wilson surged behind his offensive line for an overtime touchdown that lifted La Vega to a 34-28 victory over Navasota in the 3A Division I Region III final in late November in Round Rock.
Though the Pirates would go on to play in the 3A Division I state championship game, it was the win over Navasota that stands out to Wilson.
To his coach, Wilson’s performance at crunch time against Navasota epitomized his career in La Vega blue and gold. The Pirates quarterback for three seasons, when they won 35 games and lost just seven, and won nine playoff games in the process, didn’t often need to pass for 300 yards or even rush for 100. But he ran the show to near perfection.
“It comes down to it’s a critical job and he kind of put it in his hands,” Willie Williams said. “Either a pass or a heck of a run and decision making — if it’s a critical drive, he’s going to put it in his hands. He’s that type of athlete.”
While traveling to the 3A Division I state championship game, the Pirates faced more than their share, it seems, of tough moments. But Wilson was there to help the Pirates’ ship remain steady through the storms.
Following La Vega’s nondistirct loss to Abilene Wylie, Wilson and a couple of senior teammates made up their minds that no one would derail their final high school campaign.
“That’s when it hit me that somebody was going to have to step up and do something,” Wilson said. “The next day before practice, the seniors talked to everybody and told them how it was going to be. No matter who was with us or not, we were going to win.”
Wilson carried that same sort of competitive drive into basketball season as he helped the Pirates reach the third round of the 3A Region III playoffs.
A role player for his first two seasons on varsity as a sophomore and junior, Wilson became the man the Pirates expected to score from his point guard position.
He responded by posting 15 points per game and also earning District 19-3A defensive player of the year honors.
La Vega basketball coach Clay Cody said Wilson, both in football and basketball, found a way to propel his teams to victories.
“I’ve never really coached anybody as competitive as he is,” Cody said. “He’s not the fastest kid, not the biggest kid, doesn’t throw the football as far or as hard and not the best shooter. He was the best competitor. Danzel was going to show up and compete.”
Wilson’s desire came through at a critical moment for the basketball team as well.
The Pirates had to go to rival Connally’s gym for the final district game with a playoff berth at stake.
“I knew they had a team meeting before we went over there,” Cody said. “I don’t know exactly what was said, but I think Danzel said this wasn’t going to be his last game. Dan definitely kind of willed us on that one, too. Not a kid on that team thought we were going to lose.”
Wilson, a safety and La Vega’s punter along with playing quarterback, earned Super Centex second team at the utility position as a senior and first-team honors in basketball.
He’s set to walk on to the Midwestern State football team this fall and said the coach there has indicated he has a good shot at earning a scholarship as a safety.
Wilson won the Athlete of the Year award over several worthy competitors, including Midway’s Todd Glaesmann, a standout in baseball and football; China Spring’s Ryan Boutwell, who excelled in football, powerlifting and track and field; Bremond’s LiDarral Bailey, a Tiger star in football, basketball and track and field; and his La Vega teammate Daxton Swanson, a vital member of the Pirates’ football and track and field teams.