By Thomas Corhern, Cookeville Herald-Citizen
COOKEVILLE — There were a lot of great performances on the playing fields for this year’s crop of Tennessee Tech athletes. From bringing home the Sergeant York Trophy in football, to making a run in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in basketball, tennis and baseball and many notable games in between.
It certainly wasn’t a runaway when the votes were tallied, but two athletes were at the forefront, working together as the Golden Eagle baseball team claimed a regular-season championship and nearly defended its tournament crown from a season ago. As teammates, their efforts were symbiotic, which makes it only appropriate that Tech baseball’s Chad Oberacker and A.J. Kirby-Jones were named as co-Male Athletes of the Year for 2010.
“It’s a great honor,” Kirby-Jones said. “Chad had a great year too, so it’s great to see both of us recognized.”
Oberacker said, “It’s fitting. We’ve lived together, he’s been one of my best friends since I came here to school. We’ve just been walking side-by-side since we’ve been here. It just shows that it’s a whole team effort. It’s not just one person — it’s everyone doing everything together.”
And to get the award with a teammate is an added bonus.
“Absolutely,” Oberacker said. “A.J. won it last year, too, and this is a great bunch of guys to be around. Neither one of us could have done this without them.”
Kirby-Jones is a recipient of the award for the second year in a row — the fourth Tech male athlete to receive that honor — while the dual winners marks the first time since 2005 that the men’s award has been split as Willie Jenkins (basketball) and Frank Omiyale (football) were honored with the award. Oberacker and Kirby-Jones joins Mike Jones (1994, football), Greg Bibb (1995, basketball), Michael Penix (1996, football), Mike Maberry (1997, baseball), Andre Caballero (1998, football), Branon Vaughn (1999 and 2000, football), Chad Evitts (2001, football), Grant Swallows (2002, football), Casey Benjamin (2003, baseball), Jenkins (2004 and 2005), Omiyale (2005), Scott Stallings (2006 and 2007, golf) and Larry Shipp (2008, football).
The duo beat out a talented group of candidates, including Alex Chen (tennis), Frank Davis (basketball), Dustin Dillehay (football), Lee Henry (baseball), Elijah Muhammad (basketball), Josh Simer (golf), Lee Sweeney (football) and Sam Taylor (cross country).
“Those guys were great hitters for us,” said Tech
coach Matt Bragga, “and they’ve done it over time.
A.J.’s done it since his freshman year, and Chad only got 50,
60 at-bats behind Jake New, who was drafted by the Dodgers. Chad
was a great player as a freshman, but really got the chance to
shine last year, leading the team. A.J. tied the school record in
homers last year, then beat it this year. Chad’s having a
“But, you know, they just do what they have to do. They’re tremendous hitters. God’s blessed them and they go out there and do it well.”