State title special for this TA football player

Tuscaloosa Academy’s Dillon Anderson has survived more than sports injuries to become a member of the school’s first AISA football championship team. (Photo by Andrew Carroll)


When the Tuscaloosa Academy football team went 13-0 last season, senior linebacker Dillon Anderson missed a couple of games because of pneumonia.

As a junior, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. When the 2012 Knights played in the AISA Class AAA championship game, Anderson had the same injury with four minutes left. He watched from the sideline as Tuscaloosa Academy defeated Lee-Scott Academy 27-26 to win the school’s first AISA football championship.

Senior linebacker J.D. Diaz intercepted a Lee-Scott pass that allowed the Knights to run out the clock.

"It was a great feeling," Anderson said. "I wanted to be out there so bad. It just killed me that I couldn’t finish the season off. I knew that they could finish it and get the championship won."

Anderson might have been disappointed that he couldn’t be on the field to help his teammates, but the illnesses and injuries almost seem minor compared to the adversity he faced 10 years ago when he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of cancer.

Anderson, his teammates and coaches received their championship rings last Friday in a ceremony at the TA football stadium.

"It was really special when I got it because after all I’ve been through and all the hard work I’ve put in it just meant a lot to get what I really was after playing football, and that’s winning a championship," Anderson said. "Back when I had the cancer I got so weak I just didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to play any sports, but thanks to the Lord. He gave me the ability to be able to play.

"My family was very supportive during that time, and I’ve always had a love for sports and I always wanted to play football. I just wanted to be able to get out there and play it."

Anderson said that he was 8 when his stomach started hurting. He was told that his appendix needed to be removed, but the doctor said it was hard to remove. Anderson said the doctor discovered a cancerous tumor.

"I didn’t really know much about it," he said. "I was just really scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was weak all the time, sick all the time because of the chemo. I couldn’t really do much."

After undergoing chemotherapy for a period of months, Anderson was 9 when tests showed that he was free of the cancer.

"I go every year now, and they do tests and stuff," he said. "They said it still hasn’t come back.

"I was relieved when they told me it was gone. I would play on the playground at school and stuff, but I didn’t really play a sport again until the seventh grade, when I started playing football."

Anderson said his father, Michael, took him to an Alabama football game.

"I just loved watching it, and I wanted to play it and experience it," Anderson said. "After the first season, I just fell in love with it even more. When I had the cancer, I couldn’t have dreamed about even playing football.

"I was very grateful to be able to be out on the field since I love it so much. It just meant a lot to be able to play."

Anderson said he plans to go to Alabama and possibly major in physical therapy.

Robert Johnson, who has coached the Tuscaloosa Academy football team for two seasons, said Anderson overcame his first knee injury and was able to return to the weight room and run track in the spring of 2012.

"I think it was the summer (of 2011) when we had our big parents’ meeting," Johnson said. "His father let me know some of the things Dillon was going through. He let me know that he might have to go during the season to get some special treatment or they might have to at least run tests on him."

Johnson said Anderson had to earn his role as a starter without the benefit of special treatment. Johnson also pointed out that Anderson had to maintain his grades to be eligible to play.

"Dillon didn’t want that to happen, and his dad didn’t want that, either," Johnson said. "Being a father myself, I certainly understand how difficult that is to let your child play, especially when they have some other issues going on. My hat’s off to his dad and his family and how they handled the situation.

"When Dillon was out on the field, he was full speed, period. He never once made an excuse on anything. There were some times that he had to miss because of either going to the doctor or he had something like pneumonia, where the doctor wouldn’t let him out. There were a couple of times when I think he probably hid a couple of things from me about how he wasn’t feeling well, but he wasn’t about to let me or anybody else know that."

Johnson said Anderson had his first knee injury when the unranked Knights beat No. 1 Bessemer Academy, which went on to win the 2011 AISA title.

"You look up and all of a sudden Dillon’s out there working, and you can’t believe it," Johnson said. "And then he does spring training and all of the summer and everything. Then to have the misfortune to tear it up in that last ballgame with four minutes to go, was really bittersweet as far as that goes. I don’t think Dillon would probably trade it for anything, knowing he was out there when we needed him to help win the state championship. To say that he’s been tested, that’s an understatement."

Achieving perfection

Mandi Woodruff, who joined the Bibb County softball team as a seventh-grader, threw the sixth perfect game of her career Monday as the Lady Choctaws beat West Blocton 6-0. The senior right-hander recorded 16 strikeouts and contributed offensively with two hits and an RBI.

"I gave it all to God, and He helped me through it," said Woodruff, who threw a four-hitter Tuesday in a 3-1 win over McAdory. "And He helped me teammates too. I couldn’t have done it without them. It wasn’t really talked about, but at the end of the game everybody knew and we were all happy about it.

"I was really excited. It was really big because it was my first perfect game this year. It was just great seeing all of our team come together. We started praying before the games and after the games. I think that really helped us."

Woodruff said her riseball and screwball were the most effective in Monday’s perfect game, but she can also throw a curveball and a changeup with confidence.

"I hardly ever throw a fastball," she said. "We like to use a lot of movement to keep them off balance."

Woodruff, who has a 16-12 record, has a 2.23 ERA and 257 strikeouts in 16613 innings this season. Her career statistics include 1,082 strikeouts and a 70-43 record.

Pruitt to BSC

Krissy Pruitt, a 5-foot-9 guard who led the Tuscaloosa Academy Knights to three straight appearances in the AISA Tournament, plans to continue her basketball career at Birmingham-Southern College.

Birmingham-Southern is an NCAA Division III school, so she did not receive an athletic scholarship as such, but she said she will receive a different kind of scholarship package.

"I’m so excited to go to a new school and continue doing what I love," Pruitt said.

"At the same time I’m going to miss this so much. I’ve had such a great time in high school and playing with all my teammates. I knew I was a leader because I was one of the main ones with experience. Everything I did was just to help my team out."

Pruitt, who has a 3.79 grade point average, played on the West team in the AISA All-Star Game. She led Tuscaloosa Academy with 15.6 points per game and averaged 4.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists. She averaged better than 16 points per game during her three seasons at Tuscaloosa Academy and scored 1,718 career points. She was an AISA second-team All-State selection as a junior and earned All-State honorable mention as a sophomore.

"I think she’s going to be an outstanding asset to

Birmingham-Southern," TA coach William Johnson said.

Wilhite honored

Mary Caitlyn Wilhite, a senior tennis player at Northridge High School, went to dinner in Birmingham on Monday and came home with a scholarship.

Wilhite was already a winner when she attended the Bryant-Jordan Student Athlete Awards Banquet. She received $2,500 as the Class 6A Scholar-Athlete Award winner for Region 7. During the banquet, she received the Dr. Gaylon McCollough Medical Scholarship, which is worth $2,500.

"It was really gratifying, considering all the work that I put in, but I do realize there are people there who put in just as much work as I have," Wilhite said. "Really, it was just like an amazing blessing that I was the one that they did choose to get the final scholarship."

The medical scholarship is named in honor of McCollough, who became a surgeon after playing football for coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant at Alabama. Wilhite said she plans to attend Alabama and is considering chemical engineering as a major. Wilhite said her ultimate goal is to go on to medical school.

Wilhite started playing tennis for Northridge in the ninth grade. She is playing No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles this year.

"I give probably equal attention to (academics and athletics)," Wilhite said. "It has a lot to do with time management. This year it kind of depended on the weather. I use the rainy days to work on homework and the sunny days to play tennis usually.

"My parents have always encouraged me to make sure I prioritize school. I wanted to be a doctor ever since I can remember because my dad’s one."

Dillard honored

Aaron Dillard, who led the Hubbertville football team in rushing, was the Class 1A winner in the Student Achievement division during Monday’s Bryant-Jordan Scholarship banquet.

Hubbard, the Region 4 winner, ran for 2,526 yards and 30 touchdowns and finished with 229 points in helping the Lions reach their first appearance in the AHSAA quarterfinal round. He scored six touchdowns against Ragland and five against Spring Garden.

Student Achievement winners from West Alabama included basketball player Jonathan Knox from Hale County, Class 2A, Region 4; and softball player Chandler Dare from American Christian Academy, Class 3A, Region 5. Dare, a shortstop, has signed to play for the University of Alabama.

Scholar-Athlete Award winners from West Alabama included Emma Herren of Berry, Class 1A, Region 4; and Alexis Jones of Demopolis, Class 5A, Region 3.