What voters in the 2016 Lexington Herald-Leader Kentucky Sports Figure of the Year award balloting said about some who finished outside the top 10:
11. Philip Haywood
Kentucky’s all-time high school football coaching wins leader who led Belfry to its fourth straight Class 3A state championship.
“In the essence of sportsmanship, Coach Haywood brings a needed pride to his community and region along with all those trophies.”
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— Kenny Rice, NBC Sports
“Simply put, ‘the Bear Bryant of high school football’ wins with class and his community loves him for it. When the mountains needed something to cheer about, God gave them Coach Haywood.”
— Gary Ball, The Scholastic Ball Report
“Kentucky’s all-time winningest coach keeps getting better with age.”
— Steve Bertrman, WHIR-AM, Danville
12. Sydney Moss
Thomas More women’s basketball star led Saints to undefeated NCAA Division III national title and was unanimous NCAA Division III National Player of the Year.
“It’s a shame more people don’t know her story and how good she really was.”
— Ryan Lemond, KSR radio show
“(My) Northern Kentucky bias coming through, but undefeated national title and athlete of the year is really impressive.”
— Curtis Burch, WLAP-AM
“Big-time star just wanted to play close to home. What she accomplished at Thomas More is mind-boggling.”
— John Herndon, The Anderson News, Lawrenceburg
13. Stephen Johnson
Junior-college transfer inherited the Kentucky starting quarterback job after Drew Barker was knocked out by injury in the season’s third game and led the Wildcats to seven wins in the 11 games in which he took the majority of snaps.
“UK quarterback had a fairy-tale season.”
— Lonny Demaree, Kentucky Sports Report
“Stepped in in a tough situation and made this UK team his own. Even got the better of the Heisman Trophy winner.”
— Brad Munson, WVLK-AM, Lexington
14. Bob Beatty
Coached Trinity (15-0) to the 6A state football championship, the coach’s state-record 12th state title.
“It’s time Beatty deserves some credit. He has built a powerhouse that the top level of Kentucky high school football will likely never see (again) once he leaves.”
— T.J. Walker, CatsIllustrated.com
“Twelve state titles in 17 years. Won this year with an overhaul of starters from the 2015 season.”
— Paul Najjar, The Louisville Catholic Sports Network
15. Benny Snell
University of Kentucky true freshman running back ran for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns and was First Team Freshman All-America by ESPN.com
“Snell came to Kentucky a three-star prospect but quickly proved he will be a star in the SEC ...”
— Tyler Thompson, KentuckySportsRadio.com
“Not since Randall Cobb has there been a UK freshman to take games over and create more excitement for a fan base.”
— Mary Jo Perino, WLXG-AM, Lexington
16. DeMarcus Cousins
Ex-UK center starred for Team USA in Olympics gold medal game (13 points, 15 rebounds) in win over Spain and was NBA All-Star (26.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg) for Sacramento Kings.
“DeMarcus is thriving at the next level and in a league fit for his skills and personality. Making the All-Star Game for the second year in a row and winning an Olympic gold medal is a pretty big accomplishment.”
— Keith Taylor, KyForward.com, Lexington
17. Justin Thomas
Louisville native won his first PGA Tour event (CIMB Classic) and finished 11th on the money list and 12th in the FedEx Cup standings.
“Only a handful of Kentuckians have ever won on the PGA Tour — he added his name for a first and finished 11th on the PGA money list.”
— Jody Demling, CardinalAuthority.com, Louisville
“The first of what will be many wins on the PGA Tour. A MAJOR player in the world of golf.”
“Have a feeling he will be near No. 1 on this list next year. ... He’ll make a lot of Kentuckians proud with his play in 2017.”
— Evan Dennison, The Ledger Independent, Maysville
18. Makayla Epps
Kentucky Wildcats women’s basketball star (17.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.3 assists) was First Team All-SEC and made All-SEC Tournament Team. Only player in UK women’s history with more than 500 points and 100 assists in three straight seasons.
“She is one of the best in-state players to ever play at a Kentucky college.”
— Gene Abell, Lexington Herald-Leader, retired
“One step away from excelling in the WNBA.”
— Bobby Brockman, Central Kentucky News-Journal, Campbellsville
19. George Fant
Former Western Kentucky University basketball star signed with the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent and ended up starting 10 regular-season games at left tackle for a playoff team.
“Amazing athlete, fantastic story.”
— Jeff Nations, The Bowling Green Daily News
“There may be other rookies who gained starting jobs in the NFL, but how many of them were ex-high school and college basketball stars who went undrafted?”
20. Jake Johnson
Pulaski County High School wide receiver who set a state record with 139 receptions for 1,701 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. Kentucky’s all-time career leader in pass receptions (414) and receiving yards (5,614).
“To paraphrase his coach, if Jake Johnson is being defended man-to-man, he’s open. Unbelievable ability to catch everything tossed in his vicinity ...”
— Jared Peck, Lexington Herald-Leader
“... Jake was an integral part in leading Pulaski County to four consecutive Class 5A state championship games, as well as helping the Maroons win the 5A state crown in 2014.”
— Doug Eads, The Commonwealth Journal, Somerset
Nicholasville couple swept owners’ titles at all five major Kentucky Thoroughbred racing meets — Keeneland spring and fall; Churchill Downs, spring, September and fall — and led North American owners in wins (131) and earnings ($7,458, 736).
“A real credit to Kentucky’s signature industry, and they always win and lose with a smile on their face.”
— Mike Cameron, WLXG-AM, Lexington
Paul Laurence Dunbar boys’ basketball star (21 ppg, 5.4 rpg) was MVP of the Sweet Sixteen after leading Bulldogs to their first state title.
“He led Dunbar through one of the toughest paths to the Sweet Sixteen title in recent memory. The four teams the Bulldogs dispatched on their way to the first state championship were a combined 124-12 prior to meeting Dunbar. The WKU (signee) took over at times to ensure victory.”
— Dan Rieffer, WDKY-TV, WLXG-AM, Lexington
23. Kelsey Nunley
University of Kentucky softball pitcher (21-6, 1.26 ERA, 7 shutouts) was First Team All-America by National Fast-Pitch Coaches Association, the first UK player so honored and SEC Pitcher of the Year. Senior ended career as holder of every UK major pitching record, including all-time wins (92).
“Exceptional pitcher, holding major (UK) records for wins, saves, strikeouts, every one of them.”
— Johnny Pittman, The Cameron Mills Show
“Mark Twain said, ‘You can judge a person’s greatness by how much they are missed.’ Nunley will be sorely missed by the UK softball team.”
— Graham Johns, WKYN-FM, Winchester-Mt. Sterling
24. Walker Wood
Lafayette High School quarterback led Generals to 6A state championship game for second-straight year and won Paul Hornung Award as state’s top player.
“Most dynamic quarterback in Lafayette history took the Generals to back-to-back 6A state championship games. In an era of selfies and look-at-me dabs, Wood was the rare superstar quick to give credit to his offensive line and his teammates. Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops is getting a good one.”
— Mark Sonka, Lexington Herald-Leader
“One of the state’s most dynamic players. If Lamar Jackson’s 5,114 yards and 51 total TDs is deserving of this list, so is Wood’s 4,368 total yards and 61 TDs.”
— Joe Mathis, WHIR-AM, Danville
25. Danny Trevathan
Ex-Kentucky Wildcats linebacker led the Denver Broncos with eight tackles in their 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. With the Chicago Bears this season, Trevathan had 66 tackles in nine games before an injury ended his season.
“Other than Von Miller, he was the next key asset on the Denver Broncos team that dominated Super Bowl 50.”
— Rufus Friday, Lexington Herald-Leader
“You can’t ignore a former Wildcats star who starred in the 2016 Super Bowl. Danny was sensational ...
— Jamie Vaught, KySportsStyle.com
26. J.B. Holmes
Ex-Kentucky Wildcats golf star (one third place, six Top 10s on PGA Tour) went 1-2 in Ryder Cup as a Captain’s Pick as U.S. defeated Europe.
“Played his best at the two most-acclaimed majors — tied for third at the Masters, third at the (British) Open. ... Has been a member of the only two U.S. (Ryder Cup) teams to have won since 1995.
— Dennis George, The Kentucky Standard, Bardstown
The following people received first-place votes but not enough total points to finish in the top 25 (plus one):
The Louisville native and three-time heavyweight boxing champion of the world died June 3 at age 74.
“Ali’s death refreshed memories of the towering presence that was the iconic heavyweight champ, both inside the ring and out, and revitalized discussion about an athlete’s role in the world beyond sports. The Louisville Lip’s words will echo everlasting, not just through our state, but the entire world.”
— Alex Forkner, The Cats’ Pause
“No, Ali did not box a single match in 2016 but in a year full of major sports stories there may have been none more significant than the death of “The Greatest.” Surely, Ali’s legacy is at least partially to thank for more athletes stepping up to speak out on important social issues like race relations.”
— Jon Hale, The Courier-Journal
Western Kentucky University volleyball coach led Hilltoppers (30-3) to a 21-match winning streak, the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“What he did last year and overall at WKU for over a decade with limited resources is incredible!”
— Greg Horn, WLRT-AM, Lexington-Nicholasville
Former Calloway County High School track and field standout who won the Class 2A high jump state championship in 2016 for the fourth straight year. The University of Hawaii signee was also a two-time Class 2A long jump state champ (2014 and ’15) and won the 300-meter hurdles in 2015.
“Won state championship in high jump for fourth straight year ...”
— David Green, Marshall County Tribune-Courier
A 9-year-old, multisport athlete at Viper Elementary School in Hazard
“I know that my choice for number one looks a little odd, but no other athlete has made an impact in so many sports. Ian Montgomery won his second state wrestling title as a third-grader at Viper. He is a member of the Kentucky state AAU gymnastics team and a national member of the United States Tumbling Association (last year, he won 16 national titles and eight state titles). Montgomery is also the only Eastern Kentucky soccer player to ever be selected to the Olympic Development Program.”
— Tony McGuire, The Hazard Herald