Ten North Louisiana high school senior football standouts who completed their prep careers last fall were awarded scholarships at the annual National Football Foundation S.M. McNaughton Chapter Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner last Thursday night at East Ridge Country Club in Shreveport.
The elite group, nominated by their head coaches, includes Hunter Addison of North DeSoto, Green Oaks’ Fred Benjamin, Elijah Harper of Red River, Christian Jones from C.E. Byrd, West Monroe’s Blake Loring, Adam Parker of St. Mary’s in Natchitoches, Haughton’s Peyton Polk, Kam Robinson from Captain Shreve, Hayden Rolfe of Logansport and Northwood’s Mason Welch.
The event, attended by over 330 guests, culminated when North DeSoto’s Addison was announced as the McNaughton Chapter’s nominee for the National Football Foundation’s nationwide scholar-athlete of the year honor. He will be spotlighted during the 2023-24 year in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Northwood’s Welch was spotlighted as the KTBS/Johnny’s Pizza House Scholar-Athlete of the Year after being nominated last fall for the 2022 NFF Scholar-Athlete Watch List. Fourteen standouts were spotlighted during Tuesday segments on the KTBS 6 and 10 p.m. sportscasts and on the station’s award-winning Johnny’s Pizza House Friday Football Fever weekly highlight show, and received a Griffin’s Game Ball in tribute to the late KTBS and KSLA news and sports personality, who served on the McNaughton Chapter’s board.
A highlight of the dinner was a National Football Foundation Gold Medal presentation to longtime chapter president and charter board member Leo Sanford, who has been on the NFF board since its creation in 1980. Sanford, a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, Ark-La-Tex Museum of Champions and the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame, was a star center and linebacker at Shreveport’s Fair Park High School and at Louisiana Tech before becoming a Pro Bowl player in the NFL with the Chicago Cardinals and winning the 1958 NFL championship alongside Johnny Unitas for the Baltimore Colts.
Jess Curtis was recognized as the chapter’s Coach of the Year for leading Many High School to back-to-back state championships, including an unbeaten season last fall. He is the new coach at Natchitoches Central.
Longtime Byrd coach Mike Suggs received the chapter’s Contribution to Amateur Football Award after being introduced by former recipient Alan Carter, who hired Suggs at Byrd as offensive coordinator over 30 years ago.
Among other prior recipients are Eddie Robinson, Lee Hedges, Bert Jones, Joe Ferguson, Alton “Red” Franklin, Stan Humphries, Doug Williams, Jimmy “Chick” Childress, Rodney Guin, Broderick Fobbs, Joe Raymond Peace and Sam Goodwin.
Mike McConathy, who served as basketball coach at Northwestern State for 23 seasons in a 41-year coaching career, was presented the chapter’s Distinguished American Award for his far-reaching impact on high school and collegiate athletics and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Northwestern State football coach Brad Laird gave a stirring introduction of McConathy.
Previous winners include Sanford, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, Denny Duron, Orvis Sigler, Bo Campbell, Carl Mikovich, Tim Brando, James Davison, Terry Slack, Billy Montgomery, Dr. George Bakowski, John Manno Jr., Ivan Smith Jr. and George Sirven, along with McConathy’s father Johnny McConathy and the namesake of the local NFF chapter, Milton McNaughton.