0

Five Wesleyan seniors go out on top in football, baseball

NORCROSS - Exactly a week after they graduated, Wesleyan's five underappreciated seniors played their final high school baseball game.

The 11-1 rout of Landmark Christian gave the Wolves their second straight state championship, an unexpected victory for a program that was gutted by graduation a year ago. It also gave the team's five seniors the opportunity to say something special.

Back in December, all five played for Wesleyan's Class A state title football team. Slightly more than five months later, they won another state championship.

Few high school athletes walk off as a state champion twice in their senior season. Even fewer do it in two major sports.

But this small senior group - Drew Fithian, Bobby Worthington, Lee Ellis, J.J. Russell and Brent Pugh - now can brag that they are a reigning state champion in both baseball and football.

"It's the most awesome thing that's ever happened to me," Russell said. "Honestly, I can't even explain to you how much I love every single one of those seniors. When you're that close to your teammates, it makes winning that much more special. It's an unbelievable feeling."

The title is another reward for the blue-collar class. All of the seniors are gritty, tough guys who wear the battle scars of 15 football games last season. They went to Miller County in the quarterfinals and beat perennial power Lincoln County in the semifinals. Then, as a major underdog, beat No. 1 ECI in the Georgia Dome for the state title.

That championship was unexpected, but this one was, too. An ultra-talented baseball senior class graduated last season - with Division I signees like Grayson Garvin, Connor Winn, James Ramsey and Kevin Ruiz - so not nearly as much was expected from this year's fivesome.

But that's been how the Class of 2009 has been viewed for quite some time. They played behind a talented Class of 2008 (a graduating group that also featured basketball stars Tanner Smith and Howard Thompkins), and lost several of their own classmates to attrition.

"(The Class of 2009) was an overlooked group," Wesleyan baseball coach Mike Shaheen said. "A lot of kids that were in that class left the school, it wasn't a good fit for them. They lost four or five of the best athletes in this class, so this almost became a snake-bitten class. But they persevered."

They also did it without a ton of flash. Scouts didn't fill the stands like last season. There are no pro baseball prospects among these five and only Pugh, headed to Georgia Southern, is expected to play college baseball.

But the forgotten senior class finished high school off in ideal fashion.

"The entire way through school we were overlooked because of the class in front of us," Russell said. "The class behind us was stacked, too. I guess we played with a chip on our shoulder and wanted to prove something."

They did just that this school year.

Twice.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays.