Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
After collecting an armful of awards over the course of his senior year, SouthWest Edgecombe High’s Keishon Porter had one more big honor to pick up Friday afternoon
Standing outside the gym doors of the school that has been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Porter was a bit perplexed to see the 5-foot trophy signifying that he was the 2020 Tom Ham Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times.
After being hugged by family members, including his mother, Towander Edwards, in an impromptu presentation that was also attended by Cougars varsity basketball coach Shelton Langley, Porter smiled as he took possession of the monster trophy.
“I was surprised by this when my coach told me that I won a big award and I didn’t know what it was,” he said. “I was just excited to get here and see this. This is just a blessing.”
Porter proved to be a blessing to both Langley and SouthWest football head coach Jonathan Cobb as one of the best two-sport male athletes to wear the Cougars blue and white. He is the fifth recipient from SWE in the award’s 47-year history, joining twins Pam and Phyllis Gorham in 1987, Terrance Howell in 1991 and Linwan Euwell in 2007.
ELECTRIFYING IN BOTH ARENAS
The 6-foot-5 Porter, who has signed to play basketball for NCAA Division I Radford University, was electrifying both on the court as well as the football field. He averaged 21.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.6 steals and was named boys basketball player of the year by 2-A Eastern Plains Conference coaches as well as The Wilson Times in leading the Cougars to one of their best record in years. Porter, who finished his career with more than 1,100 points, was selected to play for North Carolina in the Clash of the Carolinas in March that was canceled by the coronavirus shutdown. He is on the East roster for the North Carolina Coaches Association East-West All-Star Game in July.
Porter repeated as All-EPC and Times All-Area selections in football in helping the Cougars go 12-2 and reach the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs.
He caught 38 passes for 768 yards and 11 touchdowns in a Cougars wishbone offense that eventually was reformatted around his talent. He finished his career with more than 1,500 receiving yards — more than the Cougars compiled as a team over the three seasons prior to his arrival.
“He started out in our football program as a running back,” Cougars head coach Jonathan Cobb said. “He was a pretty good athlete in middle school and then he just kept growing. We made the decision his senior year that this guy’s pretty special and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
A dynamic athlete on either stage, Porter was heavily recruited in football at a high school known for it, but his focus on basketball in the summer paid off with him being the first Cougar to sign with a Div. I basketball program.
“I enjoyed watching, kind of as a bystander, the whole process, the attention, the awards, the recruiting,” Langley said. “I think he’s handled it well and he’s shown people that you can be from Macclesfield and go to SouthWest Edgecombe and play Division I basketball. You’ve just got to work hard.”
For Porter, it was about putting aside the soaring expectations seemingly everyone in Edgecombe County had for him entering his senior year.
“I just kept my head on straight and just not let that get me big-headed and just kept my cool and let it come to me,” he said.
‘A GREAT KID’
While Porter was a special talent on the football field with his long arms (his wingspan is over seven feet), speed and height, Cobb knew he was only renting Porter’s passion in the fall.
“He’s a great kid and he was an atypical football player,” Cobb said. “It wasn’t necessarily his dream to play football, but he enjoyed it. He enjoyed being with his teammates and playing on Friday nights.
“Keishon’s the kind of kid who’s not going to do anything in football until Aug. 1. He was playing basketball all summer.”
Cobb told of how during the first week of practice last season, Porter stuck around to help Nate, the Cougars long-time equipment manager, gather items from the field and return them to the school building.
“And everybody else is gone, except me and a couple of coaches,” Cobb said. “He always did things when least expected, for the good.”
Cobb pointed out that, this past season, Porter didn’t quite meet the production he had during a spectacular junior season in which he caught 16 TD passes. But Cobb said, that wasn’t Porter’s fault as much as it was the loss of quarterback Jayden Lewis, who signed with Barton College after graduating from SouthWest Edgecombe in 2019.
“I think we played four different quarterbacks last year,” Cobb said. “I don’t think any of them had the arm strength or the accuracy that Jayden Lewis did. So, certainly it made Keishon’s job and our ability to get him the ball a lot tougher. And I think as the season went along, you saw us trying to find creative ways to get the ball in our playmaker’s hands, whether it was put him at quarterback in the shotgun or just doing different things to try to get a guy who’s a leader, a central part of our offense, try to get him the football because, boy he was a competitor! That’s what I knew about him. He had quite a competitive urge and the kids followed him.”
One of the QBs, sophomore Ray Wooten, and Porter approached Cobb about letting Porter take snaps out of the shotgun after the two-minute offense was bogging down in practice.
“Turns out that Keishon probably had the best arm on the team,” Cobb said. “That led to him volunteering and all the players were on board with it.”
Porter led SWE with a 13.6 per-carry rushing average as he ran for 204 yards and four TDs on 15 carries while completing three passes for 75 yards and another touchdown.
Langley reminded that Porter was also a standout in the classroom with a solid B average that was a hit with college recruiters.
“It just opened up the doors and that was great,” the SWE coach said.
HIGH FLYING, hard working
Langley said that Porter’s legacy as a high-flying dunker was secure with some of the jams he made during his senior season. Of course, the one that stands out is from the Cougars’ Senior Night game Feb. 11 against North Johnston.
In a dunk made famous when the video shot by his mom, who recorded many of his monster slams, was picked up and voted one of the top clips in the nation by websites Hudl and Maxpreps.
“That was taken on a cell phone right here in Pinetops and, to go nationwide as one of the top five plays in the nation, that was pretty amazing,” Langley said.
But aside from the spectacular athletic ability, what set Porter aside, Langley said, was his willingness to work hard.
“On the surface, you see the skills, the athleticism,” he said. “You see the dunks and you see the scoring and all that stuff, and that’s great. And he will be missed. But it’s also his passion.
“I think basketball is his love and when you have your best player, the first-ever Division I player in school history as one of your hardest working players, I mean, that’s that’s a blessing! Because usually, you know, that’s not the case there.”
Langley said that Porter would always find time to spend in the gym, even during football season, and when Porter was there, his basketball teammates would show up, too.
That’s one thing Porter hasn’t been able to do since SouthWest shut down more than two months ago.
“It’s been kind of tough, looking for gyms and stuff for me to work out,” he said. “But we got it done and I’ve been doing stuff and being active.”
His mother assured that he was not without basketball goals at which to shoot.
“He’s got a goal outside at our house, inside the house and he’s got a miniature one in my truck!” she said with a laugh.
That little goal would have to share the back seat with the giant-sized trophy Porter was taking home Friday.
“I ended my senior year with a bang,” he said.