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PINETOPS — The list of names that have received The Wilson Times Athlete of the Year award all have one attribute in common.
From Clay Johnson in 1974 to the present day, every recipient has served as a transformative figure in their respective athletic programs for a given year.
SouthWest Edgecombe High's Keishon Porter marks the latest worthy addition to the group.
That's not to say that Cougars were a destitute group prior to Porter's arrival on campus. After all, Pinetops is the home of legendary girls basketball coach Sandra Langley, who owns more wins in the sport than anyone in the history of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. While Langley is still active as the only girls basketball coach in the school's history, four Cougars have received the Athlete of the Year award.
But in the case of Porter, his term of service represents a step up for the Cougars. When he signed with Radford University, the high-flying Porter became the first SouthWest boys basketball player to sign with an NCAA Division I program. Basketball ended up being his calling, but until it was time to decide, the 6-foot-4 Porter had attracted attention from Football Bowl Subdivision programs as a wide receiver.
Entering his senior year at SouthWest, Porter made his decision between the two sports. He picked basketball as the craft to hone at the next level, but instead of going into training mode for basketball and risking an injury on the gridiron, Porter opted to return to the football field for one more year.
Certainly, that pleased head coach Jonathan Cobb, whose Cougars have won or shared the last five 2-A Eastern Plains Conference titles. The Cougars went 12-2 in 2019, losing only to Edgecombe County rival Tarboro and Elizabeth City Northeastern in the third round of the NCHSAA 2-A playoffs.
However, Cobb's comments prior to Porter's senior season were something that resonated and spoke to the character of the latter.
The return of Porter to the SouthWest lineup in 2019 gave the Cougars access to a premiere wingspan on the outside and presented another option when opponents opted to stack the box against SouthWest's physical running game. But when asked about Porter's return in the preseason, Cobb said that Porter felt like he would be letting his teammates and school down if he didn't play football in 2019.
Here's something to chew on when you think of transformative figures. At SouthWest Edgecombe, the Cougars have been a ground-and-pound outfit under Jonathan Cobb and certainly his father, Raymond, who directed SouthWest from 2004-2012. But with a strong-armed quarterback in Jayden Lewis and Porter, the Cougars weren't afraid to put the ball in the air — particularly during Porter's junior year.
A SouthWest quarterback matriculated the football via the forward pass 153 times in 2018, with Porter accounting for 16 TDs receiving. The Cougars threw 20 less passes in 2019, but consider some of the previous years SouthWest experimented — or didn't — with the art of throwing the football.
In 2017, SouthWest threw it 51 times. Fifty-nine attempts were logged in 2016. The numbers are similar as one goes further back in the Cobb family era: 76 and 50.
More or less, Porter's presence caused even the most stringent of offensive approaches to evolve.
On the court, his explosiveness at the rim and first step off the dribble caused the recruiting process to elevate during Porter's junior year. His presence there helped SouthWest cap off a credible two-year turnaround, going from five to 19 wins and finishing second in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference behind only state champion Farmville Central.
Athlete of the Year recipients, such as Greenfield's Coby White (2018) and Greene Central's Tre Wade (2016) have served as beacons of light to elevate their teams and programs to yet another level of exposure.
Porter's inclusion on the elite roll is another worthy addition for a player who simply raised the profile of SouthWest Edgecombe athletics.