Titans offensive dynamo, Bulldogs shutdown defender named Willie Ray Smith finalists

Published 7:46 pm Monday, March 22, 2021

Two local athletes are finalists for the Willie Ray Smith Awards.

Memorial quarterback Jah’mar Sanders and Nederland linebacker Jaice Beck were two of eight Southeast Texas football players named as finalists for the award during an announcement ceremony Monday night.

Coaches from all across the area nominate an offensive and defensive player. From that list, local media members vote for the finalists.

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One offensive and one defensive player will win the award at a banquet in April.

Sanders led the Titans to the first undefeated regular season in school history. The quarterback rushed for 1,163 yards and passed for 2,057 yards to go along with 37 total touchdowns.

“It feels good,” Sanders said of being named a finalist. “There is plenty more to come. This is just the start. This is just the beginning.”

Sanders said his favorite play of the season came during the Titans’ lone playoff game against Fort Bend Hightower. The junior ran about 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage to elude would-be tacklers to finally break free for a gain of about 20 yards.

Nederland’s Beck led the Bulldogs defense to the third round of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

The junior finished the season with 133 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and seven quarterback pressures.

“It is an honor to be here and get all of these accolades,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without my team and my whole d-line.”

Beck was named to the 5A All-State second team. Both he and Sanders made All District in their respective groups.

Beck said his most memorable game was the Bulldogs 41-35 overtime win over Barbers Hill.

“We made all of the plays together,” he said. “We practiced real hard for Barbers Hill, because they beat us real bad last year and we had to get our redemption.”

The Nederland defense forced a fumble on the first play of overtime and returned it 73 yards for a walk-off touchdown.

Other offensive finalists include West Brooks’ Bryce Anderson, East Chambers’ Earnest Ceasar and Newton’s DeAnthony Gatson.

On the defensive side, Silsbee’s Ayden Bell, West Orange-Stark’s Tyrone Brown and Lumberton’s Cade Danna were named finalists.