CHRIS MOORE — Memorial, Nederland players more than earned Willie Ray Smith Award nominations

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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It is no secret that Southeast Texas is a cornucopia of talented high school football players. In just the last two decades Jamaal Charles, Sean Witherspoon, Earl Thomas, Christine Michael, Kary Vincent Jr. and Roschon Johnson left the area to play college football at major programs and — for some — in the NFL.

Vincent and Johnson are on their way when their college careers end.

All of the aforementioned athletes won the Willie Ray Smith Award during their time in high school.

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Two local athletes have a chance to add their name to a pretty incredible list.

Memorial quarterback Jah’mar Sanders and Nederland linebacker Jaice Beck were named two of eight finalists for the award Monday during a press conference at the MCM Elegante.

West Brook quarterback Bryce Anderson, East Chambers running back Ernest Ceasar and Newton running back DeAnthony Gatson also were named finalists on the offensive side of the ball.

Joining Beck in the defensive finalists are Silsbee defensive lineman Ayden Bell, West Orange-Stark linebacker Tyrone Brown and Lumberton linebacker Case Danna.

For the offense, this should be Sanders’ award to lose. The junior quarterback led his team to the first undefeated regular season in school history and his numbers are unmatched. He also finished second in District 9-5A in passing and rushing yards.

Anderson edges Sanders out barely in total yards, but the Titans quarterback reached the end zone five more times than the Bruin.

How much a player means to his team is not something that will show up on a stat sheet but is invaluable. Covering the team all season, I watched closely as Sanders made plays that no one else on the field could make.

The entire team rallied around him. If he was hit late, the entire team had something to say about it. When he turned the ball over, the defense picked him up off the turf and patted him on the helmet and told him they would get him the ball back.

Sanders deserves to have his name on that list of award winners.

Beck is a Nederland Bulldogs linebacker, and every image that conjures in your head when you read it is true about him. He is a hardnosed, grind-it-out player that made offenses earn every yard this past season. The Bulldogs defense came up with huge play after huge play at the end of the season when Nederland needed it most.

“No. 25 Jaice Beck with the tackle,” was a sentence on a loop from the announcer during football games at Bulldog Stadium.

Beck led all finalists with 133 tackles. He was the only player in the area to make it to the 5A All-State Second team. No players made first team.

The crazy thing is that both of these players are only juniors. Sanders and Beck will suit up for their respective teams this fall with a world of potential and talent — and, hopefully, Willie Ray Smith Awards on their resumes.

Chris Moore is the sports editor for Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at