Alan Dell

Commentary | Manatee High's Ben Axon dreams of WKU football glory

Ben Axon is heading to Western Kentucky this week. The former Manatee High running back will pay for his lodging and expenses as he finishes three classes he needs to become eligible for the 2012 season.

Axon has made some mistakes, but give him credit. He knows a good thing when he sees it and is determined to make the most of it.

“This is a great opportunity for me to prove a lot of people wrong and make people on my side proud,” Axon said. “I don’t expect anything to be given to me. The running back situation is available, and I am going to do everything I can to get it.”

WKU loses Bobby Rainey, who led the nation in carries and was second in rushing. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Axon had a solid year as the leading rusher for national junior college runner-up Butler in 2010 and thrives on being a workhorse back similar to Rainey.

“WKU runs the West Coast offense, and the position fits me,” Axon said. “I want to get out there early, get used to the environment and be ready to go when I become eligible. My feeling is the sooner I get there, the better.”

Ironically, the 22-year-old Axon could be battling another Manatee High product, incoming freshman Leon Allen, for the starting spot.

Axon, who has two years of eligibility remaining, would appear to have the edge in regard to his experience on the college level, age and size, but he is not taking anything for granted.

If Axon or Allen win the job, WKU could have a skill set of Manatee County products in its starting offense that would include Southeast’s Boe Brand and Jon Dowling and Braden River’s Willie McNeal at receiver. Additionally, Southeast product Dyron Speight will be fighting for the backup quarterback job.

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The well-traveled Shed Haynes finally has found a home. The former Palmetto High quarterback, who has attended four colleges and two high schools, is an integral part of the Tarleton State (Texas) basketball team, which entered the week ranked ninth nationally in Division II.

Haynes runs the offense for Tarleton (13-1) and leads the team in assists and steals. The 6-foot senior guard (9.8 ppg) is one of three players for the Texans averaging nine points per game behind leader Chris Harrell (13.4 ppg).

Haynes transferred to Tarleton after not getting the played time he wanted last season at USF. He started his career at State College of Florida and transferred to Lackawanna College the next season. He played quarterback at Palmetto when his father James was the Tigers’ head coach and played two years of basketball there.

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Brice Smith, the former Manatee High backcourt ace, is averaging 15.6 points per game to lead the Pasco-Hernando CC basketball team in scoring. The 6-3 guard is second on the team in steals (27), rebounds (5.9) and assists (3.4).

The Conquistadors, who switched to Division II last season, are 9-6 under and on a six game win streak. Smith was honored at the Ocala Juco Shootout Tournament last month. In the two game tournament he had 22 points and 11 rebounds vs. Indian River and 19 points, five rebounds and seven assists against State College of Florida.

Smith plays both shooting guard and point guard. Last year, he didn’t get a lot of playing time and averaged about five points per game, which might have hurt him for the next level. His high game this year was 25 points against IMG.

“I want to play Division I basketball. I received a call from Liberty University, and we will see what happens there or other places,” Smith said.

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Bianca Hanna, two-time Player of The Year and Southeast’s second-ranked female career scoring leader, has also taken Texas by storm.

The versatile guard is the second-leading scorer and vital backcourt cog for Paris Junior College, which entered the week 20th in the national junior college Division I women’s basketball rankings.

Hanna is averaging 9.5 points per game for the 13-2 Dragons and is the third best free-throw shooter in NJCAA Region XIV, converting 80.9 per cent from the line. She has shown her versatility ranking third on the team with 60 rebounds and is among the leaders in assists (17) and steals (10).

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Mariah Dowdell, another Southeast High product and Herald first team All-Area choice, is having a solid season in her first year at Des Moines Area Community College (14-3), which has received votes in the NJCAA Division II women’s basketball poll. Dowdell had one of her best games when she scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists in her team’s 77-66 victory over Mineral Area CCC earlier in the season.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be contacted at 745-2112.

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