By Tyler Jackson, Register-Herald, for the West Virginia Sports Writers Association
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — Before the 2017 high school football season kicked off, Bluefield Beavers head coach Fred Simon sat down with his star running back, Latrell “Mookie” Collier, and the two had what Collier described as a heart-to-heart conversation.
The conversation was prompted after the Beavers went 4-6 in 2016, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“That look in his eyes after the season — you could tell that winning and losing mattered to him. It hurt him,” Simon said. “Sometimes if you don’t communicate that verbally — it just helps to say it. That helped us understand each other so much better and sometimes those types of tough situations, if you’re fortunate enough to take advantage of them, they can change things.
“That whole experience changed me into knowing how much he cared. From that point, I knew that he would try his best to win games.”
Winning was the name of the game for Collier, who led Bluefield to a 14-0 record and Class AA state championship. But now he caps off a year of success by winning the most prestigious award in West Virginia high school football, the Kennedy Award, given to the state’s top high school football player by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.
“I’m speechless,” Collier said after learning he was the winner. “Never did I imagine that I could win this award. Throughout the season I gave it my all with the goal of helping the team win, and playing for my teammates.
To win this award — it has me excited,” he continued. “I have to thank my mom, my dad, my brother, teammates, the coaches, the fans, community and God, because without them I wouldn’t be in this position at all.”
Finishing behind Collier in voting was 2016 winner, Mingo Central quarterback Jeremy Dillon, followed by House Award winner Martinsburg quarterback Tyson Bagent and Warner Award winner Jadon Hayes of Huntington.
“Jeremy Dillon is such an amazing player,” Collier said. “Jadon Hayes is such an amazing player and athlete, and Tyson Bagent as well. To know that I won over those amazing players, I’m speechless.”
Collier, who rushed for 2,235 yards and scored 39 touchdowns this season, becomes the second straight Class AA player to win the award following Dillon, and just the second player in Bluefield history to win it. Beavers quarterback Will Cole was the 2008 recipient.
“It’s an amazing blessing for the school and the team, as well as the entire athletic department,” Collier said. “To be the second player in the school’s history to win it is such an amazing blessing.
“I grew up watching Will Cole and some of the other great players in Bluefield history,” he continued. “Some of the players before, I’ve wondered how they didn’t win it as amazing as they are, but it wasn’t just me that won it. It was my offensive line, my quarterback, Truck (Edwards), the defense, the receivers — everyone played a big role in this.”
Many of the players who came before Collier have merited Kennedy consideration, and even Simon, who has guided the Beavers to 10 state championship appearances since 1995, acknowledges that. But much like Cole, he knew that Collier was a special player who would stand out in the program’s history.
“Both Will and Mookie were special and just super individuals,” Simon said. “It’s unbelievable. He’s added some things that some players in the history haven’t had. He’s a great receiver, a great leader on the football field and in the community and fantastic in the classroom as well.
“From our team, our coaching staff, student body, administration, community and fans, we’re very proud of him and happy he played for us,” he continued. “We thank the media for being fair to a super young man.”
Collier knows that the award is a reflection of what he accomplished on the field during a championship season, but notes that everything he has accomplished didn’t start on the field. It started in the classroom, where he’s built a strong support system.
“It all starts in the classroom, and I believe that,” Collier said. “If you’re not a good student, then nobody is going to look out for you like these teachers are. It starts in the classroom and with your character.
“When somebody sees you, you don’t want them to know you just for the football player you are, but for the person you are,” he continued. “Character and how you are as a person is what’s going to take you further than your athletic ability.”
Simon believes in those same values, and used his performance in the Class AA state championship game — a 29-26 win over Fairmont Senior — as an example of how character prevailed for Collier.
“I think those last two drives are the ultimate testament of what kind of player and person he is, along with his character,” Simon said. “He rushed for well over 100 yards against the top competition and even after he made a mistake late in the game with a fumble, he composed himself and when we needed a play to end the game on defense, he was there to make the big pass breakup on fourth down.
“I think that just speaks to the kind of kid he is, and is also a big reason why he won this award.”
Collier will be presented the award at the 72nd annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 6 in Charleston.