MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Austin Sanders felt calm as he stood behind the curtain, waiting to be introduced as a finalist for Tennessee's Class AAA Mr. Football Lineman of the Year award. But once he was on stage, in front of more than 500 people at the Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center, the second time his name was called caused the nerves to kick in.
"My palms got sweaty and all I heard was, 'The winner is Aus... .' I didn't even hear them say the rest of my name," the first Bradley Central player to be a Mr. Football said later. "After that, it was like seeing a ghost for the first time. I just kind of went blank.
"To know I'm the first from the program, and that I'll be a part of Bradley history, is an awesome feeling."
Sanders was the only one of the five Chattanooga-area finalists to be a 2012 Mr. Football. Howard's Brandon Walters in Class AA and Boyd-Buchanan's Malik Brewer in Class A were other Lineman of the Year finalists, and South Pittsburg's Demetric Johnson was a finalist for Class A Back of the Year. Baylor junior Kicker of the Year candidate Rafael Gaglianone was the only area underclassman to be a finalist.
The 6-foot-6, 295-pound Sanders, a University of Tennessee commitment, beat Brentwood High's Logan Teichmann and Memphis Central's Frank Herron, an LSU commitment, for the AAA lineman award. Herron is a 6-4, 240-pound defensive end who had 14 sacks and seven tackles for loss this season and is rated the state's No. 2 overall prospect by Rivals.com. He and Sanders could face one another in the Southeastern Conference.
"I thought about that when we were standing next to each other," Sanders said. "He's a great player and I wondered if him going to a program like LSU and me going to Tennessee, which has struggled, if that would play into [the voting]. I'm glad it didn't.
"I met him at Nike camp in Memphis and we went up against each other twice. He beat me once and I beat him once."
Walters (6-9, 290), Brewer (6-4, 320) and Johnson (6-0, 180) are all uncommitted and will be making college visits in the coming weeks. Walters and Brewer have visited Tennessee and will make other visits in December.
"I think just being a finalist for an award like this will increase my chances of getting to a good school where I feel comfortable and can play," said Brewer, who also has visited Eastern Kentucky and will visit Clemson in December. "It's an honor just to be a finalist and considered one of the top three players at your position."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.