Vic Beasley may have been talking about his own path to stardom, but the Atlanta Falcons' outside linebacker had the full attention of the dozens of athletes inside the Chattanooga Convention Center.
After all, Tuesday night's featured speaker at the Best of Preps Banquet has gone from small-town star to NFL All-Pro. In a question-and-answer session with Times Free Press sports editor Stephen Hargis and college beat writer David Paschall, Beasley said one thing stood out in his path.
"I realized it was up to me to make a difference in my own life," Beasley told the huge crowd. "I always wanted to compete as much as I could and always keep improving.
* Female Athlete of the Year: Jana Johns (Calhoun)
* Male Athlete of the Year: Cole Copeland (Bradley Central)
* Coach of the Year: Adam Caine (Sequatchie County)
It's a trait the Adairsville, Ga., native and Tuesday night's major award winners have in common. One of those was the Scrappy Moore Coach of the Year, Sequatchie County football coach Adam Caine.
"Vic Beasley was great and he showed a great passion for life," Caine said. "He's a very down-to-earth, humble guy who appreciates what God gave him."
Calhoun two-sport star Jana Johns was the Scrappy Moore Female Athlete of the Year winner after earning player of the year honors in basketball and softball. She just started classes at South Carolina, where she will play softball, but her coach, Diane Smith, was on hand to talk about what set her apart.
Again, it was about passion.
"Jana is every coach's dream as an athlete and a student," Smith said. "She takes her games and practice very seriously. When kids would get out of practice during the summer for lunch, she would go off to a field with her dad to hit some more or take ground balls. She just had a rare drive to be the best."
So does Bradley Central's Cole Copeland, who is headed to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to play football after all-state seasons on the gridiron and basketball court. For Copeland, the passion comes from wanting to win and the bonds he makes with his teammates.
"There is nothing like going out, with your backs to the wall, and overcoming adversity, especially in football," he said. "You've got 11 guys on each side of the ball, and it creates a special bond that lasts a lifetime.
"I loved Vic Beasley's message. He sounds like an amazing person, and it's something special to see a guy like him come back and give back like he does."
Tuesday's other three major award winners stand out because of the way they have chosen to live their lives.
Gary Ownbey has dedicated his professional life to supporting the athletic programs at Bradley Central, where he has broadcast games for two decades. For that he was named the recipient of the Sandy Sandlin Award given to an unselfish sportsman.
The Guy Francis Award for the person who goes the extra mile was awarded to Howard baseball coach Jon Johnson, who resurrected the school's program and introduced some of his student-athletes to sports for the first time.
The night's most emotional award, the Bobby Davis Heart & Desire Award, went to Sequatchie County's John Higgins, who overcame a difficult childhood with the help of foster parents Lisa and Tony Cates to become an all-state football lineman.
Higgins, who will soon begin engineering classes at Tennessee Tech, summed up the evening in his moving video tribute with one sentence.
"I wanted to be successful."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22.
Mickey Haddock Award for Boys' Cross Country
* Jonathan Boyd (Chattanooga Patriots)
Phoebe Wright Award for Girls' Cross Country
* Taylor Luthringer (Signal Mountain)
Neely-Merrell Award for Volleyball
* Emma Flowers (Cleveland)
Jim Phifer Award for Boys' Golf
* A.J. Lintunen (Baylor)
Brooke Pancake Award for Girls' Golf
* Hannah Powell (St. Andrew's-Sewanee)
E.B. "Red" Etter Award for Football
* Brendon Harris (Baylor)
Robert High Award for Boys' Basketball
* Jr. Clay (McCallie)
Jackson-Lacy Award for Girls' Basketball
* Rhyne Howard (Bradley Central)
Farr-Worsham Award for Wrestling
* Chuckie Thurman (Heritage) and Knox Fuller (Bradley Central)
Guerry Award for Boys' Tennis
* Cooper Long (Baylor)
Bartlett Award for Girls' Tennis
* McCartney Kessler (Calhoun)
Steve George Award for Boys' Soccer
* Drew Viscomi (McCallie)
Best Of Preps Award for Girls' Soccer
* Kailey Burrell (Dade County)
Wirt Gammon Sr. Award for Baseball
* Cole Shelton (Dalton)
Buck Johnson Award for Softball
* Ashley Rogers (Meigs County)
John Phillips Award for Boys' Track & Field
* Hakim McMorris (McCallie)
Laquisha Jackson Award for Girls' Cross Country
* Lennex Walker (Arts & Sciences)
John Franklin Award for Academics
* Will McGregor (McCallie)
Sandy Sandlin Award for Unselfish Sportsman
* Gary Ownbey
Guy Francis Award for Going the Extra Mile
Jon Johnson (Howard)
Bobby Davis Award for Heart and Desire
* John Higgins (Sequatchie County)