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Samson Ruzhentsev, far left, signs an autograph for a young fan on Friday after the Dr Pepper Classic dunk contest at McCallie. / Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon

Taking off from just a step beyond the free-throw line, Samson Ruzhentsev soared to his second straight Dr Pepper dunk contest championship Friday afternoon at McCallie.

The annual contest is part of this weekend's Dr Pepper Classic, with games being played Friday night and Saturday.

Hamilton Heights Christian Academy's 6-foot-7 superstar put on a show in front of a packed crowd who had just heard a powerful message from former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Gary Brackett, who played in two Super Bowls with the Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team, including the 29-17 victory against the Chicago Bears in February 2007. Brackett's message was to never stop working and fighting to reach your dreams.

Ruzhentsev's hard work has paid off since he arrived in Chattanooga from Russia three years ago.

"Playing here has been great and changed my whole life," said Ruzhentsev, a University of Florida signee. "I came over here and wasn't really known. Now we are one of the top teams in the nation. We have had a lot of success, and I am inspired to keep working."

Hamilton Heights is ranked No. 12 in the nation in the Xcellent 25 writers' poll.

Shortly after landing one of just two dunks that received perfect 10s from the three judges, Ruzhentsev put the final touches on his dunk contest dominance. Giving the packed house the show it had hoped for, he finished off by going in between his legs for a backward slam and also threw down a windmill dunk.

Ruzhentsev took down Kendall Brown of Sunrise Christian Academy from Bel Aire, Kansas. Brown received the only other perfect score as he leaped over a teammate and went full extension for a powerful slam.

"The in-between-the-legs dunk with the reverse slam I had never completed in my life," Ruzhentsev said. "I never thought I would be able to do these type of dunks before.

"I am glad I can be out here inspiring kids. I was looking forward to this all season. I tried to save the best for last for the crowd, which has gotten to know me the last three years. Chattanooga will always be my second home."

Other highlight dunks included a double-clutch slam by Howard's Kerrick Thorne and McCallie's Joryam Saizonou leaping over a teammate for a left-handed dunk.

Friday's action will continue with No. 12 Hamilton Heights facing Memphis East at 6 p.m., followed by McCallie taking on national No. 3 Sunrise Christian at 8.

Howard will play Webb-Bell Buckle at 4 p.m. Saturday, with Memphis East taking on Sunrise Christian at 6 and McCallie challenging Hamilton Heights at 8.

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