Talented Newsome senior basketball player Samal Shepherd received good news earlier this week -- his first scholarship offer, something he had anxiously been awaiting, came from St. Leo on Tuesday -- but on Friday morning his school week ended with a surprise.
Each season the top players in each sport in Hillsborough County are brought to the school board building -- often under the veil that they are receving some team award -- only to walk out with a trophy all their own.
The Hillsborough County Public Schools winter sports awards are selected by county coaches based on athletic and academic performance.
Shepherd, who led Newsome to the Class 5A region final and will leave the school as its all-time leading scorer with 1,497 career points, left carrying this year's Alston "Mac" McGahagin Award, given annually to the county's top senior boys basketball player.
“I didn’t know until they presented the award,” Shepherd said. “They did a good job surprising me with it. It was an honor. I was like, ‘Really?’ I didn’t think believe that the coaches would vote for me to be the top candidate for this award.”
Shepherd, a Times All-Hillsborough County first-team selection, also boasts a 4.53 weighted grade point average.
Plant girls basketball player Michelle Taylor thought she was coming to receive the Panthers' team GPA award, but received the Dottie McGahagin girls basketball award.
Taylor, who scored 1,447 career points, 624 rebounds, 530 steals and 331 assists, was arguably the county's most complete player this season, all while playing all five positions on the court.
"It means a lot," Taylor said. "I think it means all the hard work I put in has paid off. I’m happy to get rewarded for it. I wish I would have known. I would have looked nicer. I just thought we had got the team GPA award."
Taylor, who overcame a torn ACL injury at the end of her junior season that sidelined her for a crucial summer ball season and hurt her recruiting, owns a 4.51 weighted GPA and has accepted a scholarship to play at Appalachian State. She is also a Times All-Hillsborough County first-team selection.
Brandon’s Joe Cozart earned the Hillsborough County Outstanding Wrestler of the Year award. Cozart, who will wrestle at Iowa State, finished his high school career with a 214-4 record and 77 pins. He is a four-time district, region and state champion.
Durant’s Skotti Snapp won the Williamson-Snapp Outstanding Cheerleader Award. Snapp, who has a 4.88 weighted GPA, has earned All-America recognition for her tumbling skills. She hopes to attend Florida State and be a special education major.
Brandon wrestling coach Russ Cozart, who has coached the Eagles to 16 team championships and 62 individual state titles, also won the Joel Medgebow Coach of the Year Awards.
Plant earned the best team GPA awards in girls basketball (3.461), boys basketball (3.381), girls soccer (3.759) and cheerleading (3.411). The Newsome boys soccer team (3.539) and Brandon wrestling team (3.500) also earned the team GPA awards in their sports.
“We like to win," Taylor said of the Plant girls basketball team winning the GPA award. "We’d like to win everything, GPA included, not just on the basketball court. Coach (Carrie) Mahon got tired of coming in second to Newsome every year.”
The Alvarez awards, given to the top boys and girls soccer players, will be awarded at a separate ceremony.
(Photo: From left to right, Durant cheerleader Skotti Snapp, Brandon wrestler Joe Cozart, Newsome basketball player Samal Shepherd and Plant basketball player Michelle Taylor were the individual honorees at Friday's county winter sports awards.)