At high school football banquets all over town, the state and country, the Friday night heroes are rewarded for their hard work and credited for their talents.

It happens everywhere. Every year.

Some athletes steal the headlines from teammates. There are athletes who are destined for stardom at the college level. There are prep players, as is the case at every level, who fill necessary roles so those on-field stars get their chances to compete in the Southeastern Conference, the Big Ten, Pac-10 or Big 12.

Less glamorous linemen who open holes and undersized linebackers who derail hard-charging running backs go on to college as students who sit in the stands cheering on their team.

That’s a role someone has to fill.

Dalton fullback Sawyer Shoates is that guy. It doesn’t mean that Shoates didn’t leave his mark on the Catamounts’ football program the past four years. It doesn’t mean that Shoates might not be missed at Dalton more than any senior graduating this spring.

Coach Ronnie McClurg said it was hard to put into words what Shoates has meant to the team, school and community.

Give it a shot, Ronnie.

“He’s simply one of the finest young men to ever walk the halls here,” McClurg said. “He’s the epitome of a great person.”

Good enough.

Not everyone can be Reggie Bush. Can you name Southern Cal’s pulling guard? Probably not.

But Sawyer Shoates, and thousands like him, never hogged the spotlight. He did his job, and did it religiously. He knocked down linemen. He ran the football some, often shocking opposing defenses with his quickness and toughness. He ran enough to gain 634 yards and score four touchdowns this past season.

That was Saywer’s role. He took a lot of pride in what he did. At last week’s banquet, Shoates received his just reward — the team’s prestigious Coaches Award and the first Carter McCamy scholarship, worth $2,000.

He had no idea the awards were coming his way. He described the McCamy honor as a shock a few days later. He, like many in the Dalton football family, knows what a great person Carter McCamy was prior to his untimely death.

For Shoates, those two awards will outlive the memories of all his football exploits. He said as much.

The 18-year-old Shoates calls his four years at Dalton the “greatest years of my life.” He said had the Cats not made the playoffs his senior year he might have viewed his prep career as a disappointment. As it turned out, the 2005 season turned into “an awesome thing.”

On the same day he won two awards at the team banquet, Shoates learned he had been accepted to Middle Tennessee State, the same college where a sister and brother attended in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

He’s “95 percent sure” that’s where he will be, come this fall. It also means he’s come to grips with attending college without playing football.

Despite the encouragement of his parents to continue his playing career at a smaller school, Sawyer is ready to be a student, not a student-athlete.

“I prayed about it, thought about it,” Shoates said. “My parents want me to play. I just don’t know if my heart would be in it. You have to realize a time comes to give up the dream. To be honest, coming from a program like Dalton, to play at a smaller college program would be a letdown.”

MTSU is the only school to which Shoates has applied. He’s perfectly content to take his McCamy scholarship money, happily head to Middle Tennessee and leave football behind.

That’s OK.

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