— Doubts have always followed Sammy Mireles.
Elwood’s senior running back has been told he’s too small (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), too slow and not strong enough to play at college football’s highest level. He’s been told his first 2,000-yard rushing season as a sophomore was a fluke, and there were questions about the caliber of his competition after he did it again as a junior.
But with 211 more rushing yards this season, even the most ardent doubters will have to take notice. That’s the total Mireles needs to surpass Otis Shannon’s state record of 7,560 career rushing yards.
His first opportunity to take over the top spot on the list will come Friday when the Panthers (5-3) visit Alexandria (6-2). And the moment will be huge for high school football in Madison County.
The record is an individual honor, but everyone in Elwood’s program rightly feels a part of it. A television news crew brought cameras to last week’s game against Frankton — perhaps the final home contest of Mireles’ career — and even more eyes across the state will be focused on Alexandria this week.
That means more recognition for some of Mireles’ teammates — such as senior wide receiver London Leavell and senior tight end/linebacker Jared Bourff. But it also means more attention for Alexandria, which needs just one more win to match its best record since 1998 and has one of the state’s most electric passers in junior quarterback Blaize Kelly.
But, mostly, it means Mireles finally will receive some of the validation he deserves.
Teammates say they rarely see him without a smile on his face, and his work ethic and dedication inspire them to greater heights every day. Elwood has big goals that include chasing the school’s first sectional championship since 2000, but the Panthers are all in for Mireles’ record chase.
If he doesn’t reach the mark Friday against the Tigers, he’ll have at least one more shot in next week’s sectional opener at Lapel. Either way, the game — and all of the attention it generates — will take place within the county limits.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.
And a moment all of Madison County should be proud to call its own.