Ask a coach what makes an athlete great, and chances are you’ll get multiple answers.
Ultimately, it was a multitude of talent that helped set St. Amant High’s Toni Rodriguez and Port Allen High’s Darian Claiborne apart.
Rodriguez and Claiborne claimed the Athlete of the Year honors at The Advocate’s 28th annual Athlete of the Year/Star of Stars banquet held Tuesday night.
The duo made history while winning their awards. Rodriguez, a junior who competed in three sports, became the first winner from her Ascension Parish school. Claiborne, a senior, a two-sport star and a Texas A&M football signee, became his school’s first winner and only the second West Baton Rouge Parish athlete to claim the award.
In addition to honoring the Athlete of the Year winners, The Advocate honored the top individuals in 15 high school sports with its Star of Stars awards during the banquet held at its administrative offices.
“Coach (Leonard) Parker (Port Allen coach) kept telling me it was an even battlefield,” Claiborne said. “All of us had spectacular numbers, and there was a chance any one of us could get it.
“I’ve come a long, long way. I think sports developed me into a young man. I also think I needed sports to stay on the right track. It (award) is a great honor. I never would have thought I’d win it or even be in the conversation for it. It means so much.”
Parkview Baptist’s Brennan Bozeman and Southern Lab’s Marquise Ricard were the other boys finalists.
St. Joseph’s Academy’s Morgan Miller and Plaquemine High’s Amber Smith were the other girls finalists. Even though she was the only returning finalists from 2012, St. Amant’s Rodriguez said she was shocked when he name was called as the winner.
“I kind of didn’t expect it,” Rodriguez said. “I really thought a senior would win it and the other two girls were seniors. I thought I’d have next year.
“So it was a big surprise. And I’m really, really thankful for the award. I love all the sports I do. It (award) also makes me feel very thankful for all my coaches and my parents. They’ve all pushed me to make me better.”
Claiborne excelled in football and track and field. He passed for 1,338 yards and ran for 919 yards with a combined total of 17 touchdowns.
On defense, he earned All-Metro and Class 3A all-state honors with 59 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and three interceptions. In track, he placed second in the Class 3A javelin with a toss of 180 feet, while placing third in the shot put at 52-11.
Rodriguez was the MVP of the All-Metro volleyball team for Divisions I-II. She compiled 627 kills, 234 digs, 97 blocks and 69 aces. In basketball she averaged 10 points and eight rebounds a game but saw her season cut short by a knee injury.
In track, she set school records in the high jump (5-6) and the javelin (147-4) and placed third in both events at the LHSAA’s Class 5A meet.
Claiborne joins Brusly High’s Shaeeta Brown, the 1993 winner, as the only West Baton Rouge winners. Rodriguez is Ascension Parish’s second winner in a row, joining Dutchtown’s Landon Collins, who won in 2012.
“From the time she walked into the gym to try out, I could see what a great athlete she was,” SAHS volleyball coach Allison Didier Leake said. “If you can show her or tell her what to do, Toni can do it. You don’t get many who can pick up on things that quickly and who also are so athletic. I knew I had something special.”
Port Allen’s Parker feels the same way about Claiborne, an athlete he coached for four years as an assistant football-head track coach.
“Darian reminds me of Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal because he’s always got that smile on his face,” Parker said. “All the kids gravitate to him with his personality.
“Everybody sees his ability to run, jump and throw. It’s his intelligence that sets him apart. He understands the game so well and can do pretty much whatever you ask. We’ll miss him that’s for sure.”