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Private sector: For the second year in a row, the John Reynolds Player and Coach of the Year hail from the GISA

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- At age 14, Tony Zenon was uncertain of anything as his family fled their home in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina barreled down.

In the aftermath, their house was destroyed, and for a time, the Zenons were unsure where they were going to live. Unable to drive to Texas, instead they headed toward Florida, eventually finding Albany.

And the rest, of course, is history.

In Albany, Zenon and his family discovered a foundation that not only would lay he groundwork for him to become this year's John Reynolds Player of the Year, but also help him become an all-around inspiration to others.

"Use adversity or your weakness to your advantage and (turn it into) motivation," he said with a certainty and confidence that shows how far he has come since being transplanted from his home, his town and everything he knew as the norm in 2005.

That's because at a young age, Zenon learned these virtues he believes has led to success in whatever he's tried to accomplish in Albany, whether it was eluding or running over tacklers, maintaining his 3.2 GPA or leading the Knights to back-to-back GISA Class AAA state title game appearances.

Deerfield ended last season as the GISA Class AAA champion and this year's runner-up.

Fresh off the state title in 2008, Zenon used that winner's mentality this season, rushing for 2,268 yards and 27 touchdowns. Rushing, however, was only one of Zenon's dimensions. He also caught 11 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, and even threw for 58 yards (2-of-4 passing), including a 25-yard scoring toss against Mount Vernon. In all, he scored 184 points.

"When I'm in the backfield, I love the challenge of getting past all 11 guys on defense," said Zenon, who is the second local GISA star to win the John Reynolds Award after Terrell Academy's Keaton Icard won it in 2008. "However way I do it, it's in me to do it. Some things, I don't really see. It's automatic. It's a reaction, or something like that. Every defender has a weakness. When I go against bigger guys, I use my speed and quickness; and against a faster guy, I use my power against them."

Zenon, who also is a GISA All-State selection for the second consecutive year, has plans on playing college football, but he is not sure yet as to where. With offers from Georgia Southern, Central Michigan, Alabama-Birmingham, Zenon also is "talking a lot to Georgia Tech." Making it clear often this season that he would like to play for the ACC champion Yellow Jackets, Zenon also wants to attend the school to study engineering and architecture.

"If I don't get to go there and play football, I won't cry about it," Zenon said of his wish to play at Tech. "I would love to go to Georgia Tech, I'm sending my highlight pieces to bigger schools, and hopefully I will get more calls sometime in January.

"It would even be awesome if I could play at LSU and going back home."

At Zenon's current home, Albany, he is making an off-the-field impact both in the classroom and in his very home, where his baby brother, Tyler, was born in January. Also with a 9-year-old brother, Jawuan, Zenon realizes his worth to them.

"My responsibility to be a role model has increased a lot," Zenon said. "I have two little brothers, and they look up to me. Jawuan comes to watch me play, and when I come out to play I see him along the side outside the fence playing football with other friends. He says he wants to be like me, but I tell him he should want to be better than me."

Deerfield coach Allen Lowe also feels Zenon has been -- and will continue to be -- an inspiration to others.

"There's no doubt he's got a unique story," Lowe said. "I just think that it shows a great belief in himself with the way he has kept a positive attitude in the classroom, and on the football field and be a positive member of the school environment. He is a true success story."

From here, Zenon says he'll formulate a new plan for where his life goes next.

Of course, as he learned five years ago, even that could change.

"Most of the time, when I start practice, I remember I wouldn't be here if it weren't for Katrina," Zenon said. "Most people would use that as a bad thing, but I use it as a good thing. God has a plan for me."