Steve Franco stumbled a bit going up the steps to the Grand Pavilion podium at the Casino at Lakemont.
It was one of the few missteps the record-setting University of Akron-bound quarterback made all year.
Franco was presented the award for the outstanding scholastic male athlete in the area at the seventh annual Altoona Mirror Athlete of the Year Banquet on a banner Monday evening for Tyrone Area High School before a record crowd of 350.
Mirror photo illustration by Tom Worthington II
Olivia Stever made it a sweep of the top awards for Tyrone when she received the Female Athlete of the Year. Earlier, Stever won the Frank Kiraly Memorial Award for the area's outstanding golfer, and Franco and his Golden Eagle football teammates were strongly represented among the 65 prep athletes on hand to receive plaques for winning athlete of the week awards this school year.
The event was sponsored by 611 MRI.
Two first-time awards were handed out: Altoona's Adena Delozier took home the Erin Dodson Memorial Award for top volleyball player, while Dylan Mountain of Altoona was named winner of the Angie Gioiosa Memorial Award for the best distance runner in the Mirror coverage area. Claysburg-Kimmel's Lydia Fleck and Central's Matt Ritchey captured the Ron Rickens Sportsmanship Awards, while Glendale wrestler Tucker Weakland was given the Erin Johnson Award.
Blair County Sports Hall of Famer Ed Flanagan, the longtime NFL center, delivered the keynote speech.
"This is a great award because it kind of represents our whole team,'' Franco said when receiving Male Athlete of the Year. "I want to dedicate this award to them.''
Franco's Class AA finalist team made its presence felt with five athlete of the week recipients, but he certainly earned the right to stand out. Franco set almost every Golden Eagle record for career and season passing during Tyrone's 14-2 campaign, and, after the season, he was selected the state's player of the year for his classification even though the Eagles finished as PIAA runners-up.
Franco also was a starter and the top defensive player on Tyrone's 20-plus-win boys basketball team that came within one victory of making the state tournament.
"It's really a big honor to be here with so many great athletes and get this award,'' Franco said.
A two-time District 6 girls golf champion with a scholarship to St. Francis in hand after finishing 13th at states her senior year, Stever thought her night was over after she received the Kiraly Award. She was taken completely off guard when her name was called for Female Athlete of the Year.
"This is really unexpected,'' Stever said. "I'm very humbled. Congratulations to all the athletes here on their accomplishments.''
In addition to her golfing achievements, Stever was a first-team Mirror all-star in girls basketball after leading Tyrone to the Mountain League championship and the play-in round of the PIAA Class AAA tournament.
The night turned emotional when Delozier took the stage to be given the inaugural Dodson Award by Erin Dodson's mother, Michelle.
"I hope she can feel Erin looking down on her,'' Michelle Dodson said, "because she's very proud of you.''
The Dodson Award was established in memory of the two-time Altoona High all-state pick who was diagnosed with brain cancer during her freshman year at Juniata College and died last year at the age of 25. The Lady Spikers' all-time leader in assists and service points, Delozier is following Dodson's footsteps to Juniata and was moved to tears when she received the award.
"It's such an honor,'' Delozier said. "Anytime you can be mentioned in the same sentence as Erin Dodson, it's a compliment. It was really tough looking into the stands this season and not seeing her.''
Altoona cross country coach Lee Baranik spoke glowingly of his former coaching colleague Gioiosa, who died in September after his own bout with cancer. Baranik and master of ceremonies Neil Rudel shared stories of Gioiosa, including his habit of giving athletes $100 gift certificates to take their parents to dinner.
"We lost a great friend. Angie knew about all of you, whatever the sport. My best memory of him was the family element,'' Baranik said.
To top it off Baranik gave the first Gioiosa Award to a Mountain Lion runner, Dylan Mountain. Mountain was Altoona's highest finisher in the PIAA cross country meet and won the District 6 Class AAA championship in the 3200-meter run last week.
"I'm flattered,'' Mountain said. "Coach B told us how great a runner [Gioiosa] was. He was a legend.''
Weakland won the Johnson Award, given every year to the area athlete that best exemplifies perseverance and success in the face of extreme challenges; Erin [Johnson] Kelly was born without a left forearm but went on to score 1,000 points at Claysburg-Kimmel and played college basketball at Penn State Altoona.
Weakland was a fitting successor to Kelly's example. He lost most of his sight at 4 months of age, leaving his vision limited to shadows, shapes and certain colors. However, he posted a 16-13 record on the mat as a senior and advanced to regionals by upsetting the No. 2 seed in the district tournament.
Fleck and Ritchey were recognized for their play and their conduct in the athletic arena along with strong academics and their work giving back to their communities.
"This represents everything [my parents] encouraged me to make important in my life,'' Fleck said.
A 12-year NFL veteran after only drawing the starting nod in his senior year at Purdue, Flanagan urged the athletes to go to college without fear but with a strong work ethic. He said when he coached in college, two of the most important things for which he searched in players were good grades and strong character.
"Think of it as a job, your first job,'' Flanagan said. "I hope you go a long way.''