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BOYS ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Slye excelled in trying time
Sports were a safe haven for Joey Slye throughout the 2013–14 school year.
The recent North Stafford graduate struggled with so many emotions as his older brother, A.J., battled leukemia, but Joey was able to escape when he was on the field or in the weight room.
“When I was at football practice, I was worried about football instead of being worried about my brother, and when we had gym time I’d go to the gym and just try to drown out what was going on,” Slye said. “It was kind of an oasis for me to try to get my mind off of it for a little bit.”
His brother’s illness and eventual death in February could have been a major distraction for Slye, but he used sports as a diversion from his personal pain, and he honored his brother, also a football standout for the Wolverines before graduating in 2012, with how hard he competed.
Slye, who is now enrolled at Virginia Tech and preparing for his freshman football season with the Hokies, excelled on the football field and was a surprise standout track performer in his only season with the Wolverines.
In recognition of his athletic excellence in the face of tragedy, Slye has been named The Free Lance–Star’s male high school athlete of the year.
“He was able to lock in during some very difficult situations. With all he went through with his family and his brother this year, he was still our leader and our captain,” North Stafford football coach Joe Mangano said. “He was our everything.”
Slye was a first-team all-state linebacker and kicker for the Wolverines, who advanced to the state semifinals for the third straight season. He was also a standout punter and was a key offensive contributor at H–back.
Slye was recruited to Tech as a preferred walk on. He will compete for the Hokies’ starting kicker job in training camp and could also see some practice time at linebacker.
Soccer is also a passion of Slye’s. He played three seasons for the Wolverines, winning a state championship ring as a freshman. But he chose not to play this season to avoid the risk of injury. He decided, after also considering joining the Wolverines’ lacrosse team, to try his hand at track for the first time since middle school.
In his only high school track season, Slye finished all-state in both the shot put and discus, placing fifth and eighth in the events at the state meet, respectively.
He finished the season with the third-best shot put throw in the area (49 feet, 10 inches).
“At the end of football season, I was actually going to try to play lacrosse. They needed a defender and I was like, ‘I might as well go hit some more kids,’” Slye said. “But I didn’t want to get hurt. I wanted to do something that was going to keep me active and keep me in the weight room.”
Because of his previous experience as a track thrower and his muscular 220-pound frame, Slye was able to make an instant impact for the Wolverines.
“He became a really big asset because he was so good at it,” North Stafford track coach Chris Farmer said.
Farmer, also a football assistant, coached both A.J. and Joey, and he noticed something striking about the character of both.
“Joey is just extremely mentally tough. His brother was the same way,” Farmer said. “I don’t know what his parents do to get that type of mental toughness and focus from them, but it’s phenomenal.”
A.J. never strays far from Joey’s mind. Joey dives into sports with the same passion A.J. had when he was playing.
“My brother played with all his being,” Slye said. “He was just so excited to be out there and playing against some of the kids he got to play against, so his intensity and his drive brought out a lot of my better games as well.”
Slye continues to be driven by his brother’s memory.
“Hopefully I’ll have six [A.J.’s old number] as a jersey number [at Tech]. If I can’t get that, then I’ll try to incorporate a number that has six in it,” Syle said. “And I think in my routine for kicking I’ll probably shoot up a six to A.J.
“I just know that I have somebody else to not only play for but also to live for.”
Nathan Warters: 540/374-5442
Free Lance–Star player of the year voting by the FLS sports staff (first-place votes in parentheses; Slye won on a tie-breaking vote):
1. Joey Slye, North Stafford (3) 26
2. Jordi Estes, King George (2) 26
3. Damen Daniel, Colonial Forge (2) 20
4. Eric Byrd, Riverbend 12
t–5. Kyle Talley, Courtland 11
t–5. Aason Pankey, Caroline 11
Also receiving votes: Gary Jennings, Colonial Forge 7 (1 first place); Keyshawn Johnson, Caroline 4; Rasharrd Harris, Caroline 2; Jarmal Bevels, James Monroe 1.