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Local Athletes: Westermoreland County standouts continue to advance careers

BY TAFT COGHILL JR.

THE FREE LANCE–STAR

Colonial Beach High School athletic director Steve Swope was gratified as he watched Chris Johnson Friday night.

Johnson scored nine points and pulled down five rebounds for the Minnesota Timberwolves in their 114–101 loss to the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center.

Swope and his family sat directly behind the Timberwolves bench to view the 6-foot-11 power forward who starred for Swope in 2003, when he was still the Drifters’ basketball coach.

“To see him play under the big lights,” Swope said, “it was certainly special.”

Those lights will seem dim once another one of Swope’s former pupils performs next Sunday.

Torrey Smith is a second-year wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens, who will play the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

Smith and Johnson are two of several athletes with ties to Westmoreland County who have helped give the small community a sense of pride in recent years.

“It’s a mind-boggling experience to think of all those kids that are successful right now,” said Swope, who attended Johnson’s game wearing Smith’s jersey.

This past week was a reminder of that for Swope as the Ravens defeated the New England Patriots to earn the AFC championship and Johnson signed a 10-day contract with the Timberwolves.

But there are other examples, as well.

University of Virginia freshman forward Justin Anderson is a Westmoreland native. His first-cousin, New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod, will make his second Pro Bowl appearance tonight.

And on a smaller scale, the community has also produced former James Madison basketball player Joe Posey (Johnson’s brother) and Tristan Carey, who is the leading scorer for Longwood’s basketball team after starting his career at La Salle.

“I was just thinking probably two days ago that we all need to get together and we need to do something in the community,” Anderson said Saturday. “The crazy thing is, somehow we’re all connected. We’re cousins and it’s a great feeling to come from down there. We’re trying to make our area proud. I don’t want to say we don’t come from nothing, but we don’t come from too much and all we know how to do is work. I think that’s really benefiting us.”

Posey said it was once “far-fetched” to think someone from Westmoreland could reach the professional level.

But that’s all changed. Children growing up in the area watched Bushrod protect quarterback Drew Brees’ blindside in a Super Bowl victory three years ago. They’ve also witnessed Smith become a star with the Ravens, Johnson chase his NBA dreams and Anderson’s continued development at Virginia.

“I think at this point, to any kid in the area,” Posey said, “nothing seems impossible.”

Smith grew up in Colonial Beach, which is a town in Westmoreland of about 3,000 people. He attended school there from kindergarten through sixth grade. After two years in Minnesota, his family returned to Colonial Beach briefly before they moved to Stafford County.

Smith spent the next four years at Stafford High School and went on to the University of Maryland. He said the one thing most of the group has in common is that they branched outside of their community.

“It’s some great talent down there, it’s just that a lot of people don’t get to see it because it’s so small,” Smith said. “I think the thing that benefited us all, it might seem bad, but it was getting out of there. You know, going to school in Fredericksburg, where there are more people, better competition and people can actually see your talent without thinking you’re a small-school guy.”

Johnson played for both Colonial Beach and Washington & Lee, but he also had stints at multiple prep schools before he moved on to Louisiana State.

Anderson played junior varsity basketball at Courtland as an eighth-grader, and he transferred to Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., for his high school career.

Posey played at Notre Dame Academy, while Bushrod lived in Westmoreland the first four years of his life before his family moved to King George County.

Carey starred at Colonial Beach and helped lead the Drifters to the Group A, Division 1 state championship in 2009.

“The fact that we have made it to a high level and we come from a couple of small counties in Virginia, it just kind of opens up the doors and opens the eyes of some of these young people,” said Bushrod, whose mother and Anderson’s mother are sisters. “That’s the most important part of it.”

There is no single explanation for the success of the athletes in the area. Swope credited strong bloodlines. Carey said the community support is constant encouragement. Posey said Swope helped develop him, Smith and Johnson by ensuring they had youth leagues and camps to participate in.

Posey also said athletics are a big part of life in the region because there isn’t much else to do.

He said as many as 50 people will watch him and Johnson play a game of one-on-one basketball in Colonial Beach High’s gymnasium.

And when Smith returns home to play hoops with him, Johnson, Carey and others the contests can get intense.

“Sometimes we just want to have fun,” Posey said. “But just like all athletes there comes a point where bragging rights kick in a little bit and take over.”

Swope said because Smith is preparing for the Super Bowl, he’s “on top right now” among the group.

But Bushrod has already helped earn a title, Johnson is attempting to stick in the NBA and Anderson is in the midst of a breakthrough at Virginia.

“I think it just gives you hope that no matter where you come from,” Carey said, “you can always have a positive outlook on life.”

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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