Friday, March 23, 2012

SPORTS >> Leaving a legacy that’s his own

Leader sports editor

Athletic legacies in small towns aren’t unique. Many towns have multiple generations of members of the same family who excel in high school sports. There is something different, and perhaps bigger about Beebe’s most storied athletic family legacy. The Fuller family has been highlighting Badgers sports for about 40 years, and one of the best just finished his high school basketball career by leading his team to the class 5A state championship.

Beebe senior point guard Brandon Fuller has felt the weight of expectations from family members to be a standout athlete since a very young age. This year, coaches and teammates jumped on his shoulders too.

Some people crumble under that kind of pressure, others don’t. Brandon didn’t, though he admits he felt the pressure.

“I think coach made it well known,” Fuller said. “He told me I was the leader, and the team looked up to me so I had to take that on and just get the job done.”

Getting the job done is something the Fullers have done for Beebe athletics for decades, so the pressure of simply carrying that surname was already palpable for Brandon.

“And it wasn’t even just the Fullers,” Brandon said. “We have the Lockharts and others in the family that were so good. All the athletes in my family I watched as I grew up, they were getting the job done. There was so much pressure for me to live up to that.”

Tony Lockhart was the most sought-after athlete of the family in the mid-1990s. He signed as a defensive back with the Arkansas Razorbacks. His younger brother DeWayne Lockhart was a standout quarterback and 100-meter dash champion 10 years ago.

Their mother was Pam Fuller, Brandon’s aunt. She was the first Lady Badger to receive a Divison I scholarship as a track star at Arkansas State University.

Other Fullers received athletic scholarship offers at various levels of college play over the years. Brandon’s father, Les Fuller, was a standout athlete also, but knee injuries kept him from pursuing college athletics.

“My dad played the same position I do and was very successful,” Brandon said. “He’s always on me when I do bad, but he always praises me too. I think I’ve lived up to that. I think I’ve actually exceeded what he accomplished.”

This year’s Badgers are potentially the best team Beebe’s ever had. It’s the highest classification the school has ever been in, and they beat the defending state champion and No. 1 seed Alma to advance to the semifinals for the first time in at least 30 years.

In that game, Brandon scored a career high 20 points, a feat his coach wasn’t surprised to see.

“We talked at the beginning of the year about him stepping into leadership role,” Beebe head basketball coach Ryan Marshall said. “In November and December, he was still trying to figure things out. About the last week of January, he found his confidence and took it up a notch. He’s just done a great job and didn’t surprise me at all.”

Fuller carries a 3.2 grade-point average and already has a scholarship qualifying score on the ACT. He has received some interest from small colleges, but isn’t yet willing to discuss specifics. Wherever he goes, Marshall believes he’ll be an asset.

“Someone’s going to take him because of his ability but also his character,” Marshall said. “They want players, but they also want guys that are going to listen to coaching, they’re going to be good locker-room guys, and they’re going to take care of the classroom. Brandon’s going to do that and that’s going to bode well for him in the recruiting process.”

Most success stories feature good support. Brandon says he’s received that kind of support from family, coaches, teammates and elsewhere.

His last year of high school has included a new taste for numbers he never thought he had.

“This year I’d say my favorite subject is math,” Fuller said. “I never liked math but I have a great teacher, Ms. Pam White. She’s challenged me to work to get good grades because she knows I want to earn a scholarship. So she’s really helped me.”

Not all of Brandon’s athletically gifted relatives have been as committed as he is in the classroom or to the more laborious aspects of high-level athletics. The willingness to take on whatever responsibilities come with being successful is what his coach thinks sets him apart.

“His family is full of great athletes, but I think Brandon’s biggest critic is himself,” Marshall said. “I thought he learned a lot about leadership and keeping your head about you in all situations. He’s a special kid. He’s one of those you revert back to as a coach years later as an example to other kids.”