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2008 All-County Baseball Team
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It's hard to match a season like the one Newton High's Kinley Bryant just finished, on and off the field.

As a result, Bryant, a senior center fielder, has been named Player of the Year, headlining The Covington News 2008 All-County Baseball Team.

Based on his accomplishments on the diamond, Bryant has generated the attention of several colleges. However, that will have to wait - at least for now - as his mind is set on attending Georgia Southern University to major in engineering.

"It doesn't get any better," said Newton coach Billy Roper of the 18-year old Bryant. "I want him to go play college ball, but when he says he wants to concentrate on being an engineer, what do I say?"

Without question one with the talent of Bryant could play at the next level. At the same time, one has to admire his fortitude on life, especially at an age of such unpredictability.

"I'd like to rest," Bryant said, who battled sore knees this season. "My body's kind of worn out, but yeah, maybe I'll play my second year."

Despite a down year for the three local high schools (24-52 overall), Bryant helped the Rams to a county-best 10-16 record.

"I think that I could've done better - no one is perfect," he said, "but I feel as though I strive for perfection, and when you do (that) your best qualities and attributes are shown."

Still, Bryant led the county in several categories, including batting average (.432), hits (32), triples (4) and on-base percentage (.589).

In addition, he had 17 RBIs, 24 runs scored, two home runs and nine stolen bases.

Defensively, Bryant managed the outfield in center with a cool and commanding presence, committing just one error this season.

"If it was out there he got it," Roper said.

Perhaps Bryant's most memorable game of the season came on March 13 in a 9-6 loss to Oconee County.

Not only did he go 3-for-4 at the plate, but more impressively he had two defensive gems. The first was a diving catch in the outfield, while the second came after robbing a home run with a leaping grab at the fence.

According to Bryant, there's nothing more satisfying than the latter.

"Anybody can put a number on the board," he said, "but not too many people can keep it off the board."

Though Roper agreed it was a spectacular game, there have been a number of exceptional moments involving No. 44.

"That one really stands out, but he did something special every game," Roper acknowledged. "If any sticks out it's probably his sophomore year (when) he hit a home run in the state tournament against Houston County. I remember that one because the pitcher was mowing everyone down, and Kinley took him yard."

Without a doubt, it was a glimpse of more to come.

In the classroom, he has been equally impressive, scoring well on the ACT and maintaining a high grade point average.

Bryant, who grew up in Newton County, has played for the Rams since he was a freshman.

"Each year has been extremely fun," Bryant said. "The coaches only seek the best from us, it's just that's not what happens all the time, but overall it's been good."

Over the last two years - a span of more than 50 games - Bryant went just two games without recording a hit. In fact, he only struck out 14 times over the last three seasons.

"You can't replace a Kinley," Roper said. "You don't get those special players like him every 10 years - you get one or two. What you see is what you get with Kinley. He led by actions, and gave 110 percent in practice."

Besides his coaches, Bryant's father, Wayne, has had the biggest impact on his young life.

"He instilled in me certain qualities and morals, and that's how I live my life on and off the field," Bryant said.

Those qualities have not only paid off for Bryant, but his teammates have also benefited.

"As good of a ballplayer as he is, he's a much better person," Roper said. "All of the offseason stuff (and) leadership qualities, Kinley possesses all those. You know that with him being a team leader, the younger guys have somebody to look up to. He is always trying to make people better, and as a coach, even if you're not there watching him, he's going to be trying to make things better."

One such example came earlier this season when teammate Quenton Pooler was struggling early on. After Roper paired the two up in the batting cages, the hard work paid off for both sluggers.

"I told him this before that I have a young one growing up," Roper said, "and I said, 'I can only hope my son grows up to be as good a person as you. It has nothing to do with baseball - it's just the kind of person you are.' If my little ones can grow up and be anything close to him, I've done a good job."

Admittedly, Bryant will miss the people he has surrounded himself with more than the game. And though some might question whether or not he was wasting an opportunity, Roper is the quickest to downplay that notion.

"He's got an idea and a plan of what he wants to do," Roper said. "If he was just going to sit at home then I would say it was a waste, but he's got his head on straight. He knows that baseball's fun (and) baseball's great, but to him there's a bigger picture, and the bigger picture is getting that degree."