Open letter to Union’s Zak Browning

To: Zak Browning, Union football.

We owe you and your teammates an explanation.

In our athletes of the week section in Wednesday’s paper, we selected another football player who also had a huge game. Just about every week, there are three, four, or five such performances, and it is difficult to come up with one player over another.

On most weeks, we can defend our selection. On most weeks, we can say four or five were pretty much equal, and we went with “Player A” because of this or that. This week, it looks like we failed the eyeball test. As soon as I noticed it in the paper, it just did not look right.

This is not meant to take anything away from the player we did select, but Zak, your school-record 285-yard rushing performance with four touchdowns, in hindsight, should have been noted, as well.

As was pointed out to us by a reader: You rushed for more yards than the quarterback we selected passed for that night. And your team won a big non-league game against a ranked opponent.

The player we did select, Riley O’Dell of Heritage, is not offended by this explanation. He knows he had a fantastic night, but he also knows you were awesome on Friday, as well. He told me so over the phone.

A little background on the selection process: I do not make the picks. However, usually I am part of the process that looks at the athletes, checks on the numbers just prior to going to print. I was in the office that night when the picks were made. An alarm should have been ringing in my head. “Wait! Wait. What about Zak Browning?” It just did not happen. A lot of stuff was going on in the office that night, but I still feel terrible for not giving it one more look.

At the same time, Riley O’Dell threw for 273 yards in just a little more than a half of football. (Heritage was using a two-quarterback system and O’Dell played only the first and last series of the first half.) And he led his team to an overtime period against the two-time defending league champion.

As you can see, these picks are not that easy. 

I know I have a solid reputation with the Clark County coaches and athletic directors. They know, through nearly 10 years of working with me, that I will hold myself and the newspaper accountable when we make mistakes. I will explain our thought process for the decisions we make.

I believe most of the athletes who I have covered through the years would testify that I am always respectful to them and that I admire them for their dedication, their commitment to becoming varsity athletes.

Most importantly, coaches, athletic directors, and athletes know that I care.

There have been three occasions in my time at The Columbian when I have called out publicly, in my column, the selection process for all-league teams. Well, I would not be able to do so with any integrity if I did not allow for the same scrutiny for our own selections, whether it be for our All-Region teams or for weekly accolades.

We will miss from time to time. This was one of those tough calls, but I must acknowledge a 285-yard rusher usually trumps a 273-yard passer. (Again, there were other circumstances, but still…) 

We will not always issue a public explanation like this one, but I will always answer my phone, reply to e-mails, when readers request explanations. (Oh, and for the record to all the other readers, Zak Browning did not call to complain, nor did anyone from his family.) 

Also, please note, Zak and the Titans, this was an honest oversight. There was no motivation to keep the Titans out of the paper. In fact, Zak, you are on the list for potential feature stories later in the year. (And you were on that list prior to your performance in Week 3.)

Keep up the great work, Zak. You had a memorable game, a game for the record books that no one can take away.

Paul Valencia

Side note: No matter who we pick for athletes of the week, somebody can argue that another player was worthy, or more worthy. We appreciate any help from coaches and fans. E-mail us with your nominations at Coaches, tell us about defensive performances, too. Those are more difficult to see in the boxscore.

Scroll to top