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Hard work, attitude helped Rebel return

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JOHNSTON, S.C. --- Tony Stepney won't forget about the like-walking-on-rust pain he got every time he moved his knee, but he remembers being angry above all else.

Strom Thurmond's Tony Stepney rehabbed from a knee injury in time to beat the field in the Class AA meet in the discus throw by 11 feet.   Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Strom Thurmond's Tony Stepney rehabbed from a knee injury in time to beat the field in the Class AA meet in the discus throw by 11 feet.

Stepney wanted to be "the man" this past football season for Strom Thurmond. He was a senior expecting to make an impact at running back and linebacker.

It took one cut -- one really, really quick cut -- to change everything.

"I made the cut and my lower body stopped moving and then my body was still moving and then I fell," Stepney said. "I got up in a lot of pain and I ended up going to the doctor a week after that and he said I had pulled my meniscus."

Stepney also had some broken meniscus cartilage in his right knee, and he wound up missing the entire 2010 football season.

However, he returned for the track & field season and eventually destroyed the competition at the state meet when his personal-best throw of 162'6" on the discus throw bettered the rest of the Class AA field by 11 feet. Stepney, who also finished third in the shot put, is The Augusta Chronicle's pick as the boys track & field athlete of the year.

The Rebel's knee had been bothering him for about seven years now, and the season-ending football injury occurred on a 7 on 7 drill this past summer.

Stepney could only watch from the sideline, and the frustration reached its peak when his dream of playing against Central in the third round of the Class AA playoffs was turned into a nightmare.

The Monday of that week, Stepney went to the doctor, hoping for good news -- news he could finally play.

But he got the opposite.

"I remember being mad mostly," Stepney said. "I wanted to just get out there and have some fun. But I couldn't do it because my knee was hurting. That was the worst of it all, sitting on the sidelines watching everyone grind and I was over there in pain, not able to do anything."

The Rebels lost a tough one to Central, 35-30.

It took time, but Stepney still worked hard in rehab as he got full, complete motion back in his knee.

"Somebody would come in before me and I'd be done before them," Stepney said. "I would get my stuff over with quickly and do everything as fast as possible and work my knee as hard as I could so I could recover quickly so I can get back. I was trying to get back as soon as possible. That was the only thing I was thinking about."

Finally healed, Stepney focused on track & field. He took the region title in both the discus and shot put this year; he had finished third in the state in the discus as a sophomore.

However, as a junior, he hurt his knee working out. He won a couple meets that season but also messed up his knee badly at the Upper State meet and couldn't throw as well as he normally can.

At this year's state meet, Stepney wasn't worried about a competitor coming out of nowhere to beat him with a long throw -- Stepney and his coaches knew he couldn't lose if the 6-foot-1 senior did his best. So Stepney was more concerned about keeping his throws inbounds.

He did land one in, one that sat far away from the others.

Stepney now heads to North Greenville University, where he will play football. He isn't sure if he'll compete in track & field there, since he said it's up to the football coaches.

An injury that he thinks first started back in middle school may have kept throwing up roadblocks, but Stepney kept working, admitting he got used to the pain and the understanding he'll probably have to get another surgery in a few years if he remains active in athletics.

Still, he has somehow stayed positive all the way to a state championship.

"I don't know, I really don't," Stepney said about how he keeps a good attitude. "I guess it's one of those days when you feel great and you can go out and do stuff, but it's the day you end up in pain. I always look forward to those days that you can get up and do anything."

Tony Stepney

FAVORITE SPORTS MOMENT: As a sophomore running back, he ran over one of the football team's best defensive players. From then on, he was known as this "big mad man."

FAVORITE ATHLETE: LeBron James

FAVORITE TEAM: Atlanta Falcons

FAVORITE CLASS: Drama

BEST ADVICE: "Don't let a compliment go to your head 'cause it'll be filled with air and then you get big-headed."


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