KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utsports.com) -- John-Patrick Smith stamped a final exclamation point on his historic tennis career Tuesday when became the fourth Vol ever to be named the Roy F. Kramer SEC Male Athlete of the Year.
Smith, Tennessee’s first four-time tennis All-American, earned the annual honor by a vote of conference athletic directors. Kayla Hoffman of the Alabama gymnastics squad won the women’s award.
"The SEC is very proud to honor John-Patrick and Kayla, as they are outstanding examples of what a student-athlete can accomplish, both on and off the field of competition,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said. “Their hard work and dedication to excellence have made them fine representatives of their universities and this conference. We congratulate them and wish them the best in their future endeavors.”
The list of previous winners of the SEC Athlete of the Year is practically a who’s who of professional sports across the board, and Smith joined a very select group of Tennessee student-athletes to earn one of the conference’s highest honors.
The last Vol to be named male athlete of the year was quarterback Peyton Manning in 1998. Baseball star and quarterback Todd Helton won the award in 1995, and Larry Seivers was honored for his performance at wide receiver in 1977.
Six Lady Vols have been named SEC Female Athlete of the Year, most recently including basketball star Candace Parker in 2008 and softball pitching legend Monica Abbott in 2007.
“When you look at the list of people who’ve won this award in the past, they’re all phenomenal athletes who’ve been really good about giving back to the community as well,” said Smith, who is playing in a USTA Futures professional tournament this week in Florida. “Down the road, hopefully I can have some of the success they’ve had professionally. Right now I’m working hard and training to improve my game.”
Few tennis players have come close to approaching the career milestones that Smith reached in his final season at Tennessee. Smith finished not only as the Vols’ first four-time ITA All-American, but he also became just the second player in college tennis history to earn All-America status in both singles and doubles every year of his career, joining just Rick Leach of Southern California (1984-87).
Smith, a native of Townsville, Australia, held the national No. 1 ranking in both singles and doubles in addition to being named SEC Player of the Year as a junior and senior while competing at the top of the lineup. He reached the No. 1 end-season doubles ranking with two teammates: Boris Conkic in 2011 and Davey Sandgren in 2009.
Smith led the Vols to the program’s first back-to-back SEC regular-season titles the last two years and ended his career as Tennessee’s all-time combined singles and doubles victories leader with 298 (152 singles and 146 doubles wins). He was also an NCAA singles finalist in 2008 and an NCAA doubles finalist with Sandgren in 2009 and 2010.
In addition to his on-court performances, Smith also led the Vols in grade point average nearly every semester and earned his degree in economics in May. Last week, he became a recipient of the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.
“It’s obviously a great honor to win this award,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of what I was able to accomplish in my four years at Tennessee, but I had a whole lot of people who helped me the whole way. I had a lot of support from teammates, coaches, staff and fans here.”
Each SEC program nominated a student-athlete for the SEC Athlete of the Year, and other male nominees included: Kirani James, Alabama (track & field); D.J. Williams, Arkansas (football); Cam Newton, Auburn (football); Will Claye, Florida (track & field); Mark Dylla, Georgia (swimming); Randall Cobb, Kentucky (football); Patrick Peterson, LSU (football); Barnabas Kirui, Ole Miss (cross country); Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State (football); Michael Roth, South Carolina (baseball) and Grayson Garvin, Vanderbilt (baseball).
The SEC Athletes of the Year Awards were first presented in 1976 for men and 1984 for women. The award was renamed the Roy F. Kramer Athletes of the Year in 2004 to honor the former commissioner who served the conference from 1990-2002.
SEC Athlete of the Year
2011: John-Patrick Smith (tennis)
1998: Peyton Manning (football)
1995: Todd Helton (baseball)
1977: Larry Seivers (football)
2008: Candace Parker (basketball)
2007: Monica Abbott (softball)
1999: Chamique Holdsclaw (basketball)
1998: Chamique Holdsclaw (basketball)
1991: Daedra Charles (basketball)
1989: Bridgette Gordon (basketball)