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Vote for Choctawhatchee’s Mount Rushmore: NFL talent, women’s basketball highlights list



Vote for Choctawhatchee’s Mount Rushmore: NFL talent, women’s basketball highlights list

You can always tell a local from a transplant by the way they pronounce Choctawhatchee.

Choc-tuh-watch-ee, you’ll hear transplants say. God bless them.

Choctawhatchee – pronounced Choc-tuh-hatch-ee – was my first true beat on the Emerald Coast. From that come a love for the program and its players and coaches.

From the 2015 state champion soccer team to the 2014 Final 4 football team, from the Brittany Brown years to the Addison Kendrick weightlifting dynasty, from the ties to fellow East Carolina University graduate Greg Thomas to the magical state title run for Scott and Meaghan Allen’s volleyball team of 2017, Choctaw has produced many of my favorite squads.

With that recency bias in mind, here is the Choctawhatchee High Mount Rushmore. Vote for who should be the fifth face below.

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Brittany Brown

Long before Caitlin Clark attracted the masses to the women’s game, Brittany Brown put butts in the seats in the Panhandle. She was a trend-setter, a walking highlight reel, a winner. The three-time Daily News Girls Basketball Player of the Year scored a school-record 2,068 points and led the Big Green to a 25-2 mark her junior year and a 31-1 mark her senior year, when Choctaw advanced to the state title game. After averaging 23 points, seven assists, six rebounds and six steals per game as a junior, Brown put up 18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 6.2 steals per game her senior year to shore up a place at Florida State University.

At FSU, Brown set more records. She set the school marks in steals (320), games played (138) and games started (136) and is the first Seminole to amass 500-plus rebounds, 200-plus steals and 300-plus assists in her career.She ranks top 15 in FSU history in assists (second: 450), rebounds (14th: 675) and 3-point field goals made (14th: 97), and she helped lead the Seminoles to two NCAA tournament Elite 8s and three Sweet 16s. Now she’s found a home overseas playing pro basketball, traveling from Spain to Germany to Israel to her latest stop, China, where this past season she averaged 16.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.2 steals for Heilongjiang Dragons Daqing. Annually, she continues to put on local clinics for youth.

Jackie Burkett

Back in 1959, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Burkett started a long lineage of Emerald Coast football players selected in the NFL Draft, when he went to the Baltimore Colts with the 12th pick in the first round. The 1955 Choctaw graduate was a star at Auburn, where he played center and linebacker from 1957-59. At a time when freshmen were ineligible to play, he was a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection and named an All-American in 1958. He was captain of the Tigers all three seasons, including the 1957 Associated Press national championship team that finished 10-0.

He spent six seasons with the Colts before joining the Saints for the team’s inaugural season in 1967. After two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Burkett returned to the Saints in 1970 for one final season. There, on Nov. 8, 1970, he was the snapper on the then-NFL record 63-yard field goal kicked by Tom Dempsey. He finished his NFL career with 64 starts, 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. Later in life he returned to Fort Walton Beach and was an Okaloosa County Commissioner from 2000-08, and he was an inaugural inductee into the All Sports Association Hall of Fame in 2003.

Richie Grant

It’s criminal how under-recruited Grant was in high school. Just two stars to his name, the 2016 Choctaw graduate was an all-state defensive back who had over 1,000 receiving yards and recorded his fourth interception of the year in the Final 4 battle with Armwood. UCF offered, and Grant never looked back. He redshirted and then started all four years (2017-20), leading the team in tackles and interceptions twice and building a NFL resume. The Atlanta Falcons pounced with the 40th pick in 2021 and, three years later, the 26-year-old has 32 starts in the last 34 games. During that span he’s had 226 tackles, 13 pass deflections and three interceptions.

But Grant hasn’t forgotten about his roots. The alumnus returned last year to distribute over 500 backpacks filled with school supplies to students ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade. That’s just the beginning, he said.

Cole Tabb

Cole Tabb’s story is far from completed, but the first chapter at Choctaw was the stuff of legends.

Off the gridiron, the 2024 Big Green alumnus won back-to-back Olympic and traditional weightlifting state titles and led the team to a pair of golds to give him six state championships. He also shined in track, helping the 4×400-meter relay win a state title his junior year. Had he not played a single snap in football, he’d be a stud. But he did and the record books will forever reflect that.

He was back-to-back Daily News Offensive Player of the Year and the state’s 3A Player fo the Year for USA TODAY as a junior. He set the single-game rushing record with 365 yards and four scores in a 49-27 win over Crestview, rushing for 311 yards in the first 15 minutes alone. In three years as a starter, the school’s leading rusher had 5,497 yards, posted 66 touchdowns and led the Big Green to back-to-back region final appearances.

Now Stanford awaits. Opportunity awaits. This is Tabb’s time to prove us believers right.

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