HELENA (AP) – The athletes at NAIA schools, even as national champions, seldom get the recognition awarded to the stars of Division I.
Score one for the little guys.
The cover of Sports Illustrated’s Pictures of the Year issue, on newsstands Wednesday, features a triumphant Carroll College player kneeling in the mud following the school’s 17-9 win over the University of Sioux Falls for the NAIA college football championship.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” said the player, junior linebacker Brandon Day. “This is crazy. Sports Illustrated. It’s like a dream come true.”
The 21-year-old and his teammates returned to Helena early Sunday following the championship game at Jim Carroll Stadium in Savannah, Tenn. It’s Carroll College’s fifth championship in six years.
On Tuesday, Carroll’s athletic director Bruce Parker said people at the magazine told him the choice for the cover was between Day and the recent Mitchell report on drug use in baseball.
“This is recognition we didn’t expect,” Parker said. “It’s nice when something good about sports is on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
Carroll coach Mike Van Diest said he was notified Monday night that the photo of Day, shot by AP freelance photographer John Russell, had been selected for the SI cover.
“I’ve still got goosebumps. It’s very exciting,” Van Diest said.
Russell, who works full-time as a staff photographer for Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said getting the cover is the “Holy Grail of sports photography.”
“It’s probably going to be pretty tough to top that,” Russell said.
Russell said he snapped the photo immediately after the game, when he saw Carroll players taking head-first dives in the mud at the center of the field. The cover photo shows Day rising to his knees after a mud dive and was the last available frame on the digital memory card in Russell’s camera.
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