Drew Brees has committed to broadcast NFL games for NBC when he retires from the New Orleans Saints. One day, he may call Tyler Elsbury’s name on a broadcast.
But even if Elsbury never makes it to the pros, the NFL’s all-time leading passer will call his name on June 18 — along with the names of 35 other local high school football stars at the Rockford Register Star’s and The Journal-Standard’s annual Best of Rock River Valley Preps Award Show.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the annual banquet has been moved up from June 25 to June 18 and changed to a free on-demand broadcast featuring more than 20 professional athletes.
"That will be really awesome," said Elsbury, who led Byron to back-to-back Class 3A state runner-up finishes and has signed to play in the Big Ten as an offensive lineman for Iowa. "That would be something.
"It’s cool that they are still going on with it. And having all those stars reading their names will be a special moment for a lot of kids."
The awards show, set to start at 6 p.m. on June 18, will be available to watch on any smart device through YouTube and the event website, rrstar.com/rockriverpreps, thanks to the continued support of area business leaders and event sponsor Entre Computer Solutions.
"With so many of us working from home in these extraordinary times, there’s something strangely appropriate about turning Best of Preps into a virtual event," said Mark Baldwin, executive editor of the two news organizations. "We’re just glad we were able to find some way to honor these student athletes while keeping them, their families and fans safe."
The event will honor 250 athletes from area all-star teams in 17 fall and winter sports. The event also will recognize seniors who were projected to start by their coaches during the spring sports season, which was canceled by the threat of COVID-19.
"It’s cool that the spring sports that got cut off early still have an opportunity to be recognized," Elsbury said.
TV sports anchors Jesse Palmer and Sage Steele will host the event. Celebrity athletes will present the awards. Brees will present the football awards, three-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee will present the track and cross country awards, Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Misty May-Treanor will be the volleyball presenter, and five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will announce the tennis honorees.
"That’s awesome," said Boylan senior Natalie Muldowney, a three-time state qualifier in girls tennis. "It’s nice that they have it specialized for different sports."
"That’s for sure cool," said Lena-Winslow star Isaiah Bruce, who has also signed to play football for Iowa. "Tennis players look up to Venus. Football players look up to Drew Brees and how he is a leader for the Saints. It’s really cool to see stars showing love to a place that doesn’t get a lot of love."
The athletes, who have always gotten a free ticket to the banquet in the past, also appreciate that this event will be free for everyone.
"That’s something that is really special," Muldowney said. "Most years, it’s just me and one guest. No one hears about it until they read it in the paper. Now everyone gets to see it. It’s just awesome."
The show will feature opportunities to win autographed gifts and other prizes, both before and during the program. Students who register online by Sunday, May 10, on the event website will receive event updates and be included in any gift mailings.
"Entre’ Computer Solutions Inc. is proud to be a part of this extraordinary event recognizing local athletes for their achievements and inspiration to others," said Kurt Broski, CEO of the title sponsor. "It has been my privilege to review all of the nominations we received each month to see how remarkable our student athletes truly are. This year, the overall winner of the Athlete of the Month will win an HP EliteBook."
Gannett, parent company of the Register Star and The Journal-Standard, owns and operates the largest high school athlete recognition program in the United States. Viewers can find it at various locations, including the Best of Rock River Valley Preps Award show, at: sportsawards.usatoday.com, as well as on the event website at rrstar.com/rockriverpreps.
Matt Trowbridge: email@example.com; @matttrowbridge