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Chris LaPierre, athlete of the year

Old-timers recognize Chris LaPierre, even if some of them don't get that sport with the stick with the webbed pocket.

Old-timers recognize Chris LaPierre, even if some of them don't get that sport with the stick with the webbed pocket.

LaPierre is a sportsman in the classic sense. He's The Inquirer's male athlete of the year in South Jersey not only for his excellence on the football and lacrosse fields, but also for his grace, class, and team-first attitude.

"A true gentleman," said Tim Gushue, who was LaPierre's head coach in football and lacrosse during the athlete's four years at Shawnee High School.

There was something appealingly old-school about LaPierre, even as he was breaking records in football and leading a bit of a lacrosse revolution. He was the kind of star athlete we remember - or like to remember - from the 1940s and 1950s, the boy next door who scored all those touchdowns and never forgot to thank his offensive linemen.

Or to host a steak dinner for them after the season.

In a look-at-me era, LaPierre always made it more about the team than about his individual accomplishments. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound athlete managed the remarkable trick of being a superstar and a regular guy at the same time.

"Chris is always about the team," said Kody Smith, a classmate who was the starting quarterback on the football team and a high-scoring attack on the lacrosse team. "He never puts himself first."

Seneca football coach Bill Fisher called LaPierre "a class act."

Clearview lacrosse coach Rob Rieck said LaPierre was "a great example for young athletes."

Gushue said LaPierre was "a coach's dream."

By the numbers, LaPierre put up one of the best seasons for a running back in state history last fall. He set state records for touchdowns (44) and points (272) as Shawnee went 12-0 and won its second consecutive South Jersey Group 3 title.

In lacrosse, the sport he will play at the University of Virginia, LaPierre generated 62 goals and led Shawnee to an 18-4 record. The Renegades made the Group 3 state finals for the first time in the seven-year history of the program.

"When he got in the open field, whether it was in football or lacrosse, he was impossible to stop," Rieck said. "He is one of the best high school athletes this state has ever seen."

LaPierre said it was "easy" to play football and lacrosse because the sports' seasons were separated on the calendar. He thought his football background made him a more dangerous lacrosse player because of his physical approach.

He does have one regret: He wishes he could have played golf at Shawnee.

"I love golf," said LaPierre, who said he usually shoots in the high 70s. "If lacrosse wasn't a spring sport, I definitely would have played golf for Shawnee."

LaPierre decided to play lacrosse in college because he thinks he might have more room for improvement in that sport. But it was a tough call.

"I know I'll miss football," LaPierre said. "But if I picked football, I think I would have missed lacrosse even more."

Just the other day, LaPierre was running patterns for Smith, who was working on his passing in preparation for his freshman season at Gettysburg College.

"It was weird," LaPierre said. "I was thinking I'm out here catching passes for Kody and I might never play football again."

In his career, LaPierre ran for 4,722 yards and scored 84 touchdowns in football, and generated 199 goals in lacrosse. His lacrosse teams won four straight division titles. His football teams won two straight sectional titles.

But a true sportsman knows it's not about wins and losses, trophies or statistics.

"I'm most proud of the way we conducted ourselves at Shawnee," LaPierre said. "We were fortunate to win a lot of games and some championships, but I think we always showed ourselves to be first class. We showed sportsmanship and character.

"That's what I'll remember most."