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2016 top sports newsmakers in DFW much about Dak, Zeke and America’s youths

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) hugs Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) as they are interviewed by Michele Tafoya after the 26-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium Sunday, December 18, 2016.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) hugs Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) as they are interviewed by Michele Tafoya after the 26-20 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium Sunday, December 18, 2016. rrodriguez@star-telegram.com

It is said by some, and accurately so, that youth is wasted on the young.

Unless ...

You’re Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They’re playing beyond their years for the re-emerging Cowboys.

 

Rougned Odor? Hey, he didn’t punch out Jose Bautista in a bar fight.

The Aledo Bearcats? They’ve got some good stories to tell about their teens when they’re long in the tooth.

Jordan Spieth? He felt like he lost his first young love, but he danced with the prettiest girl in his plaid jacket at Colonial.

Luken Baker? He’s using his early 20s and the excessive strength of, say, Bamm-Bamm Rubble to help the TCU baseball team carry on and on and on and waaaaay back.

Those stories of youth movements became a theme for the newsmakers of 2016. It makes you wonder what the future holds.

Jamie Dixon was young and impressionable in Fort Worth 30 years ago. But he’s back now as the wise sage of TCU basketball. Mark Cuban made a fortune in his youth. He might be approaching a midlife crisis.

Dana Vollmer’s not old by any means. In fact, she’s full of life after giving birth and then winning three medals at Rio.

Now, that’s not to say there wasn’t youth that was misspent, Cowboys fans ...

The top newsmakers of 2016 and their stories:

The rookie running back is in a giving mood this Holiday season. After donating $21,000 to the Salvation Army following his kettle hop touchdown celebration against Tampa Bay, Zeke gifted the guys who give his running lanes UTVs. Video by Matthew

Dak and the prophet Ezekiel

The Cowboys were pushed into the theme of change in their 2016 campaign and they found it in two millennials playing way beyond their years and without fear in representing, well, salvation from the NFL’s black hole of mediocrity.

In becoming the Cowboys’ first rookie starters at quarterback and running back since 1969 (Roger Staubach and Calvin Hill), Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are league MVP candidates after having mended the broken hearts of Cowboys fans and infused such life into Jerry World that all that’s missing is a disco ball hanging from the big screen and the Bee Gees.

Prescott was rushed to the front lines after yet another back injury sidelined Tony Romo for the first eight games and was handed the job permanently when nobody noticed No. 9 wasn’t playing. The Cowboys are 12-2, and Jerry Jones is nestled all snug in his bed with visions of Super Bowls dancing in his head because of good, mistake-free (for the most part) quarterbacking and a running back verifying that he — and not defensive back Jalen Ramsey — was the right pick at No. 4 overall.

Elliott, behind what is shaping up to be a great offensive front, leaped over Tony Dorsett’s Cowboys rookie rushing record (1,007 yards in 1977) while becoming only the third rookie in NFL history to reach 1,000 yards in nine games. Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson were the others. For a spell, it appeared Elliott would make a serious run at Dickerson’s NFL rookie record of 1,808 yards before falling off the pace. Yet, at 1,551 yards, Elliott is setting high standards at his position.

Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor felt that Jose Bautista gave Odor no choice but to confront him (video by Jeff Wilson).

Right on, Rougned Odor

It’s funny the role fate plays in resolving disputes. Case in point: Texas Rangers, et al., v. Jose Bautista.

During the Sunday afternoon game in the middle of May, the Rangers got up on the Blue Jays 7-6 on Ian Desmond’s three-run homer in the seventh, but that wasn’t the moment they were waiting for.

Bautista, he of the scandalous bat flip in Game 5 of the AL Division Series a year ago that raised hackles to new heights, would make his last at-bat between the teams in the regular season in the eighth inning. Rangers rookie reliever Matt Bush sent a fastball into the ribs of Bautista, who took exception but took his base as he glared at Bush.

As fate would have it, the next hitter, Justin Smoak, hit a grounder to third baseman Adrian Beltre, who threw to second baseman Rougned Odor, whose competitive makeup includes the spit and nails of Billy Martin with perhaps a dash of the short temper of Tanner Boyle of The Bad News Bears.

Bautista’s slide into second was hard and illegal as Odor pivoted to make a relay throw to first, which skipped into the ground.

Then the fat was thrown into the fire. Odor and Bautista squared off behind second base, sparking baseball’s best brawl in 2016. Odor’s hard right delivered Texas justice to every Rangers fan while wiping the smug right off Bautista’s face in a moment that gave a sports photo 15 minutes of fame and was so effective in its landing that ESPN brought on Teddy Atlas to analyze the technique.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said this 0-5 start by the Mavs is too early to compare with similar starts in previous seasons.

Mark Cuban, politico

The Mavericks’ unconventional owner threw himself into the Veepstakes while jumping into the political boxing ring by sticking his neck out on the stump for Democrat Hillary Clinton in her pursuit of the presidency.

His political splurge ended in one of many losses (mostly Mavericks losses) in 2016. An on-again, off-again nemesis of Donald Trump, Cuban initially supported the Republican nominee before soon moving away and becoming one of the president-elect’s sharpest critics on the campaign trail.

Of The Donald, Cuban has said he is a “superstar liar” and an “immediate danger” to America’s national security. Cuban even scored tickets to the first presidential debate, presumably to personally troll Trump.

In defeat, Cuban tweeted the role of graceful citizen, telling followers: “I’m an American citizen. First. Last. Always.” Cuban as activist has even spurred talk that he might run in 2020. No way, says the tech billionaire. “I have no interest in politics. I have no interest in running for mayor, senator, governor, congressman or even bat boy. ... I would never put my family through that.”

Meanwhile, his basketball team to date, being without an injured Dirk Nowitzki for 24 of the first 29 games, more closely resembles those Mavericks of the 1990s than the one that only five short years ago was the NBA champion.

New TCU men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon says his team can win now (video by Mac Engel/Star-Telegram).

Jamie Dixon, welcome home

Before beginning a successful coaching career at Pittsburgh, Jamie Dixon was best known here for his buzzer-beating miracle to beat Texas in 1986.

In March, TCU fired Trent Johnson and turned to an alum from one of its most successful eras to fix its moribund basketball program, which cynics say has no history to build a future.

“I always had that dream to come back,” he said at the time of his hiring. “You play at a place, win championships, have success. I remember that time. I see that. I know it can happen. We are here to win. We are here to win right now. And we are here to win the right way.”

But Dixon, 328-113 in 13 seasons at Pitt, including Naismith Coach of the Year in 2009, believes TCU can be relevant in the Big 12 wood chipper and nationally because of the financial commitment the school has made to the program that has resulted in an attractive top-tier arena.

When Dixon played here in the mid-1980s, a paint job to make all the seats of then-Daniel-Meyer Coliseum universally purple was deemed too expensive.

The new coach is off to a good start, losing only once in TCU’s first 12 games. And recruiting has already heated up. Dixon has secured commitments from three four-star prospects. Guard Jaylen Fisher is already on campus, while RJ Nembhard and center Kevin Samuel of Houston arrive next year.

Now that the roster is being lined with talent, it’s hoped the seats at Schollmaier Arena are next.

Dana Vollmer, supermom

While adding three medals to her Olympic hardware in Rio de Janeiro in August, Granbury-raised swimmer Dana Vollmer again showed her quintessential Olympic grit and perseverance.

Since 2004, Vollmer has persevered, overcoming obstacles from a heart condition to food allergies to a knee injury to a back injury to a shoulder injury to the mental pressure of competition to a failed bid for the 2008 Games to this year, competing 15 months after giving birth to her son.

In addition to gold in the 4x100 medley relay, Vollmer hung a silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay and bronze in the 100 butterfly around her neck before returning home.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Vollmer said. “You fight so hard for one, and then you fight so hard for that second one. ... I mean, seven is just such an honor. It’s amazing.”

After so-so legs from Kathleen Baker and Lilly King in the medley relay, Vollmer swam the fastest third leg — finishing in 56.0 seconds — to give the U.S. a 1.10-second lead for anchor Simone Manuel of Sugar Land.

“I felt strong,” Vollmer said. “... I kept taking out my 100 flies really fast. I was like, ‘Calm down. You’re OK and just really bring it home and have a good finish for the next person.’ 

Vollmer might not yet be done. She has plans for another comeback using the same script. The 2020 Games in Tokyo at 32 after a second child.

Up in smoke: Cowboys suspensions

The Cowboys began the season without three guys on the defensive side because of drug suspensions.

DeMarcus Lawrence was hit with four games because of amphetamines, Randy Gregory was hit with second and third failed drug tests that led to missing 14 games. The Cowboys knew he was “at-risk,” despite smoke alarms, when they took the sliding first-round talent late in the second round after a drug test came up faulty at the rookie combine in 2015.

Yet, Jerry Jones gave his troubled yet talented defensive end an Arkansan vote of confidence, telling a local sports radio station: “He’s a young guy and certainly he’s got those challenges. And, so, he’s our baby, maybe an ugly baby, but he’s our baby.”

Gregory rejoined the team for practice and was eligible to play in Week 16.

And then there is Rolando McClain ... what can you say about Rolando McClain? Other than despite it all ... he might be back.

He, too, was suspended in July, because of party enhancers and addiction.

His most recent last straw? Something called “purple drank,” according to reports. It was codeine that almost again did in the second-, third-, and fourth-chance linebacker’s NFL career.

McClain was suspended for 10 games, not for marijuana, but a potion of Sprite, cough syrup and codeine, not to mention the 40 extra pounds it put on his frame.

McClain served his debt to the NFL and wanted to come back, a notion Jones, reportedly due a $250,000 fine for all three suspensions, appeared to be open to, until McClain missed a drug test in November.

Don’t rule him out just yet, though.

The Star is born

The Cowboys backed a moving truck out of the driveway of its longtime headquarters in Valley Ranch and moved north to Frisco and into the newest, flashiest practice digs in the NFL.

The Star is an empire in itself.

The $1.5 billion development opened in August after three years of construction. It is 91 acres and includes the Cowboys “World Headquarters,” training facilities, including two outdoor practice fields, a 12,000-seat, multi-use event center — Ford Center, with a long-term naming-rights agreement with Ford Motor Company and Texas Ford Dealers — and plans for a hotel and retail stores, and a pad for a Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy and Research Center.

The multi-use event center is also a nifty place to play high school football, part of the incentive for the Frisco school district to join in the project financially.

The Aug. 20 ribbon cutting was “an historic day for the Dallas Cowboys,” Jones said.

“This is unbelievable,” tight end Jason Witten said. “State of the art. I mean, words can’t describe it. It’s an unbelievable facility. That’s just the Jones family. That’s what they’re all about.”

The Star by the numbers:

396,000 Square feet of commercial office space

200,000 Square feet of leasable retail space spread among 14 individual buildings

40,500 Square feet for plaza

12,000 Folding fixed seats inside The Ford Center

2,270 Square feet of exterior video board at The Ford Center

1,824 Square feet of interior video board at Ford Center

40,500 Square-foot plaza where Times Square meets town square

From the dawn of another state championship to the last down at AT&T Stadium, the 2016 Aledo Bearcats savor every moment of a dream season.

Titletown, TX: Aledo

With a victory over Corpus Christi Calallen in the Class 5A Division II state title game at AT&T Stadium Aledo’s Bearcats moved their football dynasty into the upper tier of Texas lore.

The Bearcats, who defeated Calallen 24-16 to cap their third 16-0 season since 2010, joined an elite club of Texas high school football nobles in winning the school’s seventh state championship, tied for fourth all time in 11-man football with three others.

Only Southlake Carroll, Celina and Katy have more among 11-man teams, with eight.

Yet, no team has ever won six titles in eight years, as Aledo has done.

“It was the goal all year long,” said senior Wes Harris, the TCU recruit who finished his Aledo career with a 60-3 record. “It wasn’t about how good we were going to be or how deep we were going to go, but to win a state championship.”

The Bearcats flooded teams with points in 2016, scoring 883 — 55.2 per game. They scored 50 or more points in 11 games, and 60 or more in seven games.

“It’s been awesome,” senior quarterback Dillon Davis said. “This is what we’ve been working for since we were in the second grade playing pee-wee. We knew we had to play four quarters against Calallen, they’re a great team. It just feels awesome coming out on top and bringing a title back to our town.”

Dallas resident Jordan Spieth, the No. 2 player in the world golf rankings and Sunday's winner at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, reflects on key moments for him in the final round and the significance of his latest tour win. Video by Jimmy Burch.

Jordan Spieth masters Hogan’s Alley

Jordan Spieth climbed out of the depths of sports depression over his collapse at the Masters a month earlier and up the banks of the Trinity to claim one of the most important victories of his life at Hogan’s Alley.

And he won the Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial — his first professional victory in Texas — the way John Wayne would’ve done it, decisively, placing a golf shoe on the jugular of his closest rivals. Spieth fired a final-round 65, including a 30 on the back nine, to defeat Harris English by three and slip on the plaid jacket, which John Wayne likely wouldn’t wear.

“No matter what happens in the next 30 years of my career this will be one of the most important days that I’ve ever had,” Spieth said in the aftermath of the triumph in May.

Three birdies on Nos. 10-12 moved him into the lead before a slip-up birdie and two pars.

He then closed with birdie, chip-in birdie and birdie, rolling in a long putt on No. 18 just because. The Dallas resident needed only nine putts on the back nine.

“It’s not fun to hear people in the crowd walking down today yelling out ‘remember the Masters’ ” Spieth said. “That’s just what you hear. That’s going to happen. To get over that, to get over that hurdle in our third tournament back says a lot about our character out there.”

Star-Telegram columnist Gil Lebreton and staff writer Carlos Mendez give their thoughts on Luken Baker and wonder what they know about Coastal Carolina.

Luken Baker carries a big stick to Omaha

Possessing the brute strength more typical of folklore, all that was missing from Luken Baker this spring and early summer was a blue ox.

The Frogs didn’t need any hashtag campaign for a return trip to the College World Series.

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound freshman slugger put his teammates on his shoulders and carried the Frogs to their third consecutive trip to Omaha. Baker hit four home runs in five games of the Big 12 tournament, another in the Super Regional series opener against Texas A&M, and two more in the first two games of the CWS, including a smash in the ninth inning of the opener against Texas Tech.

Through that game, Baker was hitting .531 since the end of the regular season with three doubles, six home runs and 17 RBIs. In seven NCAA tournament games, he was 12 for 27 (.444) with two doubles, two home runs and six RBIs.

“I expect a lot out of myself, as most people do,” Baker said. “Whenever that stuff happens, it’s awesome. But it happened. We have another game in two days, so we have to get locked in again.”

Said TCU pitcher Brian Trieglaff: “All we hear is that ball hitting the barrel. It sounds like a bomb going off.”

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