By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Nick Fenney’s path to signing with Bethel University last month literally tallied miles on Highway 51 coming and going from his hometown of Millington.
As a freshman, Fenney was thrusted into the starting varsity lineup blocking on the line for players like Donte Pitts and eventual Memphis Tiger LeKeron Garcia. Quickly the gold and black No. 51 jersey of Fenney was recognized for powerful play along the offensive line and for outbursts against opponents.
But as Fenney matured and become a letter on and off the field, he earned the respect and nickname “Highway 51.”
The young man who helped cleared the path for several Trojan runners and kept the Millington playoff streak alive in recent season was greeted by the chant of “Highway! Highway! Highway!” entering the Millington Central High School Library to sign his national letter of intent.
“It’s a blessed feeling,” Fenney said. “It’s wonderful. I think it was coming into my 11th grade year I started to take things more seriously. I saw that we didn’t have as much power as we did in recent years. So I knew it was going to take more of a team effort.”
Accompanied by his family like mother Tara Maclin, Ariel Rush, Brittany Austin and grandparents Terry and Nancy Rush, Fenney reflected on his journey to signing day. His next step will be joining the Wildcats in McKenzie.
The All-District lineman will play for Head Coach Chris Elliott at Bethel. The Wildcats were 7-4 last season and Bethel plays in the Mid-South Conference of the NAIA.
Nancy said her grandson will be a good addition to Bethel has he has learned how to balance the Nick from everyday life with “Highway.”
“He’s a mild child,” she noted. “He’s a loving kid and he loves other people. When he puts on that No. 51, he transforms.”
Millington Trojans Head Coach Chris Michaels said his staff had to endure some growing pains with Fenney as he grew into his natural gifts and skill set.
“He was a big kid,” he recalled. “And that was a part of what you loved about him. He enjoyed the game and had fun all the time. Early on as a ninth and 10th grader, it was just a game. He really wasn’t completely serious about it. As he started to see he can be a really effective and dominant player on the field, it kind of started to become more real for him. You started to see where his focus shift. He put in lot of work in the offseason.
“It was a big struggle for him to transition on becoming a leader,” Michaels continued. “It was hard for him. ‘I’ve always been the class clown. Now I have to be the leader. The coaches are expected this from me and for this to be my role. I do I do this?’ I didn’t steer him one way or the other. I just told him what he should be and this is the role you should fill. Are you going to be able to do it? I watched him develop into that young man and find a way to do it.”
Maclin said her son used a combination of prayers and family support to assist him in his road map toward becoming a leader for the Trojans.
She added when Nick was 8 he started playing football for the Memphis Patriots. Then he become a Trojans through SYS and the Millington Metro programs.
“They found each other,” Maclin said. “We didn’t gear him toward it. He picked up, loved it and stuck with it.
“I’ve always known he had to the potential to go to college,” she continued. “I saw it click in him around the eighth or ninth grade. He was starting for the varsity team as a freshman. That’s when he knew he could do it.”
As Fenney cleared the path for running backs, receivers and quarterbacks like Pitts, Garcia, D’Monte Kemp, Eldon Tyms, Keno Taylor, Justin Coleman and Robert Head, he wanted to be the level-headed players Michaels needed on the field and in the locker room.
“He had some issues because he wanted to be so great on that field,” Michaels said. “He would let his temper get the best of him sometimes and get a penalty or a personal foul. It was because of the passion he played with. He’s not a mean-spirited kid at all. He’s a kind and loving kid. He cared about his teammates. He cared about his coaches. His coaches love him, Coach Fisher especially. They wouldn’t trade him for anything.
“He’s not a 6’5, 350-pound lineman that’s prototypical ‘Division I’,” he added. “Because he was solid in the classroom, solid with his ACT score and diligent with his GPA, he now opened the door the for the private school sector. It’s a really good league of football. There are a lot of good football players at those schools. It’s hard to get into those schools.”
Fenney said he is proud to be the latest Trojan heading to Bethel and reach the Mid-South Conference.
“On the field I calm down a whole lot,” he recalled. “I had to because those 15s were getting it. It feels good to know without me and if you put us together, they’re going to score. With a good block, they make a cut and find the hole. Then they’re going to score.
“Trojan Football program is family,” Fenney added. “I’ve been around it my whole life. Although I didn’t start off here. I was SYS in Memphis, but I’ve always lived in Millington. It means a whole lot. I hope Bethel means family as well. I hope to bring aggressiveness and a well to play. I hope to bring a good vibe. I’m ready to play.”
Maclin said as her son heads up Highway 51 toward McKenzie, she hopes his gridiron journey has many more years reminding.
“The next chapter for him, I hope means a great education at Bethel,” she said. “I hope he goes further in football if that’s what he wants and God allows.”
The signing to Bethel adds to the Trojan legacy of Fenney. As he shared his dream with his teammates, Fenney wore his purple and gold Bethel hat showered by the chant of “Highway.”
“It’s a real warm feeling to know I made a name for myself,” he concluded. “Some people don’t get the opportunity. And there has been some good people. To earn a name and respect, it feels good.”
By Thomas Sellers Jr.