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Meet Zach Tomerlin. No, seriously … meet him. If you’re in high school, or even junior high, and you’re specializing in this sport or that, you need to meet Tomerlin. If you’re merely thinking about narrowing your focus, reach out to him.

A year ago, he was sitting out basketball for a second straight season. It’s not like he was lying on the couch … Tomerlin was a soccer and baseball player at Central Catholic High School … but basketball was behind him.

Yet, there he was Friday night, at center court being honored on Senior Night prior to a game against Monticello. About 90 minutes later, he stood waiting to be interviewed by Illinois State’s TV-10 following a 69-52 victory.

He wore his home white Saints uniform, with streaks of blood on the jersey and shorts, and a broad smile.

Twelve months earlier, he couldn’t have fathomed being a starter on a state-ranked basketball team. Now, he can’t imagine being anywhere else.

When an open mind meets opportunity, it can be a beautiful thing.

“Oh yeah … 100 percent,” Tomerlin said when asked if he was enjoying his return to basketball. “I’m so happy I went out. Every game just coming out and competing with this team … it’s a privilege that I’m never going to forget.”

High school sports are a lot of things. This is among the best: an athlete cherishing being part of a team and venturing outside his/her comfort zone to do so.

It hasn’t been easy. Two years away is a lifetime in competitive sports. When Tomerlin left basketball, he was playing on the freshman level. He came back to a whole new game.

He will tell you he could not have done it alone. Fellow seniors Tommy Nelson and Luke Yoder, the stars of Central’s Class 2A No. 5-ranked team, understood it would be a challenge for the 6-foot-6 Tomerlin.

So after encouraging his return, they have nurtured it.

“It was a struggle at first,” Tomerlin said. “But I have great senior leaders in Tommy and Luke, who led me throughout the way. They’re two of the best players in the state in my opinion. They’re always here for me, working extra. It was just great having them to mentor me and I have great coaches as well.”

Much of what Tomerlin gives the Saints does not appear on the stat sheet. His four points and five rebounds Friday night left him at 1.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Defense is more his thing, which makes sense. A sweeper in soccer, he was an all-conference defender in the fall. Tomerlin’s 15 blocks lead the team and he also has 26 steals.

Beyond that, Yoder said Tomerlin is “another big body in there that we needed” after last year’s state third-place team was hit by graduation.

“He’s been such a big help for us,” Yoder said. “If he didn’t come out, we wouldn’t be where we are. I’m so happy he came out. It’s been a lot of fun with him.”

Yoder was among those in Tomerlin’s ear about returning to the court. The Illinois Wesleyan recruit kept after it until one day Tomerlin proposed a deal.

“He said, ‘If you play soccer, I’ll play basketball,’” Yoder said. “I didn’t play soccer. I was going to, but I didn’t.”

Tomerlin committed to basketball anyway, joining a team he said is “looking to do great things.”

Seasons are long and each is a unique journey. Coach Jason Welch is emphatic when he says this one has been enhanced by Tomerlin.

“Zach is a willing and coachable kid and he’s very athletic,” Welch said. “He has a good learning curve. He’s very attentive to details and he remembers things well.

“So here you have a kid who has some athleticism and is behind, but yet he’s willing to be coached. He’s come a long way. We’re blessed to have him.”

Friday night, with the clock under two minutes and the lead safe, Central was passing the ball around the perimeter. Every time Tomerlin touched the ball, the Saints’ student section screamed “Shoot!”

He did not, but you sensed Tomerlin is a popular guy who would fit in nicely over there. For two years, he did. Now, his fit is on the court, in a season that will live on in his heart and mind.

You should meet him.

Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred

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Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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