Defending state champ 'never satisfied'
Russellville senior T.J. Drake has an unquenchable thirst but it isn't for an ice-cold sports drink.
Instead, Drake, the defending state champion in Class 5A, has a desire to improve every aspect of his game despite winning the only tennis title in school history last spring and compiling an undefeated No. 1 singles record this season.
"I want to get better at every single part of my game, and I always want to be better than I am now – I'm never satisified," said Drake, who plans to walk-on at Mississippi State and describes himself as a 'grinder' on the court.
"In tennis you want to make sure you are solid at everything so your opponent can't exploit any weaknesses."
Drake said he took up tennis as a seventh grader because his parents, Butch and Robin Drake, are avid tennis players, and his older sister, Stephanie James, also played for the Golden Tigers. In addition to team practices, Drake takes private lessons in Florence and Huntsville and also loves to wakeboard on the local lakes.
Russellville coach Jimmy Rea said Drake's work ethic allows him to play at a pace that causes opponents to wear down or give up during matches.
"T.J. is the hardest-working player I've ever been around – he practices 25 to 35 hours per week and his work ethic is phenomenal," said Rea, who said a typical high school tennis player averages 10 hours of practice per week. "His strength is his conditioning – last year in the state finals his opponent had to drop out of the match because T.J. wore him out."
This year Drake hopes to repeat as individual champion and also help Russellville, which has a 56-13 record in the past five seasons and three straight Section 4 titles since 2006, win the school's first state title in any sport since 1982.
"Winning my first state championship ring last spring was pretty exciting," said Drake, who will face stiff competition from Walker, UMS-Wright and St. Paul's at the state tournament April 28-30. "There are four top No. 1 players in the state this year, and all four of us have really solid games. It's going to be interesting this year at state."