2 West Tennessee fishermen get win
Rudy Worley and John David Nowlin have been friends since they were youngsters growing up in Savannah, Tenn. In fact, they played baseball on opposing teams. But, it was a day when they were sitting in an eighth grade class that changed their lives.
Rudy asked John David if he’d like to go fishing.
It was, as John David remembers, “freezing cold, but for some reason I went and I am sure glad I did. We have been fishing together ever since.”
Which explains why Rudy and John David decided to take their love of fishing to Blue Mountain College in north Mississippi about 1 hours from their home in Savannah where they joined coach Shane Cox’s second-year bass fishing team.
Turns out it was a wise choice, not only for Rudy, John David and Coach Cox.
They led Blue Mountain College’s Toppers to the coveted championship at the recent American Fishing Tackle Company (AFTC) Collegiate Bass Tournament on Lake Dardanelle near Russellville, Ark.
You might say it was an out of the “blue” victory for Blue Mountain, which came into the tournament ranked 52nd in the AFTCO Collegiate Bass standings. Plus, there were almost 200 boats and 400 anglers representing colleges from all over the country.
Despite heavy rain on the first day, Rudy and John David combined to catch 27.62 pounds, including 15.12 on Day 2 to claim the championship by 13 ounces over Alabama’s Snead State Community College. There was slightly more than a quarter a pound difference between the top three teams.
“It was huge (for Blue Mountain),” said second-year coach Cox. “We went into the tournament hoping that we might get a top 20 finish. None of us had ever been on the lake (part of the Arkansas River system). We had no knowledge of it. If we can go to a lake and win that we had no knowledge of, like I said, that’s huge. It’s unbelievable.” Yet, that’s what happened. Cox praised Worley and Nolin for what they accomplished, especially when you consider that the two freshmen grew up fishing on the Tennessee River, which, Cox said, “is nothing like Lake Dardanelle. My hat’s off to them because after two days of practice they figured it out, and they made it work.”
Rudy admits he had never heard of Blue Mountain College prior to accepting Cox’s scholarship offer. Blue Mountain, which is 76 miles from Memphis, is a private liberal arts college that celebrated its 145th anniversary in 2018. For many, many years it was an all-female college. Today, 25 percent of the enrollment is men.
Rudy originally planned to attend North Alabama University, but changed his mind when he learned about Blue Mountain’s fishing team and the good anglers Cox had signed. It helped that Blue Mountain had a 10-angler roster, too.
It turned out to be a package deal for Cox.
“That is what it takes to build a good college fishing team,” said Cox, owner of Hammer Fishing Rods, whose business has sponsored several fishing associations, including Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing, Alabama BASS Nation, Kids First Fishing and North Mississippi Student Anglers. “You have to watch the high school ranks and watch the guys that are consistently doing well. I think college fishing recruiting is a lot like recruiting (college) football players.”
Rudy and John David credited their knowledge of each other’s fishing abilities with their victory on Lake Dardanelle.
Both said despite the heavy rain on the second day of the tournament, it was their determination to catch fish no matter the weather that enabled them to capture their stunning victory.
“We just put our heads down and we fished,” John David said. “We knew the fish were there. It was just a matter of time to get them fired up and catch the ones we needed.” That, they did. “This (victory) is one of the biggest things that has ever happened to our team,” Cox said. “When we left we knew that we were going to be standing a lot better than 52nd.”
Only recently did Cox learn that his team is now ranked No. 9.
“Being in the top 10 in a collegiate competition is absolutely awesome,” said noted Mid-South angler Ron Wong of Memphis. “We’re talking about a team that does not have a senior on its roster. Yet, these two freshmen stepped up and won the tournament.”
The Toppers won’t return to action until early February for a Cabela’s sponsored tournament on Texas’s storied Lake Sam Rayburn, followed a week later for a FLW event on Lake Seminole in Georgia.
“No doubt this win (at Lake Dardanelle) was an early Christmas present,” Cox said.
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John David Nowlin (left) and Rudy Worley celebrate with their coach Shane Cox, Blue Mountain College’s victory at the American Fishing Tackle Company Collegiate Bass Tournament on Lake Dardanelle near Russellville, Ark.