Florence, Ala. – After 12 weeks of holding down the lead in the 2017 Cabela's School of the Year standings presented by Abu Garcia, the talented group of anglers from Bryan College's young program sealed the deal and made it official Friday afternoon in Florence, Alabama at the BoatUS Collegiate Bass Fishing Championship presented by Cabela's on Pickwick Lake, taking the title of School of the Year. Some of the weight was lifted off the Lions heading into this week's National Championship with the aid of Nathan Bell (SR/Riceville, Tenn.)'s and Cole Sand's victory May 13 at the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops on Cherokee Lake, launching them 155 points in front of second-place team, University of Tennessee, and provided a 181-point lead over two-time School of the Year winners, University of North Alabama, who entered the weekend in 3rd place. The comfortable advantage allowed Bryan to enter Pickwick and focus on a shot at taking home the Cabela's Collegiate Fishing Championship as well as the School of the Year, but UNA ousted last year's winning team, Auburn University (Ala.), at the last second to take home the Cabela's National Championship crown.
Pickwick is UNA's home lake, and Bryan entered the tournament knowing that the seasoned anglers would execute well in their backyard. A first place and fifth place finish overall by UNA not only granted them the championship and boatload worth of prizes but made the School of the Year running interesting with a mere 59 points separating Bryan and UNA for the title of School of the Year. UNA's efforts gave way to them jumping the Vols of Tennessee and ending in a close 2nd place behind the Lions.
Four is the most boats any single team could have battle on Pickwick, and the Lions took advantage with four participating after entering in Cabela's Dardanelle Derby, Big Bass Bash, Texas Shootout, and the automatic entry given to every collegiate team. At the end of the day Thursday, Bell and Sands provided the Lions with good positioning entering the last day with a combined five-fish limit of 15.76. Even though Bell and Sands couldn't repeat their first-day outing, Bryan received help from Dylan Pritchett (JR/Evensville, Tenn.) and Connor Thompson (SO/Fort Payne, Ala.), along with Matt Brown (FR/Corbin, Ky.) and DJ Barber (SO/Birmingham, Ala.), who maintained high enough positioning to fend off UNA. Barber and Brown slid in at 69th after day one but reeled their way to a 23.76 total weight for 56th place. Pritchett and Thompson were in 44th entering the final day but bagged 20.82 over the span of two days, which was good enough for a 70th-place finish.
For many clubs, the Cabela's School of the Year Title is already known to be the most respected title in college fishing because of the work teams and members have to put in. Consistency has been key to the Lion's success this season, and it has truly been a team effort with individuals continually stepping up in each tournament. Bryan Head Fishing Coach, Mike Keen, knew that heading into the championship that the team needed to do what they had done all year long and avoid any blanking to win School of the Year. In remarkable fashion, the Lions have secured a top-10 finish in every tournament this year except two, with one being 13th and the other being today's tournament, and have fished their way to three 1st place finishes.
As the winner of School of the Year, Bryan received $5,000 in Abu Garcia Merchandise, $3,500 in Cabela's Gift Cards, $1,500.00 in Mustang PFDs, and $1,200.00 in credit towards team jerseys for 2018 featuring special recognition as School of Year from 2017. In addition, there will be extensive dedicated television/media coverage recognizing them as the Cabela's School of Year winner.