One very large athlete and a couple of others who, put together, wouldn't weigh as much as the first, were dominant newsmakers on the area sports scene in 2011, and figured in some of the top local sports stories of the year.

The large athlete in question is Southern Columbia graduate Henry Hynoski, whose road to success with the New York Giants had a big pothole at one point, but who nonetheless persevered and became the first area player in the NFL since North Schuylkill graduate Ron Mattes, who played from 1985-92.

The smaller athletes are former Line Mountain wrestler Zain Retherford and North Schuylkill runner Brendan Shearn, who together dripping wet might barely approach Hynoski's 260 pounds. Retherford was disappointed to not successfully defend his 2010 PIAA state wrestling title, finishing third at 112 pounds, but that was a mild setback compared to what was to come.

Shearn was happy to finish second in the Class AA 3200-meter run at the state track and field championships but what was ahead for him was even better.

Second place at the state level was actually kind of a theme for the year. In addition to Shearn's second, Shamokin wrestler Wes Tillett finished second at 285, Southern Columbia's Matt Moore was second in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and finally, Southern's football team finished second with a 35-19 loss to Clairton in the PIAA Class A title game.

But Southern's finish was the climax to a high school football season which was rewarding for almost all area teams. Four of the five schools in The News-Item's coverage area won at least 10 games, three won district titles and three won conference or division titles.

So here, somewhat chronologically, is a recap of the biggest area sports stories for 2011:

Hyno's road to the NFL

Hynoski, the former Class A Player of the Year for Southern Columbia when the Tigers won the last of their five straight state titles in 2006, fully expected to be picked in April's NFL draft after he left the University of Pittsburgh with a year of eligibility remaining.

But as a fullback in an era when that position is a second thought to many teams, he knew draft day could be fraught with peril, and it was. Despite reportedly being told by several teams that he would be taken on the next pick, he went undrafted. Then, with the NFL lockout taking place, he spent the next couple of months in free agent limbo.

But the lockout no sooner ended than Hynoski fielded several offers, the best of which came from the New York Giants, with whom he signed and eventually earned a starting job, following his father, Henry Sr., as an NFL player. In 10 games, Hyno, while used mostly as a lead blocker, has caught eight passes for 52 yards and also has a kick return for 15 yards.

Brendan runs. ... and runs

Shearn finished second as a sophomore in the PIAA Class AA 3200-meter run to Springfield Township's John Trueman by .77 of a second, with a time of 9:32.43.

"I wanted to win but silver's pretty good," Shearn said.

But he found out in November that gold was even better. Running confidently and strongly on Hershey's Parkview Course, Shearn set a Class AA course record of 16 minutes, 15 seconds to win the PIAA state cross country championship as a junior, beating Elk Lake's Luke Jones by two seconds. He became the fourth runner from Schuyllkill County to win a state title, joining Pottsville's Clyde Lowthert (1950), Blue Mountain's Randy Haas (1979) and Tamaqua's Isaac Dunkelberger (2005).

"A state championship. As soon as I started running, I wanted to get it," Shearn said. "I never really thought it would come. Now that I have it, it's just an amazing feeling."

Second's not so bad

Shamokin's Tillett came agonizingly close to winning the PIAA Class AA 285-pound wrestling title, which would have made him the Indians' first state champ since 1994. He lost to

defending champion John Rizzo of Richland, 3-2, finishing his season with a 34-6 record and his career at 129-31.

"I can't even think much about what happened right now," Tillett said just minutes after the bout. "It's all out of my mind already. It was the last match of my career with Coach Hock (Shamokin head coach Todd Hockenbroch) and all the guys. It's hard to remember already."

Moore's second-place finish in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles at the Class AA track and field championships was a surprise, and came not long after he was bitterly disappointed in not making the finals in the 110-meter high hurdles, which he considered his better event.

He broke a 16-year-old school record in the 300 trials, then broke it again the next day with his time of 39.49, second to West Catholic's Todd Townsend (39.15).

"It's kind of bittersweet. All year long I thought the 110 was the race where I would shine. I didn't think I'd be able to capitalize after the highs, but you know the old saying about champions overcoming adversity. My dad always tells me that, and I just kept thinking about that," Moore said.

Retherford transfers

Line Mountain officials spent the better part of the summer denying that Retherford was going to transfer to AAA power Central Dauphin, only to be floored when they actually received his transfer paperwork from fellow District 4 AA power Benton.

The 2010 state champ and 2011 third-place finisher had a two-year record of 84-3 at Line Mountain. Line Mountain claimed the transfer was "materially motivated" by sports and denied his transfer, setting up a showdown between the schools at the District 4 committee. The committee unanimously voted in Line Mountain's favor, and Retherford and his family appealed the decision to the PIAA, which in turn sent the appeal back to District 4, ruling the district made some procedural mistakes in the original hearing.

The district again unanimously ruled in favor of Line Mountain, and the Retherfords again appealed. This time, the PIAA hearing board ruled 8-1 in favor of the district, and the Retherfords sought an injunction from Northumberland County Court. Judge Robert Sacavage, citing case history which was almost exclusively on the PIAA's side, denied an injunction and Retherford now must sit out his junior season.

Football success

High school football has always been king in these parts, and it had a worthy year on its throne in 2011. The five schools in The News-Item's coverage area had a combined record of 52-15, and when you subtracted games against each other, they were 46-9.

That record was led by Southern Columbia, which lost in the PIAA Class A state championship game to three-time champion Clairton, 35-19, in a bid to win a record-setting seventh title.

Mount Carmel went 12-2, beat Southern to win the Heartland Conference Division II title, won its first district AA title since 2008, before losing 21-0 to eventual AA state champ Lancaster Catholic.

North Schuylkill went 10-1, going undefeated in the regular season for the third straight year, including a 21-13 win over Mount Carmel, and won its third straight Anthracite Football League title. A rash of injuries likely kept the Spartans from doing even better.

Line Mountain went 10-2, won its second straight Twin Valley Conference title, and its only two losses were to Southern Columbia.

And Shamokin, after a 3-7 regular season, won an unlikely District 4-AAA title, then won a state playoff game for the first time with a stirring 27-26 overtime win over an 11-1 Clearfield team before being eliminated by 2010 state champion Allentown Central Catholic.