The Jacksonville Axemen awards for the 2014 were held at Time Out Sports Grill with a great group of players and fans attending.
Before the player awards started, gifts and recognition was given to all the volunteers who helped the team during the season. The medical and training staff, the newly formed “Axe-bassador” group, photographers and the always wonderful Axe Maidens. And of course to coach Matt Keeley, for the season of putting such an incredible team on the field each and every week.
The players awards had a great mix of young and old, rookie and veteran, and current and even a former player.
– Most Improved back – Stephen Kruegar – after a fantastic rookie year that shows he has a long future in the sport.
– Best back – Joe Eichner – also in his rookie year, and who delivered a “clinic” in defense during the National Championship.
– Most Improved forward – Taylor Youngling – who had his best season yet with the Axemen and cemented his job as an impact player who is a nightmare for other teams when he comes off the bench.
– Best forward – Kevin Wathen – who matured as a player during the season and led by example throughout the year.
– Players Player (voted on by all players) – Josh Cock – in his second year from Australia filled a pivot role with ease and again proved that he is one of the hardest guys to have played for the Axemen and an ever willing “lead by example” player.
– Coaches player of the year – Matt Thorton – after a move from the Wing into the forwards, the veteran showed that his dedication to fitness and physical preparation can overcome age. As one of the “senior” guys on the roster he still managed to make it tough for some guys almost half his age to keep up with his fitness and is pure aggression on the field.
– Club MVP – Apple Pope – one of the favorite players of all time for the Axemen returned in 2014 and delivered his best season ever. With a veteran leadership role and consistent MVP performances each game, Apple showed the form that saw him Captain the USA National Team for so many games, and be named the USA International Player of the Year.
And then the surprise award for Clubman of the year. “The Tony Weight Award” – Bob Knoepfel.
Since the teams inception Bob Knoepfel has been a stalwart for the Axemen. As a player he provided consistent stability anytime he was on the field, not only for the Axemen but also for the USA when he represented the nation in international competition. Bob has always been both a fan and player favorite, with his never ending humor and witty comments, and his dedication to the overall organization as a whole. His ability to play through injury and pain has become legendary within the Axemen history, and his “always willing to offer help” off the field mentality has seen him at almost every Axemen event since May of 2006.
After his days as a player he has continued to fill a number of roles that include assistant coach for the Axemen, head coach of the minor league team, and most recently as the ground announcer on game day. But his dedication goes beyond game day. Over the years he has offered visiting players accommodation in his home, and his living room couch often had visitors who were involved with the Axemen as well. He has volunteered a number of times at promotional events, to assist teams outside of Jacksonville, provide transportation services to and from the airport, and a seemingly endless number of other contributions to the Axemen and Rugby League in the USA. His ever present jokes, willingness to help and ability to be a true leader on and off the field made him an easy choice when it come time for the 2014 Tony Weight Award, he award that is given to the person who has shown a constant dedication and commitment to the team during the entire season. Spinner Howland summed it up, “When I think of all the stuff that Bob has done for this team as a player, coach, volunteer, providing accommodations, transporting players and visitors, his game day contributions, he helps set up and break down before and after each game, he has washed the playing kits in the past, in fact I am not sure there is much he has not done for the team. I am not sure the team would be where it is today had he not been a part of it. When you consider he has done all of this with lighthearted wit and humor, and a never ending positive influence, it is pretty clear that he will go down as one of the most legendary players in Axemen history.”
(Thank you to Allene Rachal and David Pierce for the Photos in this story)