First place: Adam Smith, Burlington Times-News

About this entry: Digging deeper than just game stories and fluff features, Adam Smith’s enterprise coverage of small college athletics is a reflection of what a well-planned and well-executed strategy can reveal. Smith’s knowledge of the beat shines through, but he channels administrators, coaches and athletes — giving them the chance to open up and shed light on behind-the-scenes angles that give fans and community members insight into how the department functions.

Read online: A weight lifted, a wait rewarded: With his father out of prison, Elon defender looks forward to first game in front of him, Cost of business: Elon holds purse as schools decide on cost of attendance rule, Legend’s legacy: Smith’s caring touch, penchant for relationships shines through in death

Follow Adam on Twitter @adam_smithTN

Impressive array of subjects and story styles, well-reported and written – exactly what you want from a Sports Writer of the Year. Telling details help grab readers, from Dean Smith yelling at Roy Williams to the chilling electronic phone message from a prison. Strong entry.

Second place: Jack Flagler, The Gaston Gazette

About this entry: Jack Flagler exhibits not only a deep knowledge of his subjects, but also his skills as a brilliant writer.

Read online: Who is Josh Norman?

Follow Jack on Twitter @jflagler

Engaging writing style elevated this entry. The leads on all three stories were among the best I’ve read in this contest in any division – and they were all different approaches. The writer shows excellent grasp of the subject matter and an ability to get sources to open up to him.

Third place: Bobby LaGesse, Ames Tribune

About this entry: Bobby LaGesse’s stories are so much more than just game coverage and offer a look not only into the sometimes emotional lives of players but also into the motivations of coaches.

Read online: Why Gadson’s biggest obstacle to a national title wasn’t an opponent

Follow Bobby on Twitter @BobbyLaGesse

A top columnist has to do more than just offer opinion. He or she must be a strong writer and reporter. This journalist has the complete package. Bold choice to call out the athletic director for mishandling his officiating protest even as the story was unfolding.