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Aug. 11, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

THUMBS UP: Sanford’s Aaron Mellette

Southern Lee High School football and basketball standout Aaron Mellette made a name for himself up the road at Elon University by always making the catch. On 44 occasions during his football career at Elon, Mellette took the pigskin over the goal line for a touchdown. His play was so prolific and outstanding that during the final two years of his collegiate career, he was often double-teamed as defenses tried to keep the ball away from him. He made a total of 304 catches at Elon, and his statistics — receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and 100-yard receiving games — all rank second in both Elon and Southern Conference history.

Now Mellette’s a pro, and he’s made exactly one catch — a fourth-quarter grab in Thursday’s pre-season game between the Baltimore Ravens (who picked Mellette in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft earlier this year) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But what a grab it was: a sparkling 21-yard touchdown catch that was vintage Mellette, with him leaping up over a Tampa Bay defender just inside the end zone and using his always-reliable hands to secure possession of the ball.

All told, 14 different receivers caught passes for Baltimore on Thursday. As a rookie, Mellette faces stiff competition for regular playing time. But he showed this week he’s ready for the big time.

THUMBS UP: LCS graduation rate

Graduation rates at Lee County’s high schools has been a topic of concern for the community for several years now, but the latest numbers from the state of North Carolina show the four-year grad rate — which represents the percentage of students who entered 9th grade during the 2009-10 school year and matriculated four years later as part of the Class of 2013 — was 86.4 percent.

That number represents not only nearly full four percentage points higher than the state average, but a significant 23 percent jump in Lee County’s numbers from 2007.

It’s not just a positive trend, but a notable one — and a testament to the work of students, educators and administration, plus the community which supports them.

“We are extremely proud of our continued improvement in the graduation rate,” said new Lee County Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan, who helped spearhead the school system’s reaction to low graduation rates a few years ago. “As a district, our goal is for every student to graduate. Our teachers, staff, tutors, volunteers and administrators work tirelessly in the classroom every day to ensure student success. And with the help of community organizations and the faith-based community we have enhanced the safety net of support that makes graduation an accessible goal for all students.”