Caleb Brannon works as hard in the classroom and on the baseball field as he does on the family farm.
The Calloway County High School senior spends much of his free time helping his father and uncle on the 550-acre crop operation at Brannon Farms in Puryear, Tenn. He believes he developed a strong personal work ethic with countless hours of labor intensive work through every season.
"You stay busy on a farm, there is always something to do," he said. "It's important to get it done as fast as possible and as well as possible. It has made me kind of a perfectionist."
Brannon, son of Tony and Lisa Brannon, is the Mid-Continent University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MCU Teen of the Week selected from nominees guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois submitted to the Sun. Mid-Continent University will provide each Teen of the Week with a $2,500 annual scholarship to its university, which is renewable for four years.
In the spring, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners. The Teen of the Year is eligible for a full four-year scholarship to Mid-Continent or a cash award of $2,500, paid through the Paducah Sun, if the student selects another college to attend.
He not only excels at managing a busy work schedule on the farm, his agricultural skills are seen in the classroom and in his many award-winning Future Farmers of American (FFA) competitions. Brannon received one of the 10 national recognitions in the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Contest during his freshman year. He said achieving a high level of success during his first high school year inspired him to continue striving for additional accolades.
"As a freshman I just wanted to succeed at a high level and set the bar high for myself early on," he said.
Brannon has received 14 regional, 15 state and four national individual or team FFA awards including a regional and state champion and a national gold rating in specialty crop proficiency. He also worked through Brannon AgriEnergy to develop, grow and market biomass and bioengineering crops such as switchgrass, sorghum, energy beets and mischantus. Brannon said his interest in "new energy crops" began after his family was selected to pilot five acres of switchgrass through a University of Tennessee program.
The 4.0 grade-point-average student who is set to serve as one of the valedictorians, lists his favorite class along with agriculture as mathematics. He is also involved with Beta Club, Laker Legion, Lakers for Christ, and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).
He spends much of his free time giving back to the community through FFA, Murray State Agriculture Leadership Council, and the youth group at Puryear Baptist Church in Puryear, Tenn. He pointed to his experience with God's Pantry Food Pantry in Lexington, where his group spent time labeling cans, as life changing.
"I realized then that the smallest things do have such a big impact to those people in need, and I just want to keep giving back," he said.
He has played four years of varsity baseball as a catcher and team captain and two years of varsity basketball. He was named most improved baseball player twice during his high school tenure, won two district championships and was named to the all-region tournament team his junior year.
"For some of last season I was just OK, kind of struggling batting and on defense, but then halfway through I turned it around by just working hard," he said. "The fact that I was named to the all-region team over seniors showed me that everyone appreciated the effort I put into it."
He is looking forward to the upcoming season with an uneasy mixture of anticipation and trepidation because the end of the season will bring the end of his high school experience.
"I'm ready, but I have enjoyed being a senior and really like it here (Calloway County) with all our teachers who are so supportive," he said. "It's definitely a bittersweet feeling."
Brannon plans to attend Murray State University to pursue a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, specializing in agronomy and agri-business. He is focused on a career in agriculture through helping to maximize crop yield and has considered opening his own energy-efficient agriculture business in the future. He recalls his time using practices from the farm inside the classroom and in his FFA leadership roles as some of his fondest high school memories.
"Sophomore year we won so many awards at state it really honored all the work the chapter had put into it," he said "People remember Calloway County as the group who won everything that year. It was really special."
Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.