Chicken Express Community Heroes: Blanco's Ashlee LaRue & Texarkana Pleasant Grove's Connor Stanfill

Chicken Express and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football are partnering to honor the heroes in your community. Male and female student-athletes that lead by example on the field of play and in the classroom can be honored as Chicken Express Community Heroes and receive scholarship money to continue their education beyond high school.

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Ashlee LaRue, Blanco

In many ways, Ashlee LaRue’s senior year won’t be what she hoped it would be, but it will certainly be everything that she makes it. 

Surgery six weeks ago for a torn labrum will cost the future University of Mississippi softball player much of her final athletic year at Blanco High School. She’s still officially part of the volleyball and basketball teams, even though she knows she can’t play.

“This is the worst part of it,” she said. “I’m on the team and I travel to the games, but just sitting on the bench and not being able to help or be a part of what’s going on sucks. I really miss the camaraderie and connection you get from playing.”

While she’s unable to connect on the field, Ashlee certainly hasn’t missed a chance to connect with her community. Whether she’s serving in 4 The Heroes Foundation, a group dedicated to honoring military veterans, working the local stock shows or working grand openings for small business openings around town, Ashlee embodies what it means to be a Chicken Express Community Hero.

“My community is important because it does so much for me and its important that I give back,” Ashlee explains. “My community has supported me in not only in my sports but also in the ways they accepted me when I first moved to this town. Being a strong community member helps to form strong social connections, and teaches me life skills and lessons that I will use throughout the rest of my life.”

While not being able to play volleyball and basketball or run track is frustrating, she’ll still let her competitive drive push her. She currently ranks ninth academically, but she’s got her sights set on climbing higher.

“I’m just very competitive,” she said. “I’m trying to get my ranking as high as I can. I’ve worked my way up from 15th to 9th, and I’m proud of that, but I’m still trying to get higher.”

She didn’t need the perspective her injury has provided. While she’s a standout athlete – all-district in basketball and a two-time district MVP in softball – she’s always been driven to succeed wherever she was, be it on the field or in the classroom. 

“It’s just the way I was raised,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to be the best at everything I do. If you’re going to do something, why not put all you have into it? If you’re not going to give it your all, why even do it at all?” 

LaRue has certainly given sports – and softball especially – her all. She started playing softball early because her family’s always spent time on the diamond, be it baseball or softball. While she’s found success on the volleyball and basketball court as well, she’s worked at softball the longest.

“The other sports are fun, but softball is the sport I take the most seriously,” she said. 

That approach paid off in a scholarship from Ole Miss.

“I really felt at home when I visited,” she said. “The coaches reminded me of my dad. I loved everything about them. They take a very Christian approach to things, and that’s something that’s very important to me.”

Connor Stanfill, Pleasant Grove

Spend any length of time with Texarkana Pleasant Grove football player Connor Stanfill and it becomes increasingly easy to guess which positions he plays and which one he enjoys the most.

Away from the field, Stanfill steps up wherever he sees a need – at his church, at school, anywhere in the community. Last year Stanfill, a senior with designs on a career in biomedical engineering, began helping the youth minister, leading age-appropriate services for children while their parents attended services. 

“The youth minister asked us to help with the younger kids,” Stanfill explained, “so on Sunday mornings now we have what we call ‘youth church’ for them.”

Most weekends he can be found helping older area residents, whether it’s moving furniture or performing other tasks that need to be done.

“My dad works at the church and he talks to people all the time who ask for help with things,” Connor said. “They don’t ask for me specifically, but I always end up doing it.”

So why does a senior who’s got his own life going on – college preparation, recovering from a Friday night football game, hanging out with friends – choose to spend a healthy portion of his weekend moving furniture and performing other odd jobs?

“It just takes three or four hours,” he said. “That’s all. And after that, you still have the rest of the weekend to do what you want to do.”

While Stanfill finds making time to help others easy, not everyone else shares that view. While he doesn’t begrudge those who make other choices, he doesn’t understand those choices. He’s almost never walked through a door without holding it open for someone else and rarely lets an adult at the grocery store carry their own bags to the car.

“Sometimes I don’t understand,” he said. “There are little things you can do to help other people and they only take a minute. I guess it bothers me when people don’t do those things, so I make it a priority to help people when I see that I can. That’s just how I was raised. You see someone who needs help, you just help. It’s easy.”

Whether he’s helping at church or helping move furniture, Stanfill always takes along some of his friends. So where does he play on the football field? Offensive line, of course, where leading the way and protecting the quarterback are the primary responsibilities.  

“You get to block for other people,” Stanfill said.

In other words, he holds the door so running backs can find their way into the end zone. While the running backs get the glory when they find the end zone, Stanfill and his fellow linemen take a quiet pride in knowing how the running backs got there.

“Maybe the running backs get all the glory, but when we watch the film on Saturday, you see how it happened and you can be proud. ‘Hey, he ran through the hole we opened,’” Stanfill said.

After suffering an injured shoulder last season, Stanfill has recovered and is eager to help the top-ranked Hawks return to the 4A, Division II championship game. After that, he’ll weigh his options. He’d like the opportunity to play football in college – Harding University’s offered an opportunity to play, as have East Texas Baptist University, Hendrix College and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. But he realizes that his longer term plans may take precedence.

“I’m trying to decide if I can manage all of my time and other responsibilities if I play football,” he said.

Until he makes that final decision, he’ll continue to help the Hawks, and his community, by serving where he’s needed.

“It’s always been important to help others,” Stanfill said. “I think you always put other people before yourself. Putting yourself first really doesn’t get you anywhere.”

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