Freeport senior Adelle Strickland has been tabbed as the 2020 Taylor Haugen Trophy recipient.

FREEPORT — Sitting on Freeport’s bench, Adelle Strickland buried here face in her hands, trying to hide her excitement.

Teammates reached over to pat her on the back or squeeze shoulder, but every time she looked up, a brilliant smile would flash across her face and she would go back to looking at her shoes. Only a hug from her coach, Michael Myrick, could bring the Bulldog senior basketball player to her feet as members of the All Sports Association and the Taylor Haugen Foundation filed into Freeport’s gym on Friday night, one holding a particularly hefty bronze trophy.

Strickland’s trophy. She had won.

She had won the Taylor Haugen Trophy.

“It really is an honor, first of all, to be even nominated by my school, but to receive it — honestly, words can’t describe how honored I am and how appreciative I am to the Haugens for choosing me and for my school for nominating me,” Strickland said.

The trophy and its accompanying scholarship are awarded annually to a senior athlete from any of the high schools in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa or Walton counties to honor the memory of Taylor Haugen, a Niceville High School student who died in August 2008 after suffering a fatal liver injury during a football game, and celebrate the lives of like-minded students.

The Taylor Haugen Foundation chooses a candidate based on his or her ability to balance academics, athleticism, leadership, community service and faith. The student must also demonstrate the perseverance to improve in all aspects of life and embody Taylor’s motto: “Don’t quit. Never give up.”

Strickland has been fighting her entire life.

Born in Hawaii in 2001, Strickland was placed in foster care before her parents, Evelyn and Michael Strickland, adopted her two years later. Although her current home is a loving one, Strickland said she has struggled with being given away by her biological parents.

“As I grew up, I always wondered why they didn’t care enough to not take care of me or choose me first over other things in their lives,” she said. “That was something I had to overcome. I had to learn my self worth. I had to learn not to quit on myself even when others would in my life.”

And to do so, she turned to her faith.

“When she was very young, she told us she wanted the Lord to help overcome those things. She has worked with God and been given a lot of healing. Adelle’s very unique. She has an exceptionally high IQ, but she doesn’t just take advantage of that; she comes home every day from school and she hits the books. She does not ever want to make a low grade. She has a spirit of excellence.”

The desire to succeed informs all aspects of Strickland’s life. Whether on the basketball court with her teammates or serving the community through her church, she burns with this desire to do good and put the work in.

“She never does anything halfway,” Evelyn Strickland said.

In that regard, Strickland is remarkably similar Taylor Haugen.

“Her strength of faith, she was very, very comfortable with that,” said Brian Haugen, Taylor’s father and the foundations co-founder. “That’s very much in line with T. You can tell she’s extremely competitive, too, and T was just ate up with that. You can tell that she’s gonna take everything she commits to doing very, very seriously.”

That includes her future.

Strickland was accepted to the Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama, earlier this year, and she said she plans to spend a year there before transferring to the Naval Academy to continue her service.

“I’ve always felt the desire to serve my community, my country,” she said. “It’s just been something that I’ve always felt called to.”

Although Strickland said she still struggles with her past, that ability to make the choice to serve, to choose her own path — her own future — is everything.

“People will always try to tell you who you are,” she said. “So every day or whenever I’m in that situation, I have to know who I am and know that I don’t have to accept what they say about me.”