Looking for light

He's always introduced the same way on stage: three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam. And the crowd goes wild.

Even the anglers won't shut up about him — he's the guy to beat. He has his own logo and even a catchy nickname: KVD.

In short, he's Tiger Woods, Roger Federer and Michael Jordan, rolled into one.

But KVD hasn't won Angler of the Year in almost a decade.

And the eight guys who have won it this millennium: Timmy Horton, Mark Davis, Davy Hite, Jay Yelas, GeraldSwindle, Aaron Martens, Michael Iaconelli and Skeet Reese have yet to garner an ounce of the respect given by pros and fans alike to VanDam.

When Reese was asked if he was tired of hearing about VanDam, his answer was quick.

"Yup," he said as he practiced for the Bluegrass Brawl on Kentucky Lake. "But Kevin is one hell of a great angler — probably one of the best we'll ever see."

Do you get tired of qualifying that answer?

"No, I really don't ... because he's earned it," Reese said.

Hasn't Reese also earned it?

Over the last four years, he has averaged a fifth-place finish in the Angler of the Year standings while VanDam has averaged ninth. Reese won Angler of the Year in 2007 and has been in or near the top three for most of this season.

VanDam has won two Classics since his last Angler of the Year honor, but almost any pro will say AOY is a better test of talent.

So where are the VanDam-like accolades? Reese summed it up in one word: "Winning."

"It's all about the titles, whether it's the Classic, AOY or just a tournament," he said. "If I can't win a tournament, then my ultimate goal is AOY. But it's all about the W's."

During the aforementioned eight-year span since VanDam's last AOY title, he has won eight times, including two Classics, four Elite Series events and two Elite 50s.

In contrast, Reese only has three victories in his entire career.

"I don't know that I'll ever accomplish what he's done, but if I don't, it won't be for a lack of trying," Reese said. "I want to end my career with the same kind of legacy as Denny Brauer, Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon."

This season has been a good example of how VanDam separates himself from the field. There are four anglers — Bryan Hudgins, Mike McClelland, Todd Faircloth and Reese — who have not missed a top-50 cut, but only one guy, VanDam, has won two events.

And while VanDam has no AOY title from his two and a half years on the Elite Series, only he has won four events.

"He is, without a doubt, an unbelievable angler who has done unbelievable things," Reese said. "In order to be on top, you have to beat the top. I did that last year, but I'm going to have to do it again and again and again."

Reese hopes he can add to his resume by accomplishing something this season VanDam never has — back-to-back AOY titles. After VanDam's win on Kentucky Lake, he leads Reese (fourth) by 145 points, with three tournaments to go.

VanDam had a similar lead last season as the tour headed north with four tournaments left, only to get it handed to him by Reese in New York before losing the race by more than 100 points. But Reese said this year has been different.

"Last year, everything fell into place," he said. "When I needed a big bite, I would get it. It just hasn't been that way this year. I should have been in the top 12 two or three more times this year, but I've been losing fish. Nothing seems to go right."

Whether it is AOY this year, or the Elite Series through the next decade, Reese's focus is now on winning, not placing.

VanDam shed light on what it takes to be considered the best — and Reese clearly isn't interested in second place.

"I really don't like him having that throne all to himself," he said.