Hard work pays off with scholarships for student athletes around county
by Chris Goltermann
The road to a college scholarship varies greatly from one athlete to another, especially in football. At times, the process can be viewed as a five-yard curl route, simple but with at least one small twist. During others, it can feel like a Hail Mary on fourth down.
But in most cases, the factors toward a high school senior achieving such a goal remain the same. It involves hard work, patience, persistence and the understanding that a signature on a piece of paper is only the first step in a bigger chapter in life.
And more than a dozen student-athletes seemed ready to turn that page Wednesday on National Signing Day in Coweta County.
For the second straight year, talent shined through by sending football athletes to schools both in the Southeastern Conference and the Ivy League.
As athletes signed their grant in aid, players at rival schools suddenly became future teammates, while in two other cases current high school teammates got ready to continue playing careers on into college.
Yet the one constant throughout Wednesday were smiles, both from seniors and their families knowing that the potential to carry on both their education and athletic careers with some or all of the financial burden lifted.
“Don’t ever forget the feeling you have today,” East Coweta High School Principal Evan Horton told eight Indian football seniors that received either academic or athletic scholarships. “Enjoy it. Don’t rest on it.”
East Coweta’s signings included three with Division I schools highlighted by safety/wide receiver Markell Boston’s late decision to attend Auburn after receiving an offer Monday on the heels of a trip to the University of Nebraska (see related story).
Boston follows former Newnan star safety Tray Matthews (Georgia) and ex-Northgate standout Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech) last year among a growing trend of defensive backs to commit to major NCAA football programs.
“All these kids worked hard for this. They earned this. Hopefully we’ll have a couple more after signing day,” said East Coweta football assistant and recruiting coordinator Ahmand Tinker. “They need to understand it’s what they do with the opportunity. My degree from Valdosta State is as good as anywhere else.”
Three student athletes at both Newnan and Northgate were also among those to put signatures to paper, encompassing a wide variety of destinations at schools encompassing NCAA Division I and II, the NAIA and junior college programs.
Soccer teammates Ashley Keller, Taylor Hendrix and Emily Yarbrough were among seniors from the Lady Vikings defending Class AAAAA state championship lineup who signed while just days away from the 2014 varsity season.
East Coweta senior forward Serenity Waters also signed with UNC-Wilmington while teammate and fellow All-County and All-Region standout Nicole Brandley is signing with Georgia Southern this week.
As for Wednesday’s football signings, they also included Cougar football players Chris Porter, Tonarius Portress and Anfeney Turner. Porter signed with Point University while Portress and Turner, who already have been football and basketball teammates, are both headed to Garden City Community College in Kansas with East Coweta senior quarterback Bryce Gemmel, who expects to play both football and baseball after earning Newnan Times-Herald All-County Offensive Player of the Year honors.
“It’s all about the relationship and how you network. I tell people your network is your net worth,” Tinker said. “The offensive coordinator at Garden City, I coached him. That’s a connection. He played with me [when I coached] at Washington Wilkes. I’m getting old enough now where I’ve guys who have played for me that coach in college and guys who I worked with at UAB who have moved on to other places.”
Portress, Turner and Gemmel, each of whom were named to First or Second All-Region 3-AAAAAA Teams following senior years, have a chance to follow a pattern of local players using junior college to move on to Division I schools.
“I feel good about it,” said Portress after signing early Wednesday morning. “I need to get in the weightroom.”
The 5-foot-10 senior linebacker led Newnan in tackles each of the past two seasons while being named Newnan Times-Herald All-County Defensive Player of the Year.
Turner, a 6-4, 270-pound offensive lineman received interest from several Division I schools before opting to go the junior-college route.
Past successes that have taken similar paths include running back Tay Willis (East Coweta, Southern Illinois), who played for Highland Community in Kansas.
On Wednesday, former Northgate linebacker Isaiah Riddle also added his name to that list, signing with Kansas State after playing for Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College.
Among the 11 local high school football players signing Wednesday, seven participated in the D.L. Scott Coalition Bowl held in the Georgia Dome.
Newnan head football coach Mike McDonald said he expects more of his seniors to be close to signing scholarships over the next few weeks including standout defensive end Mark Harris.
“He just has to make up his mind,” McDonald said.
Northgate’s football program has also been fielding interest for several of its seniors including Ryan Fagerstrom and Torres Johnson.
Trinity Christian, which had 11 football seniors this fall, could also have several athletes sign scholarships as well.
As for East Coweta, its scholarship athletes on Wednesday included All-Region offensive lineman Qua Fuller (Savannah State), All-County fullback Malik Robinson (Middle Georgia) running back Weylin Orr (Cumberland) as well as defensive linemen Sanoj Allen (Brown University), Chris Burton (Mesabi Range CC, Minn.), Anthony Parks (Arkansas Baptist) and Brock Meeker.
“There are a lot of people out there with a common goal,” said East Coweta head coach Clint Wade, who is retiring following 22 years at the school while thanking parents, Tinker and staff members for their support.
“Parents, your blood, sweat and tears factor into preparing these young men for college whether its academically or athletically. I appreciate what you’ve done and it’s been a honor to be a part in the lives of these athletes,” he added. “There’s a lot of people involved in making this all work. I appreciate Coach Tinker in getting their names out there and getting looked at.”
Tinker reminded parents that their son’s signatures didn’t end the process, reminding them to go through student admissions to make sure they are enrolled in the fall, to file their taxes in order to have returns ready for additional financial aid forms and to make sure transcripts are completed and sent to colleges.
“It’s not a tough process if you understand it,” Tinker said. “My big thing is I try to help as many kids as I can, whether it be here or someone else.’’
Allen — with a pair of offers from Ivy League schools – chose Brown a year after Heritage School star Candler Rich accepted an offer to Yale.
“He had as many offers as anybody,” said Tinker of the 6-4, 240-pound lineman, who was hampered by a broken hand in his senior year.
Both Allen and Meeker, a 6-4, 240-pound end, who will attend Georgia on an academic scholarship, were as versatile both on and off the field.
“I figure I’m going to be set,” joked Tinker, speaking in front of the two defensive teammates. “This one [Allen] is going to be my lawyer and this one [Meeker] is going to be my doctor.”