Thursday, February 6, 2014
It was a golden day for the North Augusta High School football program.
The Jackets had a whopping seven signings, three of which will go into Division I FBS. Offensive lineman Jake Whitley will trade one set of Yellow Jackets for another, as he is off to Georgia Tech. Defensive lineman Brandon Maddox will be off to Colorado to play at the Air Force Academy and former standout Montez McGuire returned to the school to sign on with Appalachian State. A trio of wide receivers, Keyon West with Catawba College; Jaleel Bryant with the University of Pikeville; and Dre Dunbar with Mars Hill College, and offensive lineman Maurice Williams, who will attend Fort Scott Community College also signed. Finally an eighth player – Jaylon Myers – will be moving on to West Virginia University after two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, but was unable to make the event.
McGuire started his collegiate career at Georgia Military College two years ago and now will benefit from all of his hard work.
“That's a big deal for him to be able to get the grades and move on,” head coach Dan Pippin said. “I'm proud of Montez for sticking with it, he's totally changed. He's just a great kid and I know App thinks he may be able to get on the field and start up there.”
For his part McGuire said Applachian State's strong academics were a big draw, but also the coaches.
“They worked with all of the young guys when I went on my visit,” he said. “I had a bunch of good feedback and when you leave the school they also keep in touch with you. It was basically one big family. My hard work finally paid off and I have been telling the guys in here that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. I'm not necessarily finished yet, but I'm getting to the end.”
Though Whitley has had a verbal commitment to Georgia Tech for some time now, a mid-season knee injury nearly put that dream to an end. Whitley tore his ACL and PCL against Lexington, but still racked up a number of postseason honors and proved to be a force when he was on the field. The hard work he put in the classroom, on the field and weight room, and in his recovery are the big reasons why he will be headed to Atlanta.
“I've been working hard for four years to get to this point, and now that it's finally here it is like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” he said. “You can't beat the academics and I love the coaching staff. I think that style of offense will be fun to play in.”
Pippin said that Whitley being able to come back from the injury was great for everyone involved and the program as a whole.
“I think he's going to be someone who has an opportunity to move on,” Pippin said. “Coach (Mike) Sewak is a great coach and I think they do a great job.”
Perhaps even more impressive this year was Maddox, who played the entire year on a torn ACL. It was the mental and physical toughness that impressed coaches, according to Pippin. Maddox will rehab his first year at the prep school then head to the Academy.
“For him to play his entire senior year with a torn ACL is a testament to him and his family,” Pippin said. “I've never seen anything like it to be honest with you — and he never missed a beat.”
Maddox said that playing through the year was simply all about “mind over matter.”
“I love the game and I wanted to play,” he said. “There was nothing that was going to stop me.”
Maddox's father, Richard, said he has always taught his son to be tough.
“He surpassed even my own expectations because of how tough he was,” Richard Maddox said of his son. “His ability to adjust playing with a torn ACL; it was simply something he refused to accept. It doesn't surprise me that someone like the Air Force would stick with him and offer him because of his academic achievements and mental toughness. I can't wait to see how great a player he'll be once we get this ACL fixed.”
Pippin said he doesn't know if he has ever been more proud of a player for moving on than he is of Williams.
“I'm getting emotional thinking about it,” Pippin said. “For him to be able to move on and get a college education is a big deal. Our kids can take coaching because I coach them pretty hard, especially the offensive lineman. I can't even put it into words.”
Williams said he was excited to go out and meet some other football players.
“I'm going to go there and do what I have to do to make my parents proud,” he said. “One of my biggest dreams since I started playing football was to sign on this day. I'm just happy to make my coach, parents and fellow teammates proud. I learned a lot here from North Augusta, such as how to carry myself when I'm away from home and just to treat people right.”
The prolific North Augusta offense had more than just its offensive line – its skill players were also explosive. This was headlined by West, who led the team and the area in most receiving categories.
“I feel like Catawba is a good fit because I like the environment and I really bonded with the coaches,” he said. “I feel like they'll treat me like one of their own. North Augusta has given me a lot of opportunities to succeed in the classroom and on the field, and I just took advantage of the ones I had.”
Along the way West broke a number of records, including Matt Hazel's for single-season receptions.
“We throw the ball, but we threw the ball when Matt was here too,” Pippin said. “Catawba is a great place for Keyon and I think he can play there tomorrow.”
One of the opponents for Catawba in the South Atlantic Conference will be Mars Hill – the future home of Dunbar and former Jacket Robbie Morgan.
“We'll have two kids there, and it's great for Dre,” Pippin said. “He's going to have to put some size on, but I think they see him helping out next year and a guy who can really contribute for three years. He has great speed, great hands and he has gotten better with his routes.”
Dunbar said he thinks he will fit in well with the Mars Hill scheme.
“They have a balanced offense, and I think I am a great fit for them and that offense,” he said.
The third wide receiver heading off to college is Bryant, who will be headed to Pikeville, K.Y.
“I really liked the campus,” he said. “I took my first visit up there a while ago and they showed me a lot of things I really like. First, they showed me the academics and the football second. I was just really excited that they wanted to take a chance on me. I'm getting a chance to do something I enjoy, but also getting a college education.”
Pippin said Bryant has always been about the team.
“When he was playing JV and splitting time as a junior between JV and varsity you never heard Jaleel complain,” he said. “The way we do it is that you have to be patient, and he was and I think it paid off for him.”
Though the players have been impressive on the field, Pippin was quick to point out that the parents of the athletes were even more influential in them achieving these opportunities.
“I'm just a small part of the program; with the assistant coaches and the community,” he said. “It's such a big deal for these guys to sign and for the older guys to come back and see our kids it's really good for our program. Being able to help a kid move and get in school is just tremendous.”
Scott Rodgers is the news editor at The North Augusta Star and has been with the paper since January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @NAStarRodgers.