By Abby Paterson--Eagle Staff Writer
This fall, the members of the senior class of 2023 who chose to further their education will be attending their first year of college. Of this group, a handful have been specifically recruited by universities for their athletic prowess.
Ian England is one such senior. England has been playing football since he was seven years old, and now he is preparing to play next year at Bridgewater College. From the beginning, he was very insistent on playing after high school.
“I wanted to play, and my mom told me no, and I told her that she’s a dream killer,” England said. “She signed me up the next day.”
Despite his enthusiasm, England was unsure of his prospects in college football. This uncertainty, of course, proved to be unfounded at the beginning of this school year.
“I think I always wanted to play in college, but I didn’t think college was possible until probably the beginning of this year, when I started getting offers,” he explained.
With many offers, England had plenty of options for where to spend the next four years of his life. In the end, he chose Bridgewater, a smaller college close to home.
“It really feels like home,” he said. “It’s about an hour and a half away, you know; it just felt right.”
More than just his feeling, though, England took into consideration the opportunities that the college would give him academically, not just athletically.
“I’m actually really excited for the academic part. There’s a summer program where for two weeks you can go on a safari or something like that,” he said. “And it’s fully paid. It’s in your tuition, so you get that twice. I’m pretty pumped for that.”
Once he graduates from college, England is planning to stay involved in football through student coaching.
“After I graduate, I’ll come back and I’ll student coach. You can be a student coach and be part of the coaching staff,” he said. “I’ll either coach special teams or receivers.”
England's classmate senior Kadin Smith has accepted an offer to go to Marymount University for wrestling. Smith has been wrestling since he was in eighth grade, starting as a part of the middle school team.
“I was the new kid and [senior] John Turner was in my math class and made me walk down and sign the signup sheet for the middle school team,” he said.
Despite knowing he planned to wrestle in college, Smith had to make a decision on where exactly he would go. He got offers from many schools, from full-fledged universities to junior colleges.
“Penn State Erie, Plymouth State, West Virginia Tech, Graceland University, Marymount University, and a couple of JUCO programs,” he said, listing the colleges who reached out to him in pursuit of his talent.
However, Smith ultimately decided to go to Marymount, which was, to him, an easy choice.
"I chose Marymount based on the coaching staff,” he explained. “Roy Hill has what I need in a college coach. His wrestlers are great people as well. It was not a hard decision.”
Eventually, Smith wants to continue his work with wrestling professionally.
“I would like to try MMA, and coach sometime after college,” he said. “I am excited to continue learning the art of wrestling and making my family proud.”
Back on the football field, senior Jahylen Lee was in high demand for college football teams. This came as a delight, as Lee had aspired to be a college player, but he still had a tough choice between the many colleges vying for his playership. Eventually, he settled on Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
“I watched college football growing up, so I've always wanted to play in college,” he said. “It was a hard decision, but I felt like that was the best option for me and a right fit.”
With Christopher Newport, Lee found that he shared similar values with the university, including the focus on victory.
“The most exciting thing about CNU is that they care about academics, and, on the football side of things, they only care about winning,” he said.
Like his classmates signing to college teams, he plans to at least stay in coaching after his college years. However, his aspirations are higher, with hopes to make it in professional football.
“I would love to be in the NFL but if that doesn't work out, I would love to be a head coach of a high school or college team after I'm done playing football,” Lee said.
Lee's teammate, senior Thomas Johnson, also plans to coach. But before this can happen, Johnson will be attending West Virginia Wesleyan this coming fall.
“I will be the first one in my family to go to college, and it’s always been my dream to play football in college,” he said. “I’m going in to be a gym teacher and football coach.”
Johnson has been playing football since he was five years old, and it has since become a healthy outlet for him to express his emotions.
“I started playing because I lost my dad when I was five, and I had too much going on, so the only way to express my feelings in a good way was by playing football,” he said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
Johnson will be starting his season at West Virginia Wesleyan as a redshirt, meaning he will not be allowed to play against outside competition. However, most student athletes spend this time training with their team and growing into their new role as college athletes.
“Right now I’m redshirted, so I won’t play in some of the games, but I’ve been told that by the end of the season I’ll be playing what I want,” he said.
Despite this temporary pause in his football track, Johnson seems satisfied with his choice to go to West Virginia Wesleyan, besides the natural doubt that comes with entering a new stage of his life.
“I don’t really have many doubts except for the fact that it’s five hours away from home and my family, but other than that I think it’s gonna be great,” he said.
All with their own aspirations for the future, these Eagles are leaving the nest to continue their athletic ventures. With luck, they will find their footing in these endeavors and carry on their path to excellence.