It’s a signing-day bonanza for Grangers
LAGRANGE – It was draft day at LaGrange High.
Well, sort of.
In an effort to make signing day more of an event, LaGrange High head coach Dialleo Burks modeled this year’s festivities after the NFL draft.
The players were situated at tables with their families and friends, just as they are in the main hall at the NFL draft, and there was a gallery of onlookers (their teammates) up in the bleachers.
Then when a player’s name was called, he went to the front to meet the commisioner, or in this case, their head coach at LaGrange.
Surrounded by family members, each player took the microphone and announced where he was going to be playing college football.
That scene was repeated often during Wednesday’s signing-day event, with 11 seniors on the LaGrange High football signing a letter of intent.
Burks, who is heading into his third season as the Grangers’ head coach, wanted to do something special for the signees, and he recalled scenes from the NFL draft.
“I was watching the draft last year, and that’s where I got the idea,” Burks said. “I saw the families sitting around the table.”
Burks felt the day was a big success, and he gave a lot of credit for that to Ginnie Walker, who did a lot of the leg work getting everything ready for Wednesday.
“You want (the players) and the parents to come in and just really enjoy the moment,” Burks said.
Burks also wanted all of the other members of the team to be a part of the ceremony, so the decision was made to hold it in the gymnasium rather than the media center so seating wouldn’t be an issue.
“I wanted our other guys to enjoy the process,” Burks said. “This is what we preach. We’ve been having it in the media center and all of them couldn’t be a part of it. So that was the other reason when we moved it here.”
The spectators got to watch more than half of the team’s seniors sign a letter of intent, and Burks said there are more to come.
“Out of 20, we had 11 that signed today, and two of them, they were on the brink of doing it, but they’re going to wait,” Burks said. “And we’ve got four or five more that are still waiting.”
One of LaGrange’s signees was Andrew Askew, who had a stellar senior season as a wide receiver.
Askew, who won the team’s Ironman competition in the preseason, has signed with the Western Carolina Catamounts, who play in the Southern Conference.
Askew, who had seven touchdown catches last season and was named the team’s most valuable wide receiver, was one of 16 players who signed with the Catamounts on Wednesday.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity you’re going to get to play college football,” Askew said. “It feels great.”
Another signee was Bobby Willoughby, whose 2015 season came to a heart-breaking conclusion when he suffered a knee injury late in the year.
The injury also kept Willoughby from playing basketball, although he has been on the bench for every game this season, supporting his teammates.
Fortunately for Willoughby, the injury didn’t turn off college scouts, and he’ll get a chance to keep playing football.
Willoughby is one of three LaGrange players who signed with Rochester Community and Technical College in Minnesota.
“It makes you feel good about yourself, like all the hard work is paying off finally,” Willoughby said.
Willoughby is relieved that the injury didn’t keep him from achieving his goal.
“When I got hurt, (the scouts) told me, just don’t worry about it,” Willoughby said. “Take your time and make sure to get your leg back right.”
Willoughby, who should be at full strength by the time preseason practice rolls around, is grateful for the opportunity.
“That’s all I wanted was a chance,” he said.
The other two LaGrange players going to Rochester College are defensive lineman Emmanuel Mann and wide receiver and defensive back Dominique Copeland.
Mann, who was a multi-year starter for the Grangers and was the anchor of the defensive line last season, can’t wait for the college experience.
“I’m very excited,” Mann said. “If I could leave now, I would leave now.”
Mann and Copeland both have some unfinished business remaining in high school.
Both men are wrestlers, and they’ll be competing in the Class AAAAA state sectional on Friday and Saturday.
Another LaGrange wrestler preparing for the state sectional is Guy Wegienka, who was also a part of Wednesday’s ceremony.
Wegienka is one of two LaGrange players who will be staying at home to play college football.
Wegienka, an offensive lineman, and place kicker Matthew Thomas are both going to play for the LaGrange College Panthers.
Wegienka had some different options, but he jumped at the chance to play for the hometown team.
“I’m really excited about it,” Wegienka said. “I had a couple of colleges looking at me. But I really want to stay at home, stay close to family. And they wanted me. That was their exact words. We want hometown boys to come here and play football.”
Thomas, who was the team’s special teams most valuable player last season, is also a standout soccer player, and he’ll be a key member of the LaGrange High team this spring.
“I wanted to play college soccer, because I’ve played soccer my whole life,” Thomas said. “But the football opportunity came, and I chose to take it.”
Even though the soccer and football seasons are both in the fall at LaGrange College, Thomas said he may try to play both sports.
“They said I can play both,” Thomas said. “I might try it my first semester to see if I can handle it, with academics and everything.”
Enrique Moody, a wide receiver and defensive back for the Grangers, is heading to Kansas to join the Coffeyville Community College program.
Kimani Barnes, who was an effective running back for the Grangers the past few seasons, will be staying closer to home after signing with Clark Atlanta University.
He’ll be joined at Clark University by his teammate, Undriel Copeland, a running back who transferred from Northside (Columbus) to LaGrange for his senior season.
Keoate Davis, who was a versatile player for the Grangers, is planning on joining the University of Mount Union (Ohio) football program.
Davis was primarily a defensive player as a linebacker and defensive lineman, but he also played a fair amount at running back, and he had a handful of touchdowns.
LaGrange’s most high-profile signee was Luke Elder, who signed with the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Elder verbally committed to North Carolina in June, and he never wavered and signed his letter of intent before 8 a.m. on Wednesday.
OF NOTE: For more signing photos, go to facebook.com/LDNsports
Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports