Big day for Callaway trio

Published 3:58 pm Thursday, December 21, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

It’s been a phenomenal two-year run for the Callaway football team.

During the past two seasons combined, the Cavaliers won 24 games, and they reached the Class AA semifinals in 2016 and the quarterfinals this year.

Three of the players who were instrumental in that success are seniors DQ Wilkerson, Lichon Terrell and DJ Atkins, and those three men are ready to take their skills to the next level.

On Wednesday, which was the first day of the early signing period, Wilkerson, Terrell and Atkins each signed a letter of intent, officially linking them to the college of their choice.

Wilkerson, a versatile player who was a defensive back, wide receiver and kick returner for the Cavaliers, is heading to Mercer University.

Terrell, a dominant defensive lineman, has signed with Western Kentucky.

Atkins, who ran for more than 3,000 yards during his two seasons as a running back at Callaway, is heading to North Carolina to join the Western Carolina football program.

“Lichon, DQ and DJ have worked extremely hard throughout their high-school careers,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said. “They’re what you want from someone with the Callaway jersey on. I’m really proud for them, and their families, and for the opportunity they have to go on and play at a high level. I know they’ll be successful and represent their families and their school.”

A bunch of other Callaway seniors will be signing their letters of intent on the traditional National Signing Day on Feb. 7, and Atkins, Terrell and Wilkerson will be a part of that ceremony as well.

As many as 14 seniors from this season’s Callaway football team could end up playing college football.

This year for the first time, players had the option of signing early, and Atkins, Terrell and Wilkerson took advantage of that.

All three players made their verbal commitments before the season began, and none of them wavered.

When they got the opportunity to make it official, they didn’t hesitate.

Terrell is joining a Western Kentucky team that won six games and lost to Georgia State in the Cure Bowl.

For Terrell, Western Kentucky felt like home.

“I visited a lot of schools,” Terrell said. “That’s the school I didn’t want to leave. From the environment, and the coaches, it was wonderful. It was home. When you leave for college, you want it be somewhere that’s a second home. Western Kentucky was that place for me.”

Western Kentucky is getting an impact defensive lineman who was a foundation of the Callaway defense the past two seasons.

Terrell missed three games with an injury as a senior, but he returned and helped Callaway go 11-2 and reach the state quarterfinals.

“It was a great experience,” Terrell said of his time at Callaway. “Everybody’s family. It just went by too fast.”

Terrell said he appreciate the work the coaches did to help him find the right college home.

“We put in a lot of work,” Terrell said. “The coaches, they don’t sleep. They’re always trying to get us to the best place we can go.”

While Terrell was dominating on defense, Atkins was putting up impressive numbers on offense.

Atkins ran for more than 2,000 yards as a junior while helping Callaway finish 13-1 and reach the semifinals for the second time in four years.

Atkins had another big season as a senior.

The 5-foot-8 Atkins has the speed to leave defenders behind, and he also has the strength and tenacity to run over or through would-be tacklers.

“DJ Atkins is as tough as nails,” Wiggins said. “He carried the football a lot of times. He’s worked extremely hard for us. I’m proud of him.”

Atkins had numerous options when it came to choosing a college, but he said no other school showed as much personal interest as Western Carolina.

Western Carolina, part of the Football Championship Subdivision, is a member of the Southern Conference along with Mercer.

“It’s about who wants you,” Atkins said. “It’s not about going to a school just to have a uniform on. It’s who gives you the most love. They love my family, they visited our home, and they said I was a game-changer. It was music to my family’s ears. I had some bigger schools, but I wanted to feel like the school needed me.”

Atkins, a competitor who doesn’t enjoy being on the sidelines, hopes to play as soon as possible at Western Carolina.

“That’s the main goal is to get on the field,” Atkins said.

Wilkerson will be joining a former teammate on the Mercer football team.

Michael Freeman, a linebacker who was Callaway’s leading tackler as a senior, recently completed his freshman season at Mercer.

“He said when you get to college, it’s a whole different ballgame,” Wilkerson said. “You’ve got to buckle down and do what you’ve got to do, and maintain your grades.”

Mercer is getting a gifted and versatile player.

Wilkerson was a play-maker on offense, defense and special teams, and he’s slated to play defensive back at Mercer.

“He played offense, defense and special teams,” Wiggins said of Wilkerson. “He’s worked extremely hard to get to where he is. He’s a great competitor on the field.”

Wilkerson feels Mercer fits his needs from an academic and athletic standpoint, and it’s also close to home which is a major bonus.

“The main thing I was looking at was how close it is at home,” Wilkerson said. “And I’ve got a chance to play a freshman. I’ll take advantage of that.”

Wilkerson said “it’s very exciting” to get the chance to play college football.

“Many people don’t get this chance,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a blessing. When I get there, I’ll just play hard.”

Wiggins said Wilkerson, Terrell and Atkins all showed a lot of diligence when it came to selecting a college home.

“They put a lot of time into their decision with their families, and we think it’s all about finding the right fit, a fit with the coaching staff, and with the community they’ll be in,” Wiggins said. “That’s a big part of being successful.”

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