LaGrange has four sign to play Division I football

Published 8:00 am Saturday, January 6, 2024

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The early signing period for college football is well underway. On Friday, three LaGrange High seniors — JJ Johnson, Jaden Ligon and Parker Shattuck — and one Granger grad — Tristan Smith — made their dreams a reality on Friday as they signed Division I offers in front of friends and family. 

“I’m really proud of our guys to have this because it is really uncommon to have this many guys sign this early with full Division I scholarships,” LaGrange coach Matt Napier said. 

The three seniors were a part of the first team Napier inherited when he transitioned from Callaway High offensive coordinator to LaGrange High head coach. 

Shattuck has started all four years that Napier has been a part of the Granger program. 

“I haven’t been a head coach without Parker Shattuck being on the field on a Friday night, every game that I went to coach, he’s been out there as a starter for our football team,” Napier said. “It’s gonna feel a little bit different out there next year.”

The senior linebacker will make his way to South Alabama later this year. 

“From the moment, I stepped on campus I knew it was going to be home,” Shattuck said. “It’s a big brotherhood there, and I bonded with all the players there.”

While he has been recruited as a linebacker, Shattuck has made his presence felt all over the field during his time at LaGrange. As a senior, Shattuck started at a linebacker, tight end and punter. He was a true difference-maker in all three phases of play.

“Those four years here have turned me into the best man and the best football player I could be and we have turned the program around completely,” Shattuck said. 

For Ligon, it was a meteoric rise these past several years. Yes, he is University of Alabama-Birmingham bound in the fall, but he was not sure that this opportunity would come just a few short years ago.

“I breathed a sigh of relief,” Ligon said, laughing as he remembered when he first got a Division I offer. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Ligon had a slow start to life on the football field and had trouble maintaining his grades in the classroom as well when COVID-19 struck. Ligon never shied away from the work and rebuilt himself athletically and academically. 

“He really struggled with the COVID with a family and taking care of his grandmother at the house and mom at the house and, and really kind of got behind on his classroom requirements,” Napier said. “We all knew how smart he was. And when he got the opportunity to get in the get in the classroom and get back at school. He knocked it out of the park and put himself back in position to be able to sign the scholarship.”

Now, Ligon is a towering figure in any room he walks into. He has all the traits colleges want in an offensive lineman, but his bubbly personality separates Ligon from other recruits. He takes the game and the work seriously, but he is always quick with a laugh and keeps others on their toes.

He is gentle giant off the field, but a mauler on the gridiron.

“They are getting a player that will work hard and I feel like I’m a good pass blocker,” Ligon said. 

The other two seniors will be staying relatively close to home as both signed to play at colleges in our neighboring state of Alabama, but Johnson will be making a big move. The senior defensive back will be heading to play in the Pioneer Ivy League at Colgate, a strong indicator of what Johnson is made of.

Johnson made a natural connection on his first visit to Colgate in New York.

“It is a really good environment and when I went up there everyone was really genuine, and I like everything I saw when I got up there,” Johnson said. 

A leader for the team in more ways than just between the lines on the field, Johnson will be sorely missed at LaGrange High.

“When he got his offer from Colgate, the team erupted with excitement because they know how much he puts into it,” Napier said. 

Napier and Johnson’s relationship goes all the way back to when Napier coached Johnson on a parks and rec team where he was a teammate of Napier’s son.

“He has always pushed me to go harder since I was little,” Johnson said. “He always believed in me, and we have a good relationship between player and coach.” 

Smith, a LaGrange graduate in 2022, spent the last 18 months playing JUCO football at Hutch Community College. It was a grind for the former standout LaGrange wide receiver, but Smith made all the right moves to earn a big opportunity at Southeast Missouri.

“I chose this school not only because it will make me a better football player, but also a better man,” Smith said. “I also have dreams of playing in the NFL, and this school will provide me a platform to fulfill my dreams. They have sent many players to the league and I will most definitely be the next.”

The last 18 months have seen Smith make a ton of growth as he matures into the man that he and those around him always knew he could be.

“Coming out of high school, I finished with barely a 2.0 GPA and a had five junior college offers leaving high school,” Smith said. “I graduated (community college) with a 3.6 GPA while also making the vice president and president’s list.”

LaGrange will host another football signing day in February in which even more Grangers will be announcing their next destination on their journey.