By JOE DODD
The ranks of former Gilmer Buckeyes playing at the college level received a boost Wednesday when seven Gilmer seniors signed letters of intent to continue their athletic careers after graduation from high school.
“That puts us in the sixties. I don't know the exact number, but it's at least up in the mid sixties of kids that have furthered their education by playing in our program,” said Gilmer head football coach and athletic director Jeff Traylor, who watched his ninth class of seniors sign letters of intent.
Dakota Hagler, named to the Texas Sports Writer's Association's All-State first team last week, signed with Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas. Hunter Harrison and Josh Thompson signed with Louisiana College in Pineville, La. Prentess Bell, Zack Jones and Jonathon Rockwell signed with Lon Morris College in Jacksonville. D.J. Stanley signed a baseball scholarship to attend Texarkana College.
Traylor praised his seniors and the people who helped them receive this opportunity. “It's a reflection of our school, our counseling office, the teachers here at the school and their parents. Our kids are prepared to go to college and they do well,” said Traylor.
Traylor also gave credit to the former Buckeyes who paved the way for these Buckeyes, such as Chaz Kuikahi who was named first team all-conference this past season at Louisiana College. “Our kids do well when they leave here, so all of the recruiters come back,” said Traylor. “They won't come back unless you do well, and once you make those connections with coaches and they trust you, they'll believe you on your next kids.”
“It feels good knowing that if we are successful, we can give other people a chance too,” said Harrison, who will follow Kuikahi to Louisiana College.
Bell, Jone and Rockwell are among the first football recruiting class at Lon Morris College in 68 years. The Bearcats are reviving their football program, and will begin play this fall. “We're like the first bricks to build a foundation,” Rockwell said. “It starts with us. We've got to go down and show class and act as if we were here,” added Bell.
Stanley said that his choice to leave football behind was an easy one for him despite his success on the gridiron. “Baseball is my all-time favorite sport. It really wasn't too hard a decision for me,” said Stanley, who will join former teammate Justin Fielden at the two year school.
Hagler, who was the highest rated recruit in his class, said that despite the lack of major college talent, this group represents Gilmer well. “Education is more important than the big division one schools. Of course we would all like to go to a big division one schools, but it's all about getting an education,” said Hagler, who added. “We all love to play football. If we didn't enjoy it, we couldn't go and play a this level.”
Thompson agreed with his classmate. “Not every class has division one players. Not everybody is division one material, but everybody can go to college. Everybody can find a place and find a way. Gilmer has shown that their program can get people to the next level, whether they are division one talent or not.”
Jones summed up the collective feelings of the group. “I'm proud of them. They are all such great people, and they have great character. I'm happy to see them go to college and make something of themselves.”
Mirror Photo / Mary Laschinger Kirby
SURROUNDED BY coaches and family, seven Buckeyes gather Wednesday to sign letters of intent to attend college on athletic scholarships. At the table from left are Hunter Harrison, Louisiana College; D.J. Stanley, Texarkana College; Prentess Bell, Lon Morris College; Dakota Hagler, Emporia State University; Jonathon Rockwell, Lon Morris; Josh Thompson, Louisiana College; and Zack Jones, Lon Morris. Joining them are Nat and Carla Harrison, Robin Dawson; Joey Hector, baseball coach; Doris Davis, Wentress Finch, Monte Bell, Shawn Cryer, Denise Hagler; Jeff Traylor, Athletic Director; Kay Rockwell, Joe Elder, Shirley and Ronald Thompson, Jackie Fluellen and LeKerry Fluellen.