Last Wednesday was a day of overworked fax machines, overcrowded high school auditoriums and overjoyed athletes.
The occasion, known as National Signing Day, is the celebration of a handful of local athletes fulfilling their lifelong goal of playing collegiate sports.
It’s a day where tears are plentiful, for players, coaches and parents alike—and waxing nostalgic is outright encouraged.
There are story lines galore involving each athlete, from a local quarterback following in his father’s footsteps to the college of his dreams, to a local softball player heading to the untamed wilderness of Maine—each with their eyes firmly set on their athletic and academic pursuits.
It’s that unblemished optimism and steely-eyed confidence that makes days like National Signing Day special.
A crowd of 100 or so filled out the circular confines of Mountain View’s auditorium to watch nine athletes make possibly the biggest decision of their young lives.
Those student athletes, football players Tavian Robey, Sean Benke and Kai Golden, as well as softball stars Samantha Angulo, Ashley Ketchum, Reilly Tidwell, Alexis Van der Werf and volleyball players Kendall Deeter and Anaya Hyman, made their decisions public, wiping back tears of pride as they did.
For Robey and Benke—who committed to Division II rivals Colorado State University-Pueblo and Adams State, last Wednesday’s event presented an opportunity to celebrate a day for which they’ve longed.
“It feels good to have all my hard work pay off,” Benke said. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a kid, and it feels good that the day has finally come.”
Robey—whose father, Ray, played football at Northwestern University—says he’s thrilled to head to Pueblo, where he’ll join an illustrious ThunderWolves program.
“For me, it was a winning mentality, excellence in the classroom and on the field,” Robey said. “They have a great history, a great conditioning program, and so I felt interested in doing that and became a part of the professional program.”
Others, like Ketchum, who committed to play softball at Colby College of Maine, say that getting to sign their college commitments in front of friends and family is most important.
“I’m definitely going to remember all the people who came and all the athletes who signed,” Ketchum said. “All my friends and family that came to support me.”
It was a banner day for the six Nighthawks that signed their National Letters of Intent, including four members of the football team and two soccer players.
The six—in Heath Beemiller, Nick Brahler, Brayden Smith, David Phelps and soccer players Quinci Black and Madison Thacker—were equally enthused to make their decisions public.
The storylines for the Nighthawks’ signees were thick, with Beemiller following in the footsteps of his father, Vince, by committing to play at Northern Arizona University, while the other three football players will head down the road to play at Pima Community College.
Longtime Ironwood Ridge football coach Matt Johnson gushed about the four, saying that each will undoubtedly thrive in their college environs.
“They all play with a huge amount of passion and will to win on Friday nights, and now it’ll be on Saturdays,” Johnson said. “So, to all of these guys, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
Girls soccer coach Sean Watkins expressed similar positivity about his two players, who committed to Paradise Valley Community College and Trinity International University.
“Let’s start with Maddie Thacker,” he said. “I’ve known Maddie for probably the past five or six years now, and so it gives me great joy to see her sign today. Over the last year I saw her grow, she didn’t play last year, and every single day she’d ask me, ‘Can I play this year? Can I play this year?’ And so just the fact that you love the game so much that you decided to come back, and you had the chance to sign and you are going to be an outstanding addition to their squad, and I couldn’t be happier for you.”
Watkins was equally upbeat about Black, expressing great confidence that the senior will thrive at Paradise Valley.
“She’s smart, and she’s an incredible leader out there on the field,” Watkins said. “She’s an outstanding athlete, and most of the fall she was a great competitor, and Paradise Valley is going to love you and they’re going to do great things because of you, and I’m really glad that you continued to play the sport.”
Pusch Ridge Christian Academy
A small, but equally impressive collective of athletes gathered inside the cozy library at Pusch Ridge Christian Academy later in the afternoon.
Three athletes, lineman Kendall Tobin, softball player Jessica Giacoma and soccer player Lauren Corral, gathered with friends and family, all of whom were upbeat on their athletic and academic futures.
Tobin, who will play at Michigan’s Hillsdale College, said he wouldn’t have gotten to that point, were it not for the guidance that his coaches, friend and family provided.
“It’s so humbling, because everyone around me, everyone who came to see me has helped me out in some way,” Tobin said. “I couldn’t have done it without them. Without the coaches for pushing me, without my parents for loving me, for feeding me, without my little brother to ground me. But this isn’t my accomplishment, this is the accomplishment of all the work that people put into me.”
The six-foot-four-inch lineman, who didn’t pick up the sport prior to enrolling at the school in ninth grade, has transformed himself into a punishing force for a Lions team that made the Division 3A state finals last fall.
“I have always been tall, but I was very skinny,” he said. “About 170, 180 pounds—it’s more of my parents’ work than anything. They almost force fed me at times. I was eating close to 6,000 calories a day. Eggs every morning, meat. Protein shakes at night, so I ate as much as I could and worked out a much as I could, and it’s taken its toll. Props to my parents for getting me there.”
Tobin’s work ethic has always stood out to his high school coach, Jerry Harris, who took inspiration from the lineman’s dedication to the sport.
“Well, it’s just a payoff for a lot of hard work, you know,” Harris said. “Obviously, the coaches can guide them, but it really takes an internal drive from the player themselves. Kendall did not enter our program as a college level player, but through his work and perseverance, he got up and he played at the next level, he’s going to get a portion of his education paid for and he’s going to get a great education in the process. So, I couldn’t be any prouder of him.”
The Tigers had three football players sign on Wednesday, in Teon Simmons, John Morgan and Jaime Avila. All three committed to play at Pima Community College, joining an exciting Aztecs recruiting class filled with local athletes.