Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Area grid stars sign offers

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Following its late charging region playoff season, the Urbana High football team saw three of its players sign scholarships on Wednesday, including one late Division I signee.

First team All-Gazette defensive end Imani Chatman signed with the University of Buffalo—a member of the Mid-America Conference—less than a month after de-committing from Division I-AA James Madison. Fellow first teamers Erik Saylor, a two-way standout lineman, and Chris Patton, a running back-wideout, signed with Division I-AA Old Dominion and Shepherd Universities, respectively.

Also on Wednesday Linganore’s Todd Cox and classmate C.J. Thomas, a wide receiver, officially began the next chapter of their pigskin lives by signing National Letters of Intent to accept full athletic scholarships for Towson University and the College of William and Mary respectively.

Chatman, who transferred after his junior season at Quince Orchard in Gaithersburg was courted by a host of schools early in the process, then saw most of the D-I schools interest such as Boston College, wane toward the end of the process before Buffalo saw the 6 foot-3, 215-pounder’s highlight tape. Maryland also saw a tape late in the process and noted that if another prized recruit did not commit, they would have a scholarship waiting for him. Chatman, unfamiliar with the Bulls’ program until a history-making friend of the family mentioned the school, went with the school offering him more of a chance to play immediately.

‘‘I had never really heard of Buffalo, but then a family friend of ours, Reverend Leland Jones, who was the first African-American football player [to play south of the Mason-Dixon line] at Buffalo, talked to us about them,” said Chatman.

Thomas was a consensus First Team All State selection. He was named to a pair of First Team All Gazette and First Team All MVAL Chesapeake rosters and was honored, along with Stefan Mitchell of North Carroll, as Beef O’ Brady’s 2007 Co-Offensive Player of the Year.

He’s the MVAL’s all time leader in receiving touchdowns (26), overall receptions (104) and regular season receptions (89). Last season he broke the state record for touchdowns in a single campaign, including playoffs, with 19.

‘‘I don’t think I could have gotten it [scholarship] without the help of my teammates and coaches,” Thomas said.

Cox is a three-time First Team All-Gazette and First Team All- MVAL Chesapeake selection. Recognized as Beef O’ Brady’s 2007 Defensive Player of the Year, he was also named as a Second Team All Stater.

The duo took different paths in selecting a school. Cox decided on Towson before the commencement of school. Thomas weighed his options and eventually opted for William and Mary after visiting the institution.

‘‘I went down there and it felt really good,” Thomas said. ‘‘It felt like home.”

Although they lined up on different sides of the ball and are headed to different schools Cox and Thomas will always look to Linganore and their coach as the foundation of their success.

‘‘I would not have gone to Linganore I don’t know where I would have ended up,” Cox said. ‘‘Coach Conner just runs a great program. He got me in the weight room starting in eighth grade after school...I’ve had a pretty successful career there and it’s been great.”

‘‘I had never really heard of Buffalo, but then a family friend of ours, Rev. Leland Jones, who was the first African-American football player at Buffalo, talked to us about them,” said Chatman, who possesses a frame that can pack on another 20 pounds, is projected to play outside linebacker.

‘‘In a way, this was destiny. Rev. Jones mentioned the school, and the D-I’s stopped calling, which sort of fueled my workouts even more in the weight room. Then Buffalo saw my highlight tapes and wanted to meet with me as soon as possible. I really liked it up there during the visit and decided to sign with them.”

The Bulls are coached by former Nebraska standout quarterback Turner Gill, who torched opposing defenses during the early 1980’s.

‘‘Off the bat, I could see the relationship that the players have with the coaches,” said Chatman, who had 11 sacks and 46 tackles this past season. ‘‘They are always joking around and having fun off of the field, but on the field, it’s all business, ‘yes sir and no sir’. The players genuinely have a great amount of respect for the coaches.”

Saylor (six sacks, 37 tackles) is poised to become a part of ODU history, as the Monarchs will start its program from scratch next season. The squad will redshirt all of its players and participate in practices only until 2009.

‘‘I like the whole idea of starting something and calling it your own,” said Saylor. ‘‘In 10 or 15 years from now, we can look at [the program] and see the traditions we started. It’s a good chance to be a leader.”

Saylor is looking to play on the defensive line at ODU, who will compete in the Colonial Athletic Association, but isn’t ruling out the chance of playing on the offensive line.

‘‘Right now because of wrestling, I’m only 250 pounds,” said the 6-3 Saylor. ‘‘But I think I’ll be back up to at least 270 [next year], and depending if I grow even more, there is a chance that I’ll play on the offensive line.”

The Monarchs’ are already ramping up the programs’ existing facilities, refurbishing Foreman Field to include seating for 25,000.

‘‘They are really committing to the program,” said Saylor, who plans to major in sports management or business. ‘‘It’s great to be a part of this. Ever since my ninth-grade year, I have been working toward the goal of getting into college and playing football. I’ve put in a lot of hard work, and it’s paid off.”

Patton, who along with junior Kevin Wilkes, was part of a very effective one-two offensive punch. He rushed for 625 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 18 passes for 252 yards and two TD’s last season. In 2007, Shepherd finished eighth in the final NCAA Division II poll this past season with a 10-2 record. The Rams won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title and was the Northeast Region runner-up.