Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Hawks’ trio earn football scholarships

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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 University.

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.

Chatman, who transferred after his junior season at Quince Orchard in Gaithersburg, was courted by a host of schools early in the process. He then saw most of the D-I school’s 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 at Buffalo [who played south of the Mason-Dixon Line in 1941], talked to us about them,” said Chatman, who plans to major in Computer Science.

‘‘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.”

Former Nebraska standout quarterback Turner Gill, who torched opposing defenses during the early 1980’s, coaches the Bulls.

‘‘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.