There were four young men, four close friends, four teammates who sat at a table together and made the next step in their adolescent lives, earning over $1 million in college scholarship monies in the process.
A few miles away, there was another fine athlete, sitting with his parents, as he also signed a letter that will permit him to attend a fine academic institution for no cost. His teammates sat and watched as he put his name to what is essentially a contract, hoping that his ascension into college football can motivate them to higher ground.
Last Wednesday was what college football has dubbed as National Signing Day. It’s become such a huge event that television networks like ESPN and CBS Sports Network devote their entire programming for the day to high school seniors signing their national letters of intent to major colleges.
Locally, it was a big day for four friends from St. Peter’s Prep, namely Tre Bell, Brian Githens, Charlie Callinan and Shane Huber, all put their respective John Hancocks on letters of intent to secure a free education while playing football.
Bell will attend Vanderbilt, Githens is headed to Lehigh, Callinan is off to Boston College and Huber is going to the University of Massachusetts. Between the four, they secured over $1 million in scholarships.
“That’s amazing,” said St. Peter’s Prep head coach and athletic director Rich Hansen, who has hosted festivities on National Signing Day for 26 years. “Our stated goal, our mission is to help our athletes use football to open doors to great opportunities in college. It’s been awesome watching these kids grow up. It’s a great statement for our school and our program. They were hard working kids who dealt with every piece of adversity. I’m very confident in them as they move on.”
Callinan was the first of the quartet to announce that he was going to Boston College, where former Prep standout tight end Michael Giacone is already part of the BC program.
“It kind of lifted a lot of pressure off me, making my decision early,” said Callinan, a standout wide receiver for the Marauders. “I always liked Boston College. I was committed to go there, but after rooming with him, I got more comfortable there. It’s a great feeling. This is a day that I always dreamed about and I’m sharing it with three of my best friends. I think this is a day that we’re all going to remember for years to come. BC is a place that I feel passionate about. There is a sense of pride here with all of us.”
Githens, a fine member of the Marauder secondary, had Lehigh in his sights all along.
“I always dreamed I could be part of this day,” Githens said. “I always wanted to be able to go big time like others here. It’s really special for me to share this with three of my closest friends. It means a lot to me to do this with them.”
Githens plans on majoring in business at Lehigh.
About two months ago, Huber, the Hudson Reporter Defensive Player of the Year for 2012, decided that he was going to go back on his verbal commitment to UMass and put himself back in the recruiting mix.
“I had a lot going through my mind and I had a lot of people whispering in my ear,” said Huber, the standout linebacker. “I kind of let it get the best of me. I opened it back up to see if I made the right decision.”
As it turned out, Huber stuck to his guns and signed with UMass, which just completed its first year of NCAA Division I football under the guidance of New Jersey native Charley Molnar.
“It was definitely a learning experience for me,” Huber said. “I got in touch with what’s important and why I chose UMass in the first place. They’re building something from the start and I’m excited to go there and compete.”
Bell was another one who had a change of heart. The talented cornerback initially gave a verbal commitment to the University of Florida, but a disagreement between Bell and the coaching staff led to him changing his mind and picking Vanderbilt.
“It made me realize that Vanderbilt never stopped recruiting me from the start,” Bell said. “I took my visit there and knew that it’s where I wanted to be. It feels surreal for me to come into this room [in Shalloe Hall], where so many others came to sign their letters. I’m excited that it’s my turn and I’m able to share this with my very close friends. We all bonded from the start and that’s what makes this day even more special.”
Diaz-Mays heads to Towson
At Union City High School, Isaiah Diaz-Mays was putting his name to a letter to attend Towson University in Maryland. The talented Soaring Eagles quarterback, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area and Athlete of the Week honoree, is not sure where Towson will use him, but he hopes it’s at his natural quarterback slot.
“It’s definitely a dream come true for me,” said Diaz-Mays, who signed his letter with his parents, coach Wilber Valdez and his teammates watching. “I’ve been playing football since I was eight years old and always dreamed of playing college football. Now, I’ve made that dream come true.”
Diaz-Mays was asked about Towson’s plans.
“I am an athlete and I’m the type of person who will do anything just to get on the field,” Diaz-Mays said. “I told all the schools that I wanted to be a quarterback, but whatever it takes, I’ll do it. I’m from Hudson County and Hudson County kids never give up. We’re tough kids.”
Diaz-Mays selected Towson over schools like James Madison, Old Dominion, Wagner and Coastal Carolina.
“I’m very happy right now,” Diaz-Mays said. “Towson is a program on the rise and I’m looking forward to making our own history there.”
“He said he was going to do it and he stuck to it,” Valdez said. “The great thing is that this serves as motivation for our younger players. Isaiah took care of his priorities and did what he had to do academically to make this happen. It takes more than being a good football player.”
Two other local products, who didn’t get a chance to sign a letter out of high school because of academics, were able to do so after heading to junior college for two years.
Ronald Butler, the former Lincoln standout receiver/quarterback, who led the Lions to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state title game in 2010, signed a national letter to play wide receiver at Utah State. Butler was at Contra Costa Junior College in California for the last two seasons.
And Daryl Williams, the former Ferris two-way lineman, signed with Southwest Louisiana after completing his JUCO duties.
All in all, it was another fine signing day for the local football standouts, a chance to be proud of their achievements as they move on to college football.