The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 6, 2014

Hancock latest Woodrow player to sign with Herd

BECKLEY — It didn’t take Scooby and Shaggy to solve this mystery.

When news broke that Woodrow Wilson athlete Chase Hancock would be signing to continue his football career with a mystery school Wednesday, there was plenty of speculation.

However, in a ceremony held inside Woodrow’s field house, Hancock reached across the table and put on a kelly green hat with a big white M on it, signaling his intentions of continuing his football career with the Thundering Herd.

Hancock, who had scholarship offers from smaller schools, chose to be a preferred walk-on with Marshall not only for athletics, but for academic reasons.

“I really liked the academic program,” said Hancock, who has a 3.5 grade-point average. “They have a good pre-med program and I want to be a pediatrician and figured that’s the best place to do it. But I’m ready to play football and strap up and put the shoulder pads and all the gear on and just get out there and play.”

Hancock follows a long pipeline of former Flying Eagles to suit up for Marshall, including Woodrow Wilson Hall of Famers Chris Grose, Mike Guilliams, Matt Morris and Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Doug Legursky.

He’ll join former Flying Eagle teammate Clint Van Horn, who served as a captain this season for the Herd.

Hancock wasn’t the only Flying Eagle to make his intentions clear on playing at the next level. Ian Honaker, who missed the entire 2013 season due to an ACL injury obtained during a 7-on-7 tournament, will play at the University of Charleston.

With his senior season a loss, Honaker took matters in his own hands.

“I e-mailed all the smaller schools in the state,” said Honaker, who admitted the list narrowed due to his injury. “I went to a camp at UC during the summer and they remembered me. They invited me down for a visit and wanted me to join the team.”

Honaker plans on becoming an athletic trainer.

n Isaiah Kinder had an impressive season for the Greenbrier East Spartans. Kinder threw for 2,096 yards and 24 touchdowns, while only throwing nine interceptions. He also picked up 10 touchdowns on the ground, rushing for 460 yards on 89 carries. Now he gets a chance to do it at the next level.

Kinder signed his scholarship offer with the William & Mary Wednesday evening, giving the Spartan a chance to play quarterback at the Division I level.

“It’s a great feeling,” Kinder said. “It’s something I’ve been working toward my whole life. Signing just completes that process and it means a lot to me and my family.”

n For 6-foot-4, 320-pound Oak Hill offensive lineman Hunter Brash, the decision was an easy one.

Brash signed Wednesday with West Virginia University as a preferred walk-on, one of three Red Devils to sign on to play college football on National Signing Day.

“It’s pretty awesome to be going to a Division I college,” Brash said. “It’s where I always wanted to go.”

When the WVU coaching staff offered Brash a chance to walk on for the Mountaineers, there was no hesitation from the lifelong fan.

“I said this is the place for me,” he said.

Brash is unsure of his education plans, but hopes to study in the medical field.

n For Oak Hill teammate Seth Keith, choosing where he would go to college was his first step toward adulthood.

“It’s a big step; it’s the first major decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Keith said. “But also, at the same time, it was stressful to make that choice after all these years of hard work.”

Keith will be joining West Virginia Wesleyan, where he is looking to be a pre-med major. The 6-2, 225-pound defensive end, who was an honorable mention selection in 2013, felt at home in Buckhannon, which made his decision to sign with the Bobcats an easy one.

“I like a lot of things there,” he said. “I loved the coaching staff and the family atmosphere there with it. I like the school and the academics. I liked everything about it. It’s a blessing knowing all of this work paid off and I’m getting to live my dream.”

Wesleyan finished 2013 with a 5-5 record, going 5-4 in the Mountain East Conference.

n Simeon Kees had two options — Glenville State or West Virginia Wesleyan — but when the 6-1, 285-pound offensive lineman visited the Pioneers, he knew he had found a home.

“Those were the two that really talked to me this year,” he said. “When I went up for a visit and went to the campus I really fell in love. I saw where I fit best.”

After years of blocking for all-state running back Jalen Jones, Kees feels he’s ready to do it on the next level.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “Me and anyone else that has ever worked for this have always wanted to do it. When you play midget league you want to play middle school. And when you play middle school, you want to play high school and when you play high school you want to play college. It’s finally come; all that blood, sweat and tears are worth it.”

Kees hopes his experience of integrating the Red Devils with those from Mount Hope will help him adjust to playing with a new team in college.

“We had to get the team together real quick and bond and become brothers,” he said. “I think that will help me a lot when it comes to being with new coaches and new players.”

n The Thundering Herd pipeline stretched all over southern West Virginia on signing day, including Clear Fork and Westside High School, where linebacker Matt Harless put his name in ink and committed to walk on for the Thundering Herd.

The 6-2, 240-pound Harless is recovering from an ACL injury suffered this fall in a game against Independence, but says he is 80 percent healed and looking forward to the opportunity to test his skill at the D-I level.

“Some kids get the chance to play at that level and quit,” Harless said. “My goal is to prove myself and get on the field. I want to give my family something to really be proud of. D-I football is a dream of mine since a young age.”

n Harless’ former teammate Chase Stafford also put pen to paper and agreed to walk on at the D-I level, only Stafford will be doing so with West Virginia University.

Stafford, a 6-5, 265-pound weight room warrior, is fulfilling a childhood dream of suiting up for the Mountaineers.

“I had always planned on going to WVU, but I’ve only dreamed about playing football,” Stafford said.

He will follow in the footsteps of Westside coach Larry Cook, who played for WVU under coach Don Nehlen.

“He’s told me a few things,” Stafford said with a laugh. “Mainly I’ve just got to give it everything I have.”

n If Wyoming East’s Christian Hedinger had a nickname, it would be “Mr. Clutch.” Hedinger helped lead the Warriors to a 9-2 record, catching 44 passes for 655 yards and 11 touchdowns. When East needed a big play, it seemed it was a pass to Hedinger that always seemed to fit the bill.

It was the play of Hedinger that caught the attention of Concord University coach Garin Justice, who in turn offered Hedinger a scholarship with the Mountain Lions. Hedinger signed his letter-of-intent Wednesday.

“It’s the greatest feeling,” Hedinger said. “I’m glad I’m going to get the experience to (play college football.)”

Hedinger is one of only 11 signees for the Mountain Lions, joining Princeton’s Devin Allen and Bishop Donahue’s Jared Yates as the only players from West Virginia on the roster.

“It’s a blessing that I’m one of those guys that get to go there,” Hedinger said.

Hedinger follows in the footsteps of his parents, who also attended Concord.

n When Bluefield (Va.) College decided to field a football team in 2012, it was the first time the Rams had done so since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Doing so created quite a challenge for the small Virginia Christian college.

It’s a challenge that Wyoming East’s Brian Whitt is willing to accept.

The 5-8 running back, who rushed for 327 yards and two touchdowns in 2013, signed a letter-of-intent to continue his career with the Rams.

“Bluefield was the college that pursued me the most,” Whitt said. “They invited me down for a visit and I met the coaches. I liked that it was a small school and everyone was like family. I liked the atmosphere a lot.”

Whitt hopes he can help make a difference for the rebuilding program.

“They’re not at the highest point right now, but I want to go there and help them build that back up,” Whitt said. “I like the idea that I can come in and make a difference.”

n At 6-2, 280 pounds, Austin Hill has looked like a man for a long time. But when the time came to make the decision on what to do with his college career, it was the first time he was faced with an adult decision.

“It was stressful,” he admitted. “This is the biggest decision I’ll ever make. It had to be my decision, not my parents’ decision.”

Despite having scholarship offers from Division II schools, Hill decided to accept the invitation to be a preferred walk-on at Marshall, achieving a childhood dream come true.

“It means a lot,” Hill said. “I grew up dreaming of playing D-I — let alone Marshall. I went and visited there and I liked it since the get-go in high school. I jumped at the opportunity.”

Hill, who served in just about every role imaginable, including kicker, will take to the defensive line for the Herd, the same position that won him a spot on the Class AA all-state first team.

“I really wanted to play defense,” Hill said. “I’ve played offense all through high school, but defense is where I’ve actually enjoyed playing. I like running at the guys.”

n It was a trying few weeks for Summers County’s T.J. Smith. When he thought he had made his college decision, it was the Glenville State Pioneers who made an 11th-hour charge.

Smith signed his letter-of-intent to play for the Pioneers Wednesday.

“I thought about it for three or four days when I found out they were going to offer me,” Smith said. “There were several other places that wanted me to walk on, but my mom went up with me and visited and fell in love with the place. That helped my decision.”

“The main thing they said to me is that they know I’m talented, but nothing is given,” he continued. “Nothing is given to you. Everything you must work for; regardless if you’re a freshman or a senior, it’s the ones who show out that are on the field.”

Smith, who was recruited as a safety, will try to compete for playing time early. Glenville State lost all four starting defensive backs to graduation.

n The Summers County Coal Train is heading for the Mountain East Conference.

Jaquan Ayers, who had a standout season at fullback and linebacker with the Bobcats in 2013, joined Smith in signing with Glenville.

“It’s a blessing just to be able to play another four years,” Ayers said.

While Ayers didn’t have the kind of play that lit up the stat sheet like Smith or teammate Isaiah Brown, it was the little things that Ayers did — making the right black or recovering the timely fumble — that made the difference.

Ayers is looking forward to playing in the MEC with Smith.

“We have good chemistry on defense,” Ayers said. “We work well on that side of the ball.”

Ayers follows in the footsteps of his father, Michael Harshaw, who also attended Glenville State.

“He said it was a great college, so I listened to him,” Ayers said. “The campus is close and compact and everyone knows everyone. It’s not far from home.”

The 5-10, 215-pound Ayers said he will play linebacker.

n Few players were as fast as Isaiah Brown.

The speedy Bobcat finished the season with 1,287 total yards of offense in a historic Summers County season that saw the black-and-orange fight against all odds and host a playoff game for the first time in school history.

Now Brown, a second-team all-stater and a Register-Herald Player of the Week during the 2013 season, will get to see how he matches up with C-USA speed.

Brown signed a recruiting letter, accepting a role as a preferred walk-on with Marshall. It wasn’t an easy decision for Brown, who had been linked to Concord and Glenville State before deciding on the Thundering Herd.

“I just prayed about it every night,” Brown said. “I just liked the school, not just the football program. But it is a Division I school, so it’s a dream come true. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

Brown rounded out a group of four players from southern West Virginia who will walk on for the Herd.

“I’ve been excited,” Brown said. “We’re representing all of southern West Virginia. Not a lot of kids from here get to go D-I, but the ones who did — they’re all animals.”

— Find exclusive photos of area signees in our special signing day section in Sunday's Register-Herald.

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