By Cam Huffman
They might not have made their announcement in front of the ESPN cameras, and you won’t necessarily find their highlight videos on many of the most popular recruiting websites, but while the blue-chippers were trying on various hats and the recruting services were shuffling their team rankings, a number of area football players were taking huge steps Wednesday, signing letters of intent to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
“It’s always great to see young players acheive their dreams,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach John H. Lilly. “I don’t think anybody realizes just how hard these players work.”
Here’s a look at the area stars and where they’ll be headed this fall.
Mike Bailey (Woodrow Wilson): Concord — Bailey knows the Concord program well. He’s been attending camps there for three years, and his former teammate, Josh Cottle, was the starting guard for the Mountain Lions last season.
“I think he’ll fit like a glove,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach John H. Lilly. “He knows the coaches, knows the players and he’ll go there and work hard.”
Lilly said Concord and head coach Garin Justice will move Bailey back to his natural position at center. He’s strong enough today, Lilly said, to play at the college level, and his 6-foot, 254-pound frame will only get bigger.
Jennings Berry (Meadow Bridge): Concord —Berry played both defensive end and running back for the Wildcats last season, helping them to an 8-3 season and a spot in the Class A playoffs. He finished the season with 64 tackles, five sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries. He carries the ball 22 ties for 66 yards and also spent some time on the offensive line.
Josh Brown (Liberty): Glenville State — Brown went to the 11th hour to make his decision, but late Tuesday night he decided to choose Glenville State over The University of Charleston. He’ll officially sign today.
Brown has spent the last few seasons handling the kicking and punting duties for the Raiders and said the package he received from Glenville was just a little too hard to turn down.
“I got serious about kicking when I was a sophomore,” Brown said. “I learned soccer style and started doing that and it came naturally to me. I took it seriously and wanted to achieve a dream of playing some college ball.”
Brown averaged 38 yards a punt and was 2-for-4 in field goals and 24-for-28 on extra points. He had 11 touchbacks.
Brown said the choice was a stressful one for himself and his parents, Larry and Lisa, but in the end, Glenville won out over Charleston and West Virginia State.
“Overall I got a better offer from Glenville State,” Brown said. “The coaches welcomed me with open arms. They seem to like me and I like them too,” Brown said. “They treat me like a part of the family”
“Josh probably worked harder than any kid I’ve ever had,” Liberty coach Jeff Alexander said. “He’ll work his butt off and impress the coaches. I don’t know who the No. 1 guy on the depth chart is, but he’ll push him. You’re not going to outwork Josh, that’s for sure. You stay there 2 hours and he’s going to stay 2 hours and 20 minutes.”
Brown will enroll at Glenville State in the fall and pursue a degree in biology.
Ramon Edwards (Woodrow Wilson): Glenville State — Edwards caught 27 passes for 245 yards and carried the ball 65 times for 758 yards as a senior, averaging more than 11 yards per carry.
Also a track standout, Edwards had some offers at Division I programs as a preferred walk-on but chose to accept the scholarship money to attend Glenville State.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Woodrow Wilson head coach John H. Lilly. “When you can go to school for free, it’s always a good decision. (Glenville) plays a spread offense, and I think he’ll fit in great. He can catch those bubble screens and make plays.
“It was a well thought-out decision.”
Edwards already has the speed, and Lilly expects he’ll only get stronger after spending some time with the Pioneers.
Lilly also commented that Edwards has matured greatly in recent years, and he expects nothing but success in his future.
Andrew Johnson (Woodrow Wilson): Hargrave Military Academy — The Flying Eagles’ standout quarterback helped take his team into the Class AAA playoffs, throwing for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 875 yards and a dozen more scores.
Also the starting point guard on the basketball team, Johnson had opportunities for scholarships to play quarterback at Division II schools, but he chose to attend Hargrave to focus on his academics, get some more experience on the field and hopefully get some more attention from college programs.
“I think he made the decision that was best for him,” said head coach John H. Lilly. “His grades aren’t bad, but he wants them to get better.
“He’ll get a lot of exposure down there. Sometimes guys from southern West Virginia get overlooked a little.”
Lilly said both the football and basketball coaches worked together to help Johnson become a better player on and off the court, and now the sky is the limit.
“I think he’s a Division I athlete,” said Lilly, who explained that Hargrave actually recruited Johnson as a defensive back, where he recorded 41 tackles last season.
Zach Johnson (Greenbrier West): West Virginia — Johnson had offers from a number of West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schools but had long desired to play for the state’s largest school and accepted an offer as a preferred walk-on at WVU.
“I think Zach’s heart was into wanting to play for West Virginia,” said Greenbrier West head coach Lewis McClung. “His mom and dad support him on that, and he’ll go up there and work hard and try to earn a scholarship.”
McClung said Johnson will have to get bigger and stronger, but he’s confident that the 6-foot-3, 265 pounder has the tools necessary to succeed at any level.
“He has great feet,” said McClung. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s a really good student. I don’t think there’s been anybody who has played any more games for Greenbrier West than Zach has, and he was a first-team all-stater. He moves really well for a guy his size.”
Dustyn Murphy (Nicholas County): West Virginia State — A first team All-Coalfield Conference selection as a senior, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound tight end helped The Grizzlies to a 7-4 finish and their first-ever playoff win.
Murphy will join new head coach Jon Anderson at WVSU, along with 10 other players from the Mountain State.
“We had two goals when we started out recruiting this class,” said Anderson, in just his third month on the job. “No. 1, we wanted to focus on the state of West Virginia. We worked hard to introduce ourselves to the state high school coaches, and West Virginia ended up being the state where we got the most recruits from.”
Juwan Rowe (Shady Spring): Alderson-Broaddus — The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Rowe was a three-year starter for the Tigers and will continue his playing career as a Battler.
“This year I came out and thought I’d go to some football camps. At the end of it, they gave me some brochures to get hooked up with some recruiting service and came out finding a good college,” Rowe said.
Rowe expects to go in and battle right away for a spot on the depth chart.
“I will not redshirt. I will come out there. and there will be another tight end that I will have to earn my position from. I feel pretty good about getting playing time as a freshman,” he said.
Rowe’s story is seemingly made for the movies. He grew up in Welch and said he was around people who told him he’d never amount to anything or be successful. However, years later, his fortunes changed.
“About five or six years ago, I was adopted by a real good family and they helped set my mind straight,” Rowe said of his adoptive parents James and Donna Meadows. “I thank them a whole lot for everything they’ve done for me.”
Houstin Syvertson (Shady Spring): West Virginia — Syvertson was hoping for a scholarship offer but in the end decided to pursue his dream as a preferred walk-on for the Mountaineers.
“It wasn’t a tough decision at all,” he said. “I had other choices, but WVU is where home is and where I wanted to go.”
Syvertson had taken a visit to Rutgers and had one scheduled to Robert Morris, but he canceled that trip when he decided to become a Mountaineer.
Syvertson averaged 42 yards per punt for the Tigers last year and had three punts of longer than 50 yards. But his future might not necessarily be as a specialist.
Syvertson said the WVU coaches told him they might want him to play fullback, linebacker or somewhere else. He rushed for 779 yards and eight touchdowns last season, caught 35 passes for 423 yards and led the team in tackles.
Syvertson is considering athletic training and business as possible majors, and he can’t wait to get to Morgantown and get started.
“I hope to work my butt off and earn a scholarship,” he said. “I need one. I want to show them that I’m worth it and they can spend that kind of money on me.”
“I think he has done the right thing,” added Shady Spring head coach Vince Cullicerto. “We’ve been talking about it for a while. They’ve called about him, and they even came by during the season to check on him. They showed a lot of interest.”
Chad Wyrick (Princeton): Concord — Wyrick managed to play just three games last season for the Princeton football team, but he made quite an impression in a short time.
“His senior year he was plagued with injuries and he had good numbers in the three games he played,” Princeton head coach Randy Peek said. “He had a highlight film just in three games so he came along.
“We would probably have been more successful if he would have been out there on the field.”
Concord must feel the same way.
“I have been there (to see games) a few times,” Wyrick said. “You are always look for something bigger, everybody always does, but I got hurt and I am lucky to have this opportunity.”
— Register-Herald staff writer J. Daniel Rollins and Bluefield Daily-Telegraph sports editor Brian Woodson contributed to this story.