Thirteen Cordova High School football players seeking an opportunity to play the game on the collegiate level all signed National Letters of Intent Wednesday (Feb. 5) morning during National Signing Day, when athletes from various sports make their college of choice official.
"It's a dream come true," said outside linebacker Vassiel Beason, who will attend the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He said he didn't see this day coming two years ago.
"I plan to start classes early in the summer to get a head start," he said.
Molefi Maat, an all-star defensive back, signed with the University of Illinois on a track and field scholarship. He said he worked hard for this opportunity, running toward his goal since he was 6 years old.
"It feels good that my hard work has finally paid off," Maat said.
Running back Charles Taylor has committed to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. When told he was getting a full 4-year scholarship, "It sent a great feeling through my body. My parents are very excited. It's less money my mama will have to pay."
There are approximately 1.2 million high school football players playing the game in school districts across the country, said Dr. Vince Thompson, Cordova's vice principal. "Fifty-six thousand only make it. These young men are in the top 5 percent...."
Cordova's football team struggled on the gridiron during the 2012 season, winning only one of 10 games, said Anthony D. Jones Jr., Cordova's head football coach. Jones was hired on June 1, 2013 to turn the football program around. He won six of 11 games his first season.
"They returned our football program to respectability and excellence," said Robbie Ryan, the school's athletic director.
Jones said the players worked hard on the gridiron and in the classroom as well. He encouraged them to be respectful at all times, make it to class on time, and sit in the first two rows. "They've done a great job in embracing the culture change," said Jones, hoping the transition to college would be their ticket to success.
Forty-one colleges in 50 states offered 42 scholarships to the prospective college freshmen, said guidance counselor LaToya Cameron. All 13 players met the academic requirements and are expected to take advantage of the opportunity to further their education.
"Most guys have to have a 2.5 GPA and at least an 18 on the ACT," Jones said. "Most of my guys met the requirements. Some are on 4-year scholarships; some are partial depending on the school they attend."
Jones divides his time between coaching and teaching a class called personal finance. He said it's a blessing that so many young men have signed letters of intent.
"The plan is to get more guys signed, not only at Cordova, but throughout the city of Memphis," he said.
Thompson said the athletic program has improved substantially at Cordova and now parents are maneuvering to get their children enrolled. He credits Jones for the shift in attitude and athleticism, calling him a "steward" who right-sided the program and positioned it on the field as a formidable foe.
Although National Signing Day is a formality, Jones and Cordova's administration are hoping the 13 athletes will make the transition to the collegiate level.
Angela Beason said her son, the youngest of three children, works hard "with a little push."
Her pride in him is matched by her belief that he'll finish what he's started.