In a gymnasium packed with students, parents, faculty and staff, Free State High football coach Bob Lisher gave eight of his top players a final speech.
"Gentlemen, we're very proud of you," he said. "Now sign your life away."
A letter of intent isn't that dramatic, of course, but it was a big deal for the eight FSHS football players who signed, as well as the 200 or so students who attended the ceremony Wednesday at Free State.
Among the eight who committed to play college football were three going to Division I-AA Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa: Dain Dillingham, Cole Douglas and Mark Case.
Dillingham signed to play football at Drake, and has been promised a spot on the Bulldog basketball team as well. Since last summer, he had been having trouble choosing which sport to play. Minnesota, Kansas University, Missouri and Tulsa each had shown interest in football, and Cornell, Penn and others had shown interest in basketball.
Turns out, he won't have to choose.
"I think he can be great at both sports," Lisher said. "Drake was going to recruit him to play basketball, but they were under the impression he was going to go football. So they were very pleased that he's going to go there and play both sports."
Dillingham, an All-Sunflower League wide receiver who was selected to participate in this summer's Shrine Bowl, caught 42 passes for 715 yards and six touchdowns this season in football. He's currently averaging 17.0 points per game for the Firebird basketball team, too.
"They gave me a chance to try out both sports, at least for this first year," Dillingham said. "I thought that was a great opportunity."
Douglas was an all-league linebacker for Free State last fall. He also was the team's leading rusher, garnering 794 yards and five touchdowns at fullback.
He was helped immensely by Case, an all-league offensive lineman who excelled at pass protection and opening holes for the running game.
The three will tackle the tough transition to college football together.
"It's going to be a lot easier," Case said. "We'll already know somebody. We won't have to go up there and meet all new people at once. It'll be nice."
Other Firebirds to sign Friday:
- Lineman Jeremy Bustamante signed with Butler County Community College. Butler was the 2003 NJCAA national champions, going 12-0.
- Quarterback Caleb Harvey will play at MidAmerica Nazarene. MidAmerica, an NAIA school in Olathe, finished 12-1 this past season.
- Ryan Ellis, Arvelle Trotter and Aaron Johnson each signed to play at Highland CC.
"It's a deep feeling of pride for these guys because of the work they've done the last three years and the time they've invested for this school," Lisher said. "It's a great time of pride and accomplishment for everyone involved."
Lawrence to walk-on: Lawrence High announced no signings Wednesday, though Kansas University football coach Mark Mangino did announce that LHS senior Josh Lawrence would walk on at KU.
In Lawrence High's run-dominated offense, Lawrence, an exceptional tight end, had just nine catches for 94 yards. But Lawrence thrived as a defensive lineman, too, earning All-Sunflower League and All-State honors, as well as an invitation to this year's Kansas Shrine Bowl. LHS finished this past season 7-3 and earned a berth in the Class 6A state playoffs.
LHS coach Dirk Wedd said he expected several Lions to sign letters of intent in the near future.
Around the Area: Eight area football players also signed letter of intents Wednesday.
The Chieftains had the most successful signing day in the area, signing four, including three to Division Two schools. Lineman Luke McCarty and running back/defensive back Billy Baska each signed to play at Missouri Southern in Joplin, while quarterback Justin Walker signed to play at Missouri Western in St. Joseph. The other signee was tight end Dustan Sprowls, who will play at Dodge City CC. In addition, running back/linebacker Tim Hopkins plans to walk on at KU this fall.
Chance Rowland will play at Butler County, and Chad Smith signed to play at Highland.
Brandon Smith, a two-time Journal-World All-Area lineman, inked to play at Hutchinson CC.
Santa Fe Trail
Daniel Shively signed with Fort Scott CC.
The Bulldogs had no signings Wednesday, though standout running back/linebacker Micah Mason still is narrowing down his choices. He's looking at Emporia State, Washburn and Baker. Mason, a two-time J-W All-Area selection, rushed for 2,011 yards and 27 touchdowns for Baldwin, which finished 9-3.