Like many schools around Central Texas, La Vega sought to strictly adhere to social distancing protocols during its National Signing Day ceremony on Wednesday.
Of course, it’s a far greater challenge when you’re sending the kind of crowd on to college that La Vega is.
Call the plumber, because this is a pipeline that’s busting at the seams. La Vega celebrated 13 seniors who signed National Letters of Intent to play college football on this day. That group joined five Pirates who signed during the early period in December, and La Vega assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jermaine Carpenter said he expected at least two more seniors to sign in the coming days.
Eighteen signees? With a chance for 20? That might go down as an all-time Central Texas record for any school in any classification.
“This is what we do,” Carpenter said. “This is why we’re here as coaches, to take these young men from where they are to great leaders in the community and present them with opportunities they probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So for us we’re just ecstatic about it, and we just cherish these guys.”
The sheer numbers are staggering. Beyond the 18 players who have already put ink to paper, La Vega’s senior class generated a total of 59 different scholarship offers among 21 different players totaling more than $4 million in money toward their educations, Carpenter said. With the offers they accepted, La Vega’s seniors banked a total of $1.5 million in scholarship money, Carpenter added.
“They set a precedent that guys can follow. They set the bar,” Carpenter said.
Several of these La Vega players will remain teammates going forward. Iowa Wesleyan signed four Pirates — defensive back/receiver LaMarion Williams, receiver Jeremiah Fisher, defensive end Rae Shawn Roberts and offensive lineman Kace Baggett. Twin brothers Andrew and Eric Brown, a couple of punishing blockers on the O-line, will stay linked as they both signed with Blinn College in Brenham. And Jordan Rogers, a do-it-all athlete who could play a variety of positions, and safety Javon Iglehart are another pair who should be able to carpool to college, as each signed with Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kansas.
The rest of La Vega’s class who finalized their plans Wednesday included offensive lineman Damion Brown (McMurry), receiver Jai’Bryan Bouye (Trinity Valley), receiver/defensive back Manny Ruiz (Abilene Christian), defensive tackle Viontay “V” Robinson (Eastern New Mexico) and linebacker Latravius Johnson (Navarro). They joined an impressive December quintet of Sol’Dreveon Degrate (Texas Southern), Robert Allen (Texas Southern), Anthony “AJ” Burns (Northwestern State), Ara Rauls III (Northwestern State) and Jar’Quae Walton (Abilene Christian).
Asked if it was always a given that they’d sign together, the Brown brothers didn’t hesitate.
“Yes, that’s a guarantee,” Eric Brown said, as Andrew echoed that sentiment. “It’s a true blessing, because some people don’t have this opportunity to go the next level like we do.”
The monster signing ceremony lasted more than an hour, to allow each player’s family their moment on stage and then to allow time for sanitization of the seats and table following their departure. It probably wasn’t exactly what each athlete pictured when they dreamed of this day.
But as far as the number itself? That was expected, Andrew Brown said.
“We’ve been together since the longest, and we all knew since the seventh or eighth grade that we were going to have 20-plus sign. It came true,” he said.
Added Jordan Rogers: ”It’s very special for La Vega. We just take that as bragging rights, that we got 20-something (signees). I take that, as we did it. I’m not going to say we’re the best, but we’re one of the best. Top three, for sure.”
Pittsburg, Kansas is a long way from Bellmead. So Rogers is thrilled that Iglehart will be joining him at that NCAA Division II powerhouse that claims 31 conference championships and four national titles in its history.
“It’s very cool. Me and Javon, we’ve been together since we were little, ever since we started growing,” Rogers said. “It’s basically like a little brother thing between me and him, and I’m glad that we’re going to the same college and keeping the brother tradition going with us.”
Carpenter will call anyone, anywhere to try to land a scholarship offer for one of La Vega’s players. Nevertheless, the fact that the dynamic duo of Iglehart and Rogers are heading to Pittsburg State warmed the coach’s heart. Carpenter starred in football and track and field for the Gorillas from 2003-06, and was inducted into the school’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.
“Any time we can go get some extra Gorillas to the family, we’re excited,” he said. “I’ve talked to those coaches over and over, and they’re happy to come back and pipeline through the La Vega community. We’re happy that they came through. It’s going to be a national championship that’ll come out of it, I promise you. These guys are going to go up there and change the culture.”
La Vega head coach Don Hyde forgot his notes when he addressed the signees before their ceremony. But his off-the-cuff sermon was plenty heartfelt, as he expressed to his players that the day wasn’t the end of the process but rather the beginning. He also called football “a side hustle” to their college experience, noting that in his 27 years of coaching he’d only had one former player reach the NFL. “And he was on the practice squad,” Hyde said. “You’re there to get an education, to get that piece of paper that can open all kinds of doors.”
A bunch of La Vega students are getting that opportunity. The coaches hope this horde of signees inspires the next wave. Twenty signees is amazing, but it’s a record that is made to be broken, they said.
“They see that, and they see that it’s a tradition being built,” Carpenter said. “They see the pride that’s been taking place in it, and they just want to follow in the footsteps. They want to be the class that’s the next bigger class. They want to be the class that gets 23 or 24. With them seeing that firsthand and being able to connect with those guys, I think it inspires and motivates them to go even harder.”