By Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun
Six athletes from the Golden Circle signed letters of intent Wednesday on National Signing Day, including five football players and Corsicana pole vaulter Noah Gilfillan, the top-ranked pole vaulter in the nation, and four CHS football players.
Corsicana had a ceremony at the school’s Meeting Room in the Field House, where the five Tigers signed, and Mildred held a ceremony for Draylon Sterling, who signed a letter of intent to play football at Texas A&M at Commerce.
The Tigers saw four football players ink scholarships. Offensive lineman Chris Jones signed with UTEP, quarterback/cornerback Devontay Bell signed with Tarleton State, two-way lineman Donovan Hailey signed with Hardin-Simmons and receiver Hector Calvillo signed with East Texas Baptist University.
“We’re excited for all four of them,’’ said Corsicana Coach Steve Hoffman, who expects tight end Tiano McDonald to sign as early as next week. “They really worked hard and are all very deserving. They not only did a good job on the football field but also in the classroom. We’re proud of all of them.’’
Gilfillan is the biggest name and had the biggest drama. He had originally committed to Texas A&M, but changed his mind to become a Razorback at what is arguably the top track & field program in the nation.
“I felt it was the right decision for me Gilfillan said. “I think I have a better chance to further my career at Arkansas.’’
Gilfillan, who has the equivalent of a 4.0 GPA, plans on majoring in engineering. He is the No. 1 rated pole vaulter in the nation and has cleared 17 feet and one inch. Corsicana’s first track & field meet is Feb. 20 at the Hawk Relays in Red Oak.
It was an emotional day for Bell, who missed most of his junior season with a torn ACL. There were times during his long recovery when he didn’t think this day would come.
“I had my doubts at times,’’ said Bell, who rushed for more than 1,200 yards and threw for more than 600 and was the All-Golden Circle Offensive Player of the Year. “I doubted it a lot when I was recovering. I didn’t know if this day would come. It’s such a great day. It feels like Christmas to me.’’
His comeback this season was inspiring.
“There were a lot of people who showed a lot of interest in him, and a lot that came in late,’’ Hoffman said. “He is gifted in so many ways. I believe he could really excel as a defensive back. Playing cornerback, he can really be special. They may use him there or as a slot receiver. He is just so talented. I think he will succeed wherever the put him. He’s a special player.’’
There were seven D-II schools that showed interest in Bell.
“A lot of schools came in late, over the last month and to the last minute,’’ said Bell, who wore a purple Tarleton shirt and matching cap. “But Tarleton was it for me. That’s where it felt right.’’
Bell, who plans on majoring in kinesiology, was recruited as an athlete and he said it didn’t matter.
“I will play wherever they want me to play.’’
Jones had his own emotions to deal with on Wednesday.
“It’s a big day,’’ said Jones, who signed with UTEP. “I’ve been waiting for this day since my freshman year. I started thinking about playing college football in Pee Wee football, and after my sophomore year when we made the deep run in the playoffs and reached the state semifinals, I really started thinking about it a lot.’’
Jones plans to major in kinesiology and return to Corsicana some day as a football coach.
“That’s what I really want to do, become a coach and come back here,’’ Jones said.
Jones, who had 47 pancake blocks this season, was a treasure at CHS, where he started every game for the past three seasons. He was a three-time All-Golden Circle first-team player and was an all-district player two years in row.
“Chris did a great job and he was the best offensive lineman in our district,” Hoffman said. “Ask any of those coaches and they’ll tell you that he was. He played with an attitude and finished off his blocks.
“I know they are extremely excited at UTEP to have him. He’s got great feet for a guy who is 290 pounds, and they move a lot on their line at UTEP. He will be great for them. The thing they were most impressed about with Chris is that he finishes every play. Every time we ran a sweep he had a pancake block. He just puts people on the ground. He’s a nice kid and a nasty football player. That’s what you want.’’
UTEP wanted Jones, who considered one other D-I school, New Mexico. It wasn’t close.
“They treated me like family from Day 1,’’ Jones said. “From my first visit they treated me like they had known me for five years.’’
Hailey had three other offers and signed with Hardin-Simmons, where he plans on majoring in either nursing, Pre-med or kinesiology. He was so talented on the field, he started on both sides of the line and starred wherever he played. He also was a star in the classroom, where he has a 3.55 GPA. He was dressed to succeed on signing day, showing up in a sports jacket and tie and was all smiles.
“Hardin-Simmons was unlike any other school I visited,’’ Hailey said. “Christ is at the head of Hardin-Simmons and Christ is at the head of my life. They put Christ first and I loved the atmosphere there.’’
Hardin-Simmons envisions Hailey as a defensive end and that’s fine with him.
“They saw my offensive film and liked it and they saw my defensive film and liked it even more,’’ Hailey said. “I’m looking forward to playing defense.’’
Hoffman agreed that Hailey’s future is on the defensive side of he ball.
“Donovan is a very athletic kid and he’s very quick,’’ Hoffman said. They like him as a defensive lineman. The thing about Donovan is that he is very smart and the thing we will miss the most about him is his leadership for us. He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around in my life, just outstanding.’’
Calvillo had a couple of offers but East Texas Baptist University offered him a full scholarship and he just couldn’t say no. Calvillo has a great set of hands, but Corsicana’s running game was so prolific (over 400 rushing yards per game) that he didn’t get the opportunity to catch a ton of footballs.
Still, he was more than good enough to earn a scholarship.
“What they liked about Hector was that he never took a play off,’’ Hoffman said. “He was a good blocker. He’s the guy that did the dirty work and people noticed that. Coaches love to see that.
“And Hector has god hands and knows how to get open. He just didn’t get a chance to make 1,000 catches. He made some good clutch catches for us, and he comes to work every day ready to go. He’s a great kid.’’
Calvillo, who also plays soccer for CHS, plans on majoring in business. He was as happy as anyone on signing day.
“It’s amazing just to have the opportunity to play at the next level,’’ he said. “It’s amazing, and I thank God for that.’’
Sterling was the only other player in the Golden Circle to sign on Wednesday. He was the All-Golden Circle Defensive Player of the Year as a junior as a defensive back three-time All-Golden Circle player. He was named to the Class 2A all-state team all four years and was an honorable mention after his injury-hampered senior season.
Sterling was one of the top running backs and defensive backs this part of the state and a big reason Mildred had such deep runs in the playoffs his sophomore and junior seasons. He spent a good part of his senior season injured but finished with amazing career numbers.
He rushed for 4,214 yards and 75 TDs on 474 carries, caught 44 passes for 758 yards and eight TDs and made 261 tackles, including 36 for losses and six sacks, and he made 15 interceptions.
“He played in six games this year and had over 1,000 yards and more than 20 touchdowns,’’ Mildred Coach Billy Dan Chambliess said. “I wish I could keep him. Draylon is one of those special kids. You enjoy coaching him. He works hard and plays harder. He’s a game-changer. When he was healthy we were great. When he wasn’t we weren’t.’’