Last football season, the Sunlake Seahawks had a suffocating defense. They recorded four shutouts, and held their opponent to less than seven points three additional times, en route to a 9-2 record and a playoff berth.
Last week, three of their standout players got together to do a little paperwork.
Seniors Nick Larry, Joe Jean-Baptiste and Ricardo Williams participated in a ceremonial signing session to cement their college plans. Each of them will attend a different school, all on scholarship and with an opportunity to continue their athletic career in the collegiate ranks.
Even though head coach Bill Browning has been a football coach for 36 years — including his tenure at Sunlake, which began when the school opened in 2007 — seeing athletes commit to colleges and continue their careers never gets old.
“It’s something they work for and something they dream about, so it’s always exciting to see someone go on and get an opportunity that they’ve been working for,” he said.
All his athletes have worked hard, Browning explained. They have a rigorous practice and preparation regimen, and he feels that their program — being in Florida, which is known as a strong area for high school football — will serve the players well at the next level.
And the players who participated in the signing last week can’t wait to get there.
“It’s honestly a dream come true,” said Jean-Baptiste, who played safety for Sunlake.
He’ll attend Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, and play for the Storm on a partial scholarship.
While he acknowledges the Seahawks had a strong defense, Jean-Baptiste also realizes that playing at the next level will include new challenges. Just as the speed of the game changed for Jean-Baptiste when he made the jump from junior varsity to varsity, he expects a similar increase in game speed in college.
To prepare, he plans to spend time watching game film and scouting opponents when he’s not studying criminal justice.
Larry will play football for Gattaca, a post-graduate team whose players attend Hillsborough Community College with an eye toward playing for bigger schools in their future. For him, attending college on a full scholarship validates the effort he put in to improve and excel during his high school career.
“It feels amazing. It just shows that everything I did, I did right. And all the work I put in, it shows that it pays off,” Larry said.
While the defensive tackle wants to take this time to improve and prepare for a football opportunity in the future, Larry doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He’ll study sports management and make sure his grades are strong while he also focuses on football.
Williams also was part of the team’s excellent defense as a cornerback, but he also played wide receiver. But when he attends Peru State College in Nebraska on a partial scholarship, he’ll play for the Bobcats on the offensive side of the ball at running back.
And Williams believes that playing on defense in high school will help him when he suits up in college.
“As the cornerback, you have to have quick hips and you have to stay focused at all times,” Williams said. “And I feel like that if you translate that to a running back, those are really good features to have.”
He believes that his time playing defense will help him anticipate their moves and positioning, since he’s spent a lot of time thinking like a defensive player. When he’s not on the field, he’ll study nursing.
All three players are eager to get their college careers going, but their coach has some advice for the soon-to-be college freshmen: Savor the moment and focus on what’s important.
“Just work hard and enjoy the experience,” Browning said. “And the bottom line is, get the education.”
Published May 21, 2014