National Signing Day, as it has become known, is the day when high school student-athletes from around the country can make their college choice official by accepting a formal scholarship offer and signing a national letter of intent (NLI) to attend whatever college or university that student-athlete chooses.
These signing day events are a national phenomenon, sometimes televised on ESPN or other outlets, and are always days of great pride and celebration for the student-athletes involved, their families, teachers, and coaches.
held its own version of National Signing Day, Wednesday afternoon in the Wildcat Gymnasium.
That day, five Hazelwood West seniors --four football players and a baseball player-- in small celebration of Hazelwood West athletic and academic excellence that only a small throng of media, and members of the families were allowed to attend, announced to the world where they intended to play ball next season.
“It’s a great day for Hazelwood West, it’s a great day for these young men,” Hazelwood West athletics director Tim Williams, who emceed the event said. “It’s a proud day for us all, and I’m happy for all of them.”
The five student-athletes involved in Wednesday’s celebration were football players:
- Caleb Sims, who signed with Millikin University in Decatur, IL,
- Calvin LaGrone, who signed with Missouri Valley College in Marshall, MO,
- Jesse Vitale, who also signed with Missouri Valley,
- and Chris Woods, who signed with Millikin.
Baseball player Trevor Jones signed with the University of Central Missouri.
Sims, a standout running back and defensive back for the Wildcats last season, took his turn at the center of the signing table first. Clearly nervous, but obviously excited Sims spoke about why he chose Millikin.
“The coach is a real good person,” Sims said. “He didn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear.
"I developed a good bond with him, and it’s not too far from home.”
Woods will be joining Sims at Millikin, and said having a high school buddy join him at the same school was something he always hoped would happen.
Another former Hazelwood West standout, wide receiver Mike Blake, is also at Millikin, and he also played a part in Woods, who expects to play defensive back in college, wanting to go there.
“I just talked to him about his experiences there,” Woods said. “It seems like a great school, a close-knit community.
"It’s a program that’s on a uprise, and I just want to be one of the players that’s there when all the success comes.”
LaGrone, a fearsome, sometimes unblockable defensive tackle last season, chose Missouri Valley because he wants to be a part of the Vikings long-standing history of great defenses.
“I chose Missouri Valley because I’m a defensive player, and they had the number one defense in all of NAIA last season,” LaGrone said. “It’s also a small school in a small town--so basically, everybody will know everybody--and with small classes, it’s easier to learn.”
Vitale started in several spots on the offensive line throughout his Wildcat career, but he made his name as a bulldozing right tackle, who expects to compete for a starting spot next season.
“I didn’t want to go to a big school,” Vitale said. “I’d rather go to a smaller school where I know I’d be able to play.
"Also, the community in Marshall, MO, is all close," he said. "Pretty much the whole community comes out to each game, which, in my opinion, makes the team even better having that kind of support.”
The one non-football player who spent time at the signing table was Jones, a speedy centerfielder, who was coveted by Lindenwood University, Southern Illinois-Carbondale, Missouri State, along with a few others, but chose the UCM Mules as the team he wants to play for next season.
“They have a real good baseball program,” Jones said. “It’s not too far from home, and each year they’re [competing] on a national championship level.”
Hazelwood West plans to hold another signing day event in the spring, where student-athletes from other sports such as basketball, soccer, and volleyball, possibly others, will sign their NLIs and make their college choices official.
“Congratulations to all these young men,” Williams said. “I know their parents are proud.”