National Signing Day: Flight of the Knights
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Feb 8, 2013, 14:01
Thomas Dale student-athletes prepare to sign their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday in Chester. From left to right: April Wilson (track, Norfolk State), Zach Rhodes (football, William & Mary), D.J. Reid (football, Virginia Tech), Evan Fowler (soccer, Longwood) and Vaughn Fowler (soccer, Longwood) (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
CHESTER – Move aside, Groundhog Day. Another unofficial national holiday is taking the country – and especially the Tri Cities – by storm.
National Signing Day, the first day that high school athletes are permitted to scribble their signatures on binding NCAA scholarship offers, fell on Wednesday this year, and five Thomas Dale seniors finalized their plans to play at the next level.
It should come as no surprise that the group was headlined by a running back.
D.J. Reid became the latest in a long line of Thomas Dale standouts to join a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team by signing a National Letter of Intent signifying his commitment to play at Virginia Tech.
Thomas Dale senior D.J. Reid signs a National Letter of Intent signifying his commitment to play football at Virginia Tech on Wednesday in Chester (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
“It’s a great relief,” Reid said after putting pen to paper. “It’s behind me now, so I’m just looking forward to going to Tech and getting to work.”
Offensive lineman Zach Rhodes signed for William & Mary, twin soccer stalwarts Evan and Vaughn Fowler committed to Longwood and sprinter April Wilson made known her intentions to continue her career at Norfolk State.
The five signees congregated at a wooden table adorned with hats, scarves and helmets bearing the names of their respective in-state schools of choice.
The consensus on the Thomas Dale football team’s coaching staff is that Reid ranks among the top five running backs ever to don a Knights jersey, a distinction that means more at Thomas Dale than it does at most schools.
The position’s notable alumni include three players who reached the National Football League and another who rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound two-sport athlete (track) exploded onto the prep football scene with a breakout junior campaign that saw him amass 14 touchdowns and more than 1,500 yards of total offense.
Despite battling tendonitis in his left knee, Reid nearly surpassed both of those marks as a senior. A two-time First-Team All-Central District selection, Reid said he hopes to make an immediate impact with the Hokies in some capacity.
While he was recruited as a running back, the fleet-footed jack of all trades could also see time as a slot receiver, return man or wildcat quarterback, he said.
“I think that’s what makes him a special athlete,” said Thomas Dale football coach Kevin Tucker. “And that’s what Virginia Tech saw going into the recruitment of D.J. They saw that he could play a multitude of positions. There are so many things you can do with that young man.”
Tucker said while Reid’s high school career was impressive, he boasts a reservoir of untapped potential. That descriptor applies to Rhodes as well, according to the third-year coach.
“His development over three years has been unbelievable,” Tucker said of the offensive tackle. “And the strides that he is going to make in college I think are going to be unbelievable. I think when it’s all said and done, he’ll be a three-year starter at William & Mary.”
Rhodes, 6-6 and 315 pounds, said he chose the Tribe for several reasons, including the stability that is provided by 23-year coach Jimmye Laycock.
“It’s a great school, it’s a great atmosphere, the people there are great and my mom is an alumni,” Rhodes said.
Family played a role in Evan and Vaughn Fowler’s recruitment, too, but the center midfielders insist they were not a sure-fire package deal. Longwood was simply the best fit for both of them, they explained.
“We were thinking we’d try to go our own way and see what happened,” Vaughn Fowler said. “But we both knew from an early age that soccer was where we were going, and it just worked out that we both picked the same college.”
The brothers said they were swayed to choose Longwood because the team from Farmville specializes in an aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer. The Lancers’ playing style, they said, is similar to the one favored by their father, Thomas Dale coach Mark Fowler.
And, of course, their familiarity with one another on and off the pitch will ease the transition.
“It’ll be a good experience,” Evan Fowler said. “We’ve been playing together our whole lives now, so we know how each other works. We’ll be able to work off each other and that type of thing. It’ll be fun playing together for another four years.”
Optimism abounded, but so did gratitude and reminiscence.
Vaughn Fowler credited Thomas Dale’s status as a perennial soccer powerhouse in the Central Region for helping to hone his understanding of the “heart and soul of the game.”
Likewise, Reid said playing for the Knights “put me in the right spot to get to Virginia Tech.” Rhodes may have summed up the college-bound quintet’s collective sentiment most succinctly. “I couldn’t have gone to a better high school,” he said.