By PATRICK MacCOON
The opportunity for five talented Cleveland High School student-athletes to realize their dreams required great dedication to their craft.Refusing to take the easy road paid major …
The opportunity for five talented Cleveland High School student-athletes to realize their dreams required great dedication to their craft.
Refusing to take the easy road paid major dividends on National Signing Day Wednesday for a trio of gridiron standouts and a pair of Lady Raider "futbol" (soccer) difference makers.
With leadership, hard work in the classroom and on the field, Keegan Jones, Romeo Wykle, Logan Stutzman, Lauren Stutzman and Mary Claire Shaffer earned their way to the next level.
Keegan Jones (5-foot-9, 175), Running back
This three-time all-region selection and 2017’s Region 2-6A Offensive Player of the Year answered the exact challenge asked of him going into his sophomore season.
“We wanted him to be a physical runner and fight for the yards after first contact. Man, did he do that,” said Cleveland head coach Scott Cummings.
In creating a fairly unique legacy, Jones was able to break hundreds of tackles at the same time he provided lighting-quick 4.4 40-yard dash speed, not a typical combo.
Over his career he totaled 299 carries for 2,390 yards (8.0 yards per carry) and 22 rushing scores, while also hauling in 38 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns.
The all-state track athlete and indoor long jump state champion also posted over 3,500 all-purpose yards with four trips to the end zone as a kick returner.
“It has always been my dream to play on live television and to be at a major college,” said Jones, who has received a full-ride athletic scholarship. “The Naval Academy is a great school and the benefits are going to be great. I am excited for the big stage.”
Jones left no doubt he'd be a prime candidate for one of the country’s finest military academies.
His 28 on the ACT and a GPA above 3.0 gave him the opportunity to be the second CHS athlete, along with Army senior Tyler Davis, to go on to sign with a service academy in the 21st century.
With 11 career games over 100yards rushing and a trio of 200-yard games, one of Cleveland’s “Zoobacc’s” is ready for the next stage after leading the area with 1,209 rushing yards this past season.
“Head coach Ken Niumatalolo (Navy Midshipmen) told me if I come up there and prove my talents, I will play next year for sure,” Jones said of his future home in Annapolis, Maryland. “I am going to try and make my mark up there and it’s a goal of mine to get on the field as a true freshman.”
He leaves the backfield behind to Micaleous Elder, who scored 20 touchdowns last season and totaled over 1,500 all-purpose yards as a junior.
Romeo Wykle (6-foot-1, 190), Wide receiver
This Blue Raider multiple sport and two-way football standout will be making his presence felt on campus this fall in Easton, Pennsylvania at a “Hidden Ivy” college lying just 70 miles west of New York City and 60 miles north of Philadelphia.
Wykle will play for John Garrett who is the brother of Dallas Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett.
With speed, great awareness and great leadership, the “Big Blue” were able to receive max-effort at all times from their star playmaker.
Wykle finished his prep career with 49 catches for 1,092 yards (1,300 total) and 20 touchdowns (16 receiving, 3 rushing, 1 defensive).
His ball-hawk tendencies and play recognition on the defensive side were highly sought after by the Division I FCS Leopards.
In two seasons as a starting safety, the two-time all-region selection totaled 100 tackles (61 solo), intercepted six passes to go with 18 pass deflections.
“I hated sitting on the bench and not being able to impact a play or help someone else,” Wykle said. “When I went up to Lafayette this past weekend they told me if I am not high enough on the safety depth chart they will let me try and prove myself at receiver. I’m excited to get up there and compete.”
Wykle starts for the state’s fifth-ranked CHS basketball program and is second on the team with 2.1 steals per contest. He was named to the all-district 5-AAA basketball team Wednesday to add to a special day.
Coach Cummings said, “None of this for Romeo would be possible without great character and grades. The average ACT score to get in at Lafayette is a 29. He has a unique opportunity and we know he will turn out great.”
Logan Stutzman (6-foot-1, 185), Linebacker
Some defenders are talented at the art of creating turnovers.
Over 15 career starts, Stutzman produced five interceptions, knocked the ball free seven times and had three fumble recoveries.
The outside linebacker's strong motor also resulted in a game-changing tackle nine yards behind the line of scrimmage to help beat Rhea County on the road to begin a seven-win 2017 season.
“Coming in for early workouts and working hard in the classroom helped me get to this day,” said one of the three Stutzman triplets. “I am honored to consider myself in the same group with these guys. We all wanted to match each other’s intensity, and pushed each other to be the best in all areas.”
Going on to play for an Eagles program whose rich tradition is a credit to late head coach Ken Sparks (Division II all-time wins leader), is a dream come true for the high-geared competitor.
Stutzman’s defensive prowess was key to helping the Blue Raiders soccer team to a 21-1-2 record and a trip to the state tournament last season.
“My message to those who want to sign or make a difference is believe in yourself and your teammates,” Stutzman said. “The sky is the limit, because Cleveland has always had talent. I was lucky to be a part of it.”
Signing on the same day as his sister was a “dream come true” for both.
With a never let-down guard in front of goal, Stutzman set the CHS record for most saves with over 400 career denials.
Her teammates, coaches and opposition often were in awe of her abilities and leadership in goal, which will suit a Lady Flames team that made it to the Elite Eight in the Division II national tournament this past season.
“I give God the glory first and foremost,” Stutzman said. “My teammates, coaches and family really helped this day happen as well. In order to become a strong goalie, believing in myself was the biggest part.”
She signed athletic scholarship papers on the same day as her brother, making for a memorable day for them, their families and their friends.
Mary Claire Shaffer
Perhaps with an inherited tenacity, Shaffer came through in the clutch for the Lady Raiders on several occasions this past fall.
Her two favorite career moments came when she scored the lone goal in a double-overtime win over Ooltewah in the District 5-AAA tournament, along with a goal in penalty kicks to help beat archrival Bradley Central 0-0 (4-2).
“My parents are very determined and hard-working people,” Shaffer said. “Also being able to watch my older brother (River) excel when he was here made me strive to make an impact.”
Shaffer scored four goals and helped a defense that allowed one goal or less a dozen times in 18 matches.
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