It was a busy day in Columbia County when six athletes officially committed to play for colleges and universities on the initial early national letter of intent signing period for the 2013-14 school year.
Four signed to play baseball, with one apiece for softball and golf; running the gamut from Division I to junior college, from local to out-of-state.
New Augusta Christian transfer Michael Weiksner led off the parade of signings by inking with the Division II North Greenville University Crusaders in Tigerville, S.C.
From Greenbrier and then homeschooled last year, Weiksner, a tall right-handed pitcher, looked at a few places before landing with the Crusaders, making his decision after visiting the campus a month ago.
“The coaching staff was real nice,” said Weiksner. “I liked the small classroom environment. I just felt different on that campus, something felt different.”
Signing on the first day allowable was a way for Weiksner to focus on the Lions baseball team.
“There’s no more pressure, I know where I’m going,” said Weiksner. “I want to help lead the team as far as we can go.”
Lions first-year head coach Matt Klimas said Weiksner told him a year ago he wanted to play college baseball.
“He stressed about it and I told him he had the ability to do it,” said Klimas, a former San Francisco Giants minor leaguer. “It’s been such a blessing for me not only to see him mature and grow as a baseball player but as an individual.”
Lakeside shortstop Chandler Corley signed to play baseball at Division II Armstrong Atlantic University (Savannah, Ga.).
“I chose them over a lot of places because I felt it would get me to the next level,” said Corley, who led the Panthers in hitting a year ago. “I feel like we can win a national championship there. (Coach Calvain Culberson) is a great guy. I feel like I’ll love it there and I’ll fit in just fine.”
Armstrong Atlantic finished this past season ranked 22nd in Division II, going 31-17. The Pirates have placed 39 players in professional baseball in the past 15 years.
Corley was first team All-Region 2-AAAAA and first team All-County in 2013. He was named Perfect Game All-American Honorable Mention and participated in the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October.
“He had a phenomenal year,” Lakeside coach Brad Freeman said. “I’d like to say I hope we get the same production this year, but I’m looking more so what he’s going to offer us in the leadership position. One thing I love about Chandler is he plays the game right. He notices things, and that stuff is invaluable to guys in the program.”
At Evans, four players signed. Leading off was Lady Knights softball player Alexis Schlein, who made a dream come true by signing with Georgia Regents University.
Schlein has been a longtime fan of the school and head coach Melissa Mullis, the Lady Jaguars coach who is entering her 16th season. She looked at other schools along the way, but knew since her freshman year that playing in Augusta was what she really wanted to do.
Her visit to the school in her junior year, when she verbally committed to the Lady Jaguars’ program, sealed the deal.
“When I went on my visit (to Georgia Regents) I had the overwhelming feeling that this was where I was supposed to be,” said Schlein. “It was the coach, the program, and the whole atmosphere in general.”
That feeling of knowing exactly what she wanted was what led her to sign as soon as possible.
“I am very excited, that’s why I picked the very first day to sign,” said Schlein.
While the verbal commitment helped relieve some stress, knowing that a scholarship wasn’t riding on every at-bat, there was still a certain amount on her shoulders during her senior season.
“This year I felt like I had a little bit more pressure on me knowing I was going to be the college athlete,” said Schlein.
After receiving all-county honoroable mention as a junior in 2012, in 2013, Schlein was chosen first team All-Region 2-AAAAA while batting .284 with a .957 fielding average. The Lady Knights went 17-13 in her senior campaign, advancing to the state playoffs.
Evans head coach Colette Cassedy thinks Schlein will be successful at the next level.
“I think she’ll do great, she’ll be an asset to their program through her motivation and her leadership qualities and you can add her skill into that and she’ll do a good job,” said Cassedy.
During the summer, Evans golfer Charles Griffin won the 2013 Bill Dickey Invitational Tournament, giving him the chance to play in the 2013 Junior PGA Championship in Washington, D.C.
Calling that sequence a confidence-booster, Griffin secured his collegiate future Wednesday, signing his letter of intent to play golf for Division I Alabama State University in Montgomery, Ala.
“My summer was very important, it was a key factor in me getting my scholarship,” said Griffin, who visited Alabama State in October.
Griffin had looked at Clemson University and North Carolina Central University, but once he visited the school, the die was cast.
“I went on my visit and immediately the coaching staff, the team, everybody they just took me in, it seemed as if they were family,” Griffin said. “The campus is beautiful, it’s great, everything is new. They have a great practice facility and I fell in love as soon as I stepped on campus.”
Evans golf coach Bill Richey was happy for Griffin and is looking forward to what Griffin will do in his final season at the school.
“It’s a great day for Evans golf and it’s a great day for him,” said Richey. “He’s probably been the most steady golfer we’ve had here for a while. I expect big things out of him.”
The signing may have eased Griffin’s mind, but it won’t soften his focus.
“It will take a little pressure off, but I’ll work hard as always,” Griffin said.
Baseball player Garrett Wilkinson verbally commited to Chipola Junior College (Marianna, Fla.) shortly after his sophomore season in 2012 and signed with the junior college Indians while teammmate Brice Harrison signed to play with the Division II University of North Georgia Nighthawks (Dahlonega, Ga.), a Peach Belt Conference member.
“They’re great kids, hard workers, great to have around, said Evans baseball coach Ricky Beale. “Garrett’s (Wilkinson) been a three-year starter for us, Brice (Harrison) has started midway through his sophomore year. They’ve just been a big part of the program the past couple of years.”
Wilkinson was named 2013 first team All-Region 2-AAAAA as a pitcher and first team All County as a utility player after batting .300 and pitching to a 5-4 mark with a 1.81 earned-run-average.
“It’s exciting,” said Wilkinson of the signing. “It kind of finalizes the whole process that’s been going on for about a year now.”
Beale thinks his drive is what will help him succeed at the collegiate level.
“You can’t put a price on the work ethic and the hard work Garrett puts in,” Beale said. “When I ride by and I see the lights on in the cage, usually I know it’s him most of the time and that’s something that’s going to pay off him for down in Chipola.”
Harrison, who was the Knights’ third baseman a year ago, is slated to play some infield and catch for the Knights in 2014, as well as pitch for the first time at Evans. He was recruited to be a pitcher for the Nighthawks.
Wilkinson’s father, Roger, coached the Baseball Scoutz travel team and wanted Harrison to pitch, and it went from there.
“I started getting better every time I pitched and had pretty good velocity so they were interested I guess in me being a pitcher,” said Harrison.
“Brice (Harrison) is just now really getting around to throwing off the mound a whole lot, he has a lot of potential there and that’s something North Georgia and coach (Michael) Holder and those guys up there saw in him,” said Beale.
He wasn’t a newcomer to the campus, having attended camps there the past two years. It all fit with what he wanted.
“The campus, it’s not too small but it’s not too big,” said Harrison. “I like the coaching staff because they’re pretty hard-nosed, good coaches and everything and they’ve got some new facilities up there.”
Morris News Service writer David Lee contributed to the story