5 Bulldawgs sign to play collegiate football
By TJ MAXWELL
Everyone loves an underdog story.
For five Copperas Cove football players, those underdogs became leading men in their own story as they each signed letters of intent to play football at the collegiate level and celebrated it during a mock signing ceremony Wednesday at the high school.
After being picked to finish in the cellar of District 8-6A, this group rallied to win their final game of the regular season over Belton to earn a spot in the playoffs.
For a lot of those guys, it was a defining moment and helped fuel their journey to college.
“The bus ride to Belton sticks out because we all knew that basically could be our last game, but it wasn’t,” said defensive lineman Juan Jimenez who signed to play football for Division I Abilene Christian University. “We pulled together as a team to get one more game to get our team to the playoffs.”
Fullback Cade Garner-Stewart, who signed to play for Division II Oklahoma Panhandle State University, agreed.
“Just making it to the playoffs in that last game of the season,” he said. “We had to fight and wait for all the scenarios to play out and see who won certain games. We came back from a big deficit and won it. That showed how tough we were.”
The bus ride home after was pretty nice, too, said offensive lineman Zane Stephens, who signed to play for McMurry University in Abilene.
“Definitely the Belton game last year because you had to work for everything you got,” he said. “I played against a really good defensive end and the bus trip back was really great too.”
Just making the playoffs was the unforgettable memory for Joshua “Zaye” Pettit, who signed to play for Texas Wesleyan University.
“The best memory as a team we had this year was the fact that we made it to the playoffs,” he said. “Nobody thought we could compete with anybody. Everybody picked us last in our district and our own fans even doubted us. Our class put Cove back on the map in that case. We only lost to Midway by four and we came back and beat Belton to make it to the playoffs. We proved the doubters wrong this year.”
Jimenez was supposed to have his signing ceremony earlier but, due to the shake up with the coaching staff, signed in the final ceremony of the year on Wednesday.
“I’m excited but I knew when this event was really supposed to happen,” he said. “I don’t know why it was so delayed but I’m happy to be here.”
Jimenez really liked the feel during his visit at the spring game and knew it was the right choice for him.
“I liked the atmosphere they brought when I went out there for the spring game,” he said. “I got to talk with a lot of the players at the spring game and I didn’t expect that. I thought I would just talk with a few coaches then leave, but I got to talk with the players and get to know them better. The head coach showed me everything and it was just a great atmosphere.”
His lateral speed and vision made him a good fit for the Wildcats, he added.
“They like how I move sideline to sideline and how I can read the quarterback instead of letting them read me,” he said.
Garner-Stewart is just thankful this day has finally come and thankful to make the transition with his best friend.
“It’s just a blessing,” he said. “I’m just glad for the opportunity and I just know not to take it for granted. I’m just thankful for everything.
“It’s a great school. It not the biggest school so it was like a family school. The team is going to be a family and going with my best friend Myles (Alexander) is going to make the transition a whole lot easier. We’ve played together, and I’ve been blocking for him for a long time. We’ve got each other’s backs. I’m going to be there for him and he’s going to be there for me.”
It was a long road but now he’s ready to get to work.
“Finding a college was definitely a long, tough process” said Garner-Stewart. “Once I found a school that I wanted it was very exciting, knowing that I would be a part of a great team. I’m ready to go start working right away.”
Alexander was never sure this day would come after suffering a significant injury that kept him sidelined most of his senior season, but he persisted.
“That was definitely a hard point in time for me,” he said. “I just had a feeling that it wouldn’t get better, but I just kept working and pushing. Eventually I made it to where I feel 100 percent and I’m just ready to get back out there.”
Alexander was ecstatic to finally make the move after an exhausting journey.
“It’s wonderful because you never want to stop playing the game that you love,” he said. “It’s just great that I get to continue to play. It was definitely stressful. Sometimes you feel down when nobody’s calling then that one call would come.
“I was blessed enough to receive three offers. When Panhandle called my phone, I just knew that’s where I wanted to go. When I took my visit, the coaches knew my name, they had everything ready for me, the players were all welcoming and it just felt at home.”
Garner-Stewart and Alexander bring physicality to the Aggies.
“They like that I’m physical and aggressive,” said Garner-Stewart. “They want me to be able to block and catch as well. I just want to take my game to new heights. I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
“They like that I’m a hard runner and I run with a lot of power and I could help this team,” said Alexander.
For the final two signees, Pettit and Stephens, they are just glad to have the opportunity to play at the next level.
“It feels good,” said Pettit. “It is a dream come true.
“The process was very difficult. I watched a few of my teammates sign so it was kind of discouraging to think I wouldn’t have the opportunity to play. I talked to my parents about it and they helped me go out to get scholarships. We went out to different camps and school visits. I went out and got my dreams.”
The team’s belief in Pettit solidified his choice.
“They told me they like the way I play, and I remind them of some players on their team,” he said. “The fact that they had faith in me is what drew me to their school. I feel like I fit in well and that I can go in and make an impact on the team.”
“It feels great,” Stephens said of the opportunity. “I actually didn’t think this was going to happen. I thought I was just going to be continuing my education. It just feels great that I’m continuing at McMurry.”
“I really liked the small hometown feel,” added Stephens. “I loved the coaches and the atmosphere. They like my work effort and how I am on and off the field.”
Sharing this moment with teammates, family and friends was priceless.
“It feels great for them to be on my journey from freshman to senior year and for my family and friends to be here feels great,” said Stephens.
Garner-Stewart echoed those sentiments.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine it being any better than it is right now.”