Five Cove student-athletes continue their journey at the college level
By TJ MAXWELL
Every young athlete dreams of fighting for a spot on that varsity squad, then continuing that dream as far as it will take them.
That dream continued on Wednesday as four Copperas Cove basketball players and a cheerleader participated in a signing ceremony to take their skills to the collegiate level.
Neyland Block, Justus Honea, Francisco Alvarado and Daveon Stringer will continue their basketball careers after their record-breaking 22-1 start to the 2017-18 campaign and cheerleading newcomer Derrick Burleson turned a curiosity into a career in two short years.
Block took his sweet time making up his mind and it paid off.
A trip to Stephenville on Sunday was all he needed to know that NCAA Division II Tarleton State University was the place for him.
“It feels very nice,” said Block. “I was antsy because I didn’t know where I was going to go. I stayed patient and the right time came.
“It was very stressful. My parents were getting on me about where I was going because everyone else had been signing. I was just trying to stay patient. I knew the right time would come and, thankfully, Tarleton asked me to come there.”
Block didn’t get a chance for an officially visit but a pickup game was all it took.
“I didn’t officially get to visit,” he said. “I have that next week, but when I went up there Sunday to just play basketball, I liked the coaches and the campus is very nice as well.”
Block’s overall floor skills caught the eye of the Texan Rider coaching staff.
“They like that I can see the floor very well and pass the ball and how I facilitate as a point guard and a leader,” he said.
Honea is just glad to have the stress of recruiting behind him and ready to get to work at NCAA Division III Southwestern University in Georgetown.
“It feels good,” he said. “It’s a relief. It was fun all in all, but there was sometimes it was stressful when you email coaches and hope they email you back.”
Honea liked the downhome feel of Southwestern.
“It’s just the small-town environment,” he said. “They were very welcoming and, with them not having so many people on campus, everybody knows everybody, so you get that small-town vibe.”
Honea’s IQ on and off the court caught the attention of the Pirate’s staff.
“They said they like my basketball IQ and me academically,” he said. “They said with that combo and me being able to shoot, I would find a place on their team.”
Alvarado and Stringer are just ready to get going.
“I’m just ready to play at the next level,” said Alvarado who’s continuing his career with the NJCAA Blinn College in College Station. “I’m just ready to take this next step. Blinn has like 14 sophomores and they’ll be transferring so I feel like I’m going to be taking on a bigger role than I’m expecting. I’m just ready for it all.”
“It feels great,” said Stringer who will attend Mountain View College in Dallas. “Mountain View is a nice school. I feel they coaches are nice and they can help me get to the next level as a player.”
Sharing five possible spots with nine other seniors made playing time a premium but Stringer wasn’t worried about not being seen.
“Not really because I just leave it all out there on the court,” he said. “I go out and play every game like it’s my last.”
Alvarado’s height and shooting ability played a role in his recruitment.
“They said since I’m tall, I will be able to facilitate the ball a little better than the guys that are there and that I can shoot the ball pretty well for my size,” he said. “They said that’s advantageous to them.”
It was Stringer’s motor that got him noticed.
‘They like my pace and energy on both ends of the floor,” he said.
The dream start of the season turned into a bit of a nightmare as the team missed out on the playoffs after a record 22-1 start, but they wouldn’t change a thing.
“Of course, it didn’t play out the way we wanted it to, but I wouldn’t trade it for any other season or any other team,” said Honea. “I love these guys. I wouldn’t trade anything.”
“We were just all brothers at the end of the day,” said Stringer. “Whether we lost or not, we were still there for each other and we tried to play every game as hard as we could. It just didn’t work out.”
“I feel like it brought us all closer,” he said. “We’re like family now. Wherever they go, I’ll be there to support them just like they’re here to support me.”
That record-breaking start is something to behold.
“Other than being with nine other seniors, starting off 22-1 was the biggest thing,” said Alvarado. “Even though we didn’t end it the way we wanted to, just going on that 19-game win-streak was a big thing for us.”
Sharing this moment with one an another was special as well.
“It feels great to see everybody going to colleges and going to the next level,” said Stringer. “It’s great. It’s what we all dreamed of.”
“It’s very nice to see them succeed as well,” said Block. “They’ve been basically like family to me. We’ve been playing together since third and fourth grade. To see them succeed is very nice. With all the years together, we have a lot of great memories.”
Burleson’s story is a shorter one as two years ago he was first introduced to cheer and now he has been selected to join the staff of the Universal Cheerleaders Association and cheer for the Tyler Junior College Apaches.
The All-American found a place in cheer and propelled himself to new opportunities.
“I definitely had to work on myself,” said Burleson. “When I first started cheer two years ago, I didn’t really know anything about it. I was in the gym all the time working on my tumbling and stunting. I got better and here I am.”
Burleson liked the feel and the talent level at Tyler.
“The coaches there are really nice, and the team is really nice,” he said. “Everybody has a lot of talent.”
Their psychology program also played a role in his decision.
“I’m majoring in psychology and social work,” he said.
Tyler liked that Burleson brings the whole package.
“They really like everything,” he said. They like that I can tumble, and I can stunt.”
The work is just beginning for these five as the transition to the college level is not an easy one.
“I still have a lot to do in my opinion and I have to get stronger as well,” said Block. “I’m just ready to get there and develop into the player I know I can be and I know they can help me become that player.”
“Mostly it is just the weight room,” said Honea. “I’m on the smaller side and most of the college guys have a little weight on them. Other than that, I feel like my skill level is pretty good.”