STEPS TO SUCCESS
By TJ MAXWELL
Playing at the next level is a dream for most athletes. A foursome of Copperas Cove athletes recently turned those dreams into reality and commemorated it with a signing ceremony at the high school on Wednesday. Quarterback Caine Garner (Division III University of Mary-Hardin Baylor), running back Elijah Washington (Div. III Howard Payne University) and deep snapper Sean Adams (Div. I New Mexico State) signed to play football at the next level while Kianna Childers will continue her volleyball career at NAIA William Penn University in Oskaloosa Iowa.
Overcoming obstacles was the major theme for this group as most weren’t sure this day would ever come.
Despite playing the year with a torn knee and being very statuesque without the ability to move after the snap, deep snapper Sean Adams showed enough to garner interest for the Division I New Mexico State Cowboys.
“Sean had a torn knee so he made an agreement with the doctor that all he would do is snap it and stand there,” said Cove offensive coordinator and associate head coach Tracy Welch. “We had to change our blocking schemes for him because he was so valuable in the way he snapped the football.”
However, it was a pretty quick and painless recruiting process for Adams.
“It all started before we went to the playoffs,” said Adams. “New Mexico State came out here and I snapped for them. They liked that I was able to snap very accurate and had some size and speed.
“Then we visited with them a couple weeks ago and that’s when I knew that’s where I wanted to go. The team was amazing. They were very open and welcoming and the facility is amazing. I also really like the scenery out there with the mountains. It’s just a different place than Texas.”
The rush of Friday Night Lights was a cool experience for Adams but the real fun came in the grind, he said.
“Some of my best experiences were doing the two-a-day practices in the hot sun,” he said. “Coming here two times a day were my favorite experiences.”
For Washington, it was a similar road after suffering a high ankle injury early in the season. He worked his way back on the field and did enough to attract Howard Payne.
“It feels good,” said Washington. “I’m excited that I get to keep on playing the sport that I love. When I was younger I never thought I’d make it this far because I was too small. I kept putting in the hard work and I made it.”
The transition will come with some major adjustments, as he will need to learn a new position.
“They have me playing strong safety and wide receiver,” he said. “They said they like my height and speed and my ability to catch the ball.”
Washington found a lot of positives and hope for the future in Howard Payne as well, despite their struggling mightily last year.
“It’s a really good school,” he said. “I know they went 0-10 last year but they have a whole new coaching staff and they really convinced me that they’re turning it around. They have a really nice campus and the education system is great.”
Garner, who shared the backfield with Washington in Cove, will find himself opposing his friend and teammate at the next level and the friendly rivalry has already begun.
“We’ve been talking about that for a couple weeks now,” said Garner. “He’s saying that Howard Payne is going to smack us and I’m like, ‘okay.’ I can’t wait to see them on the field.”
Garner is just glad to get the opportunity to keep playing and knows his work is cut out for him trying to find his place with the defending National Champion UMHB Crusaders.
“It feels great,” he said. “I just want to enjoy the experience and show my talent on the next level. It just feels great. They win and everyone loves to win. The program is great, the coaching staff is great and the players are great. It’s just great all around.
“One thing I didn’t know is that they’ve won the Conference Championship like 12 years in a row. That’s a big thing I’ve got to face but I just have to stay humble. I can’t expect to go there and win right off the bat. I’ve got to work for everything.”
Garner’s athletic prowess and leadership ability is what drew the Crusaders to the Cove signal-caller.
“They talked to me about my leadership,” said Garner. “They said I had great leadership and that I’m smart. They looked at my film and said that I was strong, fast and physical.”
Garner, like the rest of the signees, knows the work is just beginning and they need to do a lot before beginning their collegiate careers.
“I’m going to be watching a lot of film,” he said. “I’ve got to stay in shape and eat right. I can’t not doing anything for three months and expect to go there and compete for a spot. I’ve got to stay in shape.”
For Childers, just getting playing time was difficult with the stacked line up for head coach Cari Lowery and the Lady Dawgs volleyball team.
Fortunately, Childers work in the off-season paid dividends for her and she got her opportunity to play the sport she loves collegiately.
“It’s really exciting and I feel grateful I get to continue my career,” she said. “(Playing club volleyball) definitely helped. In the recruiting process you have to put in stats and highlight films and stuff like that. I was just really grateful that I played a lot of club because I used my club film for my highlights and my coaches got to see me.”
They apparently saw enough.
“They said they really liked that I’m an offensive threat, that I can see the court really well and I know the game really well,” said Childers.
Lowery knows that Childers’ potential is limitless.
“Kianna is a smart young woman and she has definitely not peaked,” said Lowery. “I think they’re very fortunate to get her. I think she’ll be a huge asset to their program. Kianna is a student of the game and a very smart player. I believe she is going to be a great volleyball coach one day and we hope she comes back and is a great volleyball coach in the city of Copperas Cove.
“I could not be more proud of Kianna. It is a testament to commitment, hard work and dedication and I’m very proud those things paid off for her and she’s going to have the opportunity to do something she loves and begin her college education.”
Although these four student-athletes will be leaving the Cove, they will be taking some great memories along on their journey.
“Coming from two separate junior highs, we competed against each other then freshman year we become family and the relationship just grew stronger and stronger for the next four years,” said Garner. “It’s just been a great experience.”
Seeing the look of an excited middle-schooler will be forever etched in the mind of Childers.
“A little girl that plays volleyball in middle school will come up to you and say, ‘I love watching you play and I’m so excited to go to high school.’ That makes you feel like a big deal and that you make an impact on other people’s lives.”
She also has a message for those young fans wanting to play volleyball in college.
“I’d say club volleyball is probably the best thing you could do, especially if you’re trying to play for Cove,” she said. Club keeps your skills really sharp and teaches you that you must have the grit and the grind. You have to work for every point in every game. It helps you here because you have more playing time than other girls and know what to expect from coach Lowery and what she wants from you.”
For Washington, it was the bright lights and the camaraderie that he’ll remember.
“I enjoyed the games and hanging with the guys on the bus after the games,” he said. “That was some good times.”
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