Five George Washington High School football players signed their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday afternoon, making up the biggest recruiting class for the school during head coach Nick Anderson’s seven-year tenure.
More Eagles players may announce college decisions in the days and weeks to come, but all attention was turned this week to the five players in the school’s library for a signing ceremony: running back Wesley Graves selected North Carolina A&T; offensive lineman Tyler McDuffie chose Hampton University; defensive lineman Jalen Williamson opted for Virginia Union University; Kendrell McClary, a wide receiver and defensive back, decided on Ferrum College; and offensive lineman Tylee Myers picked Bridgewater College.
Graves spent three years on GW’s varsity team and finished his career as the program’s leader in rushing touchdowns. He had 1,526 rushing yards and 33 rushing scores his senior year.
“He came in his sophomore year and ended up winning the starting job on varsity, and he never looked back,” Anderson said. “With his work ethic, he just continued to develop and get better and get smarter in the game.”
Graves joins a North Carolina A&T program, based in Greensboro, that went 9-3 last season.
“I took the visit to A&T, and it was just something different that just stuck with me,” Graves said. “I just decided, ‘That’s the place I want to be. This is the place that’s gonna push me.’”
In 2019, the Aggies won their third consecutive Celebration Bowl — a postseason game during the FCS playoffs between the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Aggies have represented the MEAC in four of the game’s five years of existence, and they have won each time.
“They’ve produced a lot of great running backs. They say it’s RB U, so that’s where I need to be,” Graves said. “They’re gonna run the ball, and they’re gonna win.”
McDuffie, despite playing just one year of football at GW, drew the attention of several college coaches because of his 6-foot-9 frame on the offensive line.
“If he’s as good as he is now with only one year of experience, when he puts in the time and gets the coaching and he develops, how good could he possibly be?” Anderson said. “I think the sky’s the limit for him. He’s a good kid and he works hard and he’s got good grades.”
McDuffie chose Hampton because he felt he’d be a good fit in the team’s offense, but also because the Pirates coaching staff made its interest known early and often.
“When a college is constantly showing you love, you have to take them seriously,” McDuffie said. “They really want you for a reason.”
Hampton plays in the FCS Big South Conference. McDuffie already has some familiarity with Hampton head coach Robert Prunty. Prunty coached McDuffie’s uncle, Chris, at Hargrave Military Academy before Chris went on to play at Clemson.
“Tyler is a tremendous athlete for his size, and really a tremendous athlete for any size,” Prunty stated in a Hampton news release Wednesday.
Anderson praised Williamson, a defensive lineman, for having the quickness and strength coveted by college coaches.
“It’s just absurd the numbers he’s throwing up in the weight room,” Anderson said. “His quickness, the kid is 260 [pounds], he can really move.”
Williamson landed pretty quickly on VUU in Richmond once he was welcomed so warmly upon his visit. The Panthers play in the NCAA Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
“They really treated me like I was family — like I was one of their own,” Williamson said. “That right there showed me that I think I want to be here. I had talks with each coach one-on-one, and they definitely have my best interests at heart.”
McClary tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee during GW’s playoff loss to Salem, but he was grateful to still have a college offer waiting for him at Ferrum, which plays in the NCAA Division III Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
“Coach [Rob] Grande, we’ve been having conversations about what I can do to help the team win,” McClary said. “I’m very grateful that he took a chance on me.”
As a receiver, McClary caught 15 passes for 180 yards in 2019, but he did most of his damage from his defensive back spot, where he had three interceptions.
“What I love about Kendrell is he’s 110 percent whether you want him to be or not. He’s going to be all-out,” Anderson said. “He’s a guy that really stands out because of his effort.”
Anderson recalled how Myers “came out of nowhere” as a sophomore and “started out of necessity” because GW didn’t have anybody else to play at left guard. Through some growing pains, Anderson said, Myers developed physically and mentally as a lineman and made sure to retain his starting spot for the rest of his high school career.
Now, Myers gets to join a Bridgewater College offense that averaged the 29th-most points per game (37.6) in NCAA Division III in 2019. The Eagles also compete in the ODAC and earned the league’s automatic playoff bid last season after going 10-0 through the regular season.
“They made me feel like family while I was there,” Myers said. “To have this moment, I’m very grateful.”
That feeling of gratefulness permeated the room Wednesday as families snapped pictures and offered celebratory embraces. Among the players themselves, they were thankful to share this moment with their teammates.
“I’m excited they get another opportunity to play at the next level. That’s something everybody dreams of as a kid,” Graves said. “Not everybody gets this opportunity, so for me to be one that does, it’s a blessing.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.