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Getting to play at the ‘next level’

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
Only a select few of those student-athletes currently competing in high school athletics will go on to play in college.
Some will decide that they want to concentrate strictly on academics once they get into college. Others may want to play after high school, but they don’t have the grades to qualify.
And, quite frankly, most just aren’t good enough.
In a study by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, estimating the probability of competing in athletics beyond the high school interscholastic level, the numbers are staggeringly low.
Only 2.9 percent of high school boys basketball players and 3.1 percent of high school girls basketball players will compete at the college level.
For high school football players, only 5.8 percent will play in college.
The results are nearly the same (5.6 percent) for prep baseball players who will go on to play college ball.
In recent years, there have been a number of student-athletes who have continued their athletic careers in college, but only a handful has reached the Division I level.
Playing D-I sports
Two former area athletes who are now competing in Division I football have taken advantage of their opportunities. Former Roanoke High School standout Trimane Goddard, a starting defensive back for the North Carolina Tar Heels and a potential first-round NFL pick in 2008, said it takes more than just a little hard work to play in college.
C.J. Wilson, a former star at Northside High School who helped lead East Carolina to a Hawaii Bowl victory, said a student-athlete must be dedicated in order to achieve success.
Trent Whitehead is one of the select few former area athletes to have signed a Division I baseball scholarship. The former Washington High School standout, who is a freshman on the ECU baseball team, said he had to make some sacrifices to get to where he is at now.
Another avenue
While being a great high school player can help open some doors, sometimes the better way to go is through a club team. Current ECU volleyball star Stephanie Turner attributes much of her success to playing club volleyball.
Turner said she enjoyed playing, but had to make some sacrifices along the way.
Don’t hold back
Lizzy Bruin, a teammate of Turner’s on the ECU volleyball team, said that if an athlete really wants to play at the next level, she needs to do whatever it takes.
The 3 D’s
T.J. Midgette, a former star at Southside High School and a current track great at UNC-Wilmington, said it boils down to three things.
A coach’s perspective
Tami Wagaman, the head volleyball coach at Northside High School, has helped several of her athletes earn college scholarships, whether they be full or partial. Recently, Wagaman, a former coach at Southside High School, helped former Seahawk players Danielle Jarman, Augusta Johnson and Ashley Jones earn spots on the Pitt Community College volleyball team.
Wagaman said student-athletes must realize that college athletics is an entirely different entity than high school sports.
Have faith
Rufus Wilson, a former multi-star standout at Washington High School and a former baseball great at Barton College, said he looked to God for guidance during his athletic career path.
Meredith Knox, a former star at Washington High School and current softball player at Anderson University, said the key word is “commitment.”
Self-discipline
M.J. Williams, a current softball star at Lees-McCrae College and former Mattamuskeet High School standout, said an athlete must be dedicated.
Like a job
Several current college athletes stressed that athletes must be prepared to practice his or her sport year-round. Athletes have to be strong physically and mentally.
Jessica Johnson, a teammate of Nolan’s on the Pirate softball squad, agreed that an athlete must be strong in body and in mind.
Greg Palmer, a former standout at Northside High School and a current member of the Chowan College football team, agreed.
Support group
Joe Davis, a Washington native and current basketball player at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, said that an athlete should surround himself with those who have similar goals.
Character counts
An athlete may have all the tools necessary to play at the next level. However, Gina Valenti, a former star at Washington High School who is now competing at Lees-McRae College, said character plays a big factor.
Valenti also said that athletes shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk or be aggressive in trying to land on a college team.
An athlete might have the raw skills to perform at the next level, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. Northside High School athletics director Keith Boyd, who is also the head football and baseball coach, said an athlete needs to be willing to listen to his coach.
Washington High School football coach Sport Sawyer agreed that college coaches look at character just as much as skill level. He said high school teachers and administrators can help shape an athlete’s character.
Getting there, staying there
Landing on a college team is only half the battle. It takes hard work, determination and a strong work ethic to stay on the team.
J.J. House, a former standout at Williamston High School and current baseball player at Elizabeth City State University, said it’s important to “stay true to yourself.”