NEXT STOP: Washington athletes sign with colleges

Published 4:03 pm Friday, March 11, 2016

MICHAEL PRUNKA | DAILY NEWS SIGNING TOGETHER: (From left) Conner Sawyer, Cierra Hales, Caitlin Hales and Jarquez Keyes gathered with family and coaches to sign on to their respective colleges.

SIGNING TOGETHER: (From left) Conner Sawyer, Cierra Hales, Caitlin Hales and Jarquez Keyes gathered with family and coaches to sign on to their respective colleges.

Excitement was in the air Thursday afternoon at Washington. Four student athletes signed their letters of intent to continue their careers at the collegiate level.

Jarquez Keyes committed his football talents to Fayetteville State and Conner Sawyer pledged to play for Campbell. Caitlin and Cierra Hales became the first Pam Pack cheerleaders in some time to sign to colleges when they put pen to paper for NC Wesleyan.

The event marked a culmination of all the hard work these four have put not just into their respective sports, but also all the dedication they’ve shown in the classroom.

Keyes, a talented asset on both offense and defense, finished his senior season with over 800 rushing and 79 tackles. He’s stood out on the field and in his academics to earn this opportunity.

“At first, it was a hard process going through signing day and not being signed,” Keyes said. “A big thing about being a student athlete is that grades have to come first. They can teach a person to be a player, but they can’t teach a student.”

He looks forward to the opportunity to help rebuild the program at Fayetteville State.

“They’re an up-and-coming program. They’re not really a winning program yet,” Keyes said. “I feel like I can help make them a winning program.”

That’s not his primary goal, though. Keyes’ first priority is graduating with a degree in business administration.

Sawyer was a key part of Washington’s offensive line during his time in a Pam Pack uniform. He earned 2-A Eastern Plains Conference first-team honors this past season for being a consistent and accurate center. Sawyer, along with Keyes and many other players, was instrumental to Washington making the state championship last season.

NEW GRIDIRON: Conner Sawyer and Jarquez Keyes put pen to paper, committing to play college football. Sawyer will play at Campbell and Keyes is headed to Fayetteville State.

Like Keyes, Sawyer believed the opportunity to further his education is great. Continuing play football is icing on the cake.

“(Campbell) is a great school,” he said. “It’s where I wanted to go get my education. I have an opportunity to play football, so going to school there made it that much easier.”

Sawyer’s hard work began to pay off his junior year when he met with Campbell offensive line coach Kevin Thompson. The two have had a relationship since, which helped assure him he was making the right decision signing with the Camels.

Cierra and Caitlin get to make the transition from high school to college together. Both fell in love with the college, its campus and cheerleading coach Kayla Wygal — all of which should make the move an easy one.

“I enjoy the sport a lot and I’ve been doing it since I was a freshman,” Cierra said. “I’m really excited to do it in college. … (Caitlin) has been through it all, so it makes it easier with her there with me just because we’re sisters.”

Caitlin added, “The school is absolutely amazing and beautiful. We went and met the team. They’re the nicest people I know and they made us feel like family right off the bat. … (Cierra and I) have always been together. We’re always together, so it makes it a lot easier.”

ALL SMILES: Cierra and Caitlin Hales will accompany each other to NC Wesleyan. Both signed to cheer in college.

Cierra and Caitlin are two additions to what makes up Wygal’s first recruiting class at NC Wesleyan. She scouted competitions. That’s how she happened upon the Hales sisters; she saw them cheer at a competition at Southwest Edgecombe.

Wygal was looking for a certain type of girl. Cierra and Caitlin both fit the bill.

“They were there competing and they won,” Wygal said. “They came up and talked to me. … I look for skills first. If someone stands out to me from the beginning of a routine, I tend to watch them the whole time. But, what’s most important to me is when I talk to the coaches and find out what kind of kid they are. That, to me, is more valuable than skill a lot of the time.”

Congratulations are in order for these four soon-to-be Washington graduates as they continue to represent Beaufort County throughout their college careers.