All the attention and adulation for last week’s National Signing Day went to the country’s top players, like Robert Nkemdiche of Georgia, who chose Mississippi.
But for Kris Smith of Flowery Branch High School near Atlanta, who has signed with Indiana University, the occasion was just as important and exciting, despite there being no ESPN cameras or significant gathering of media.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound linebacker Smith gave up football after the eighth grade to focus on basketball. But the urge was too great to not return to the field, and he resumed his football career in his junior year. In just two seasons, he flourished enough to earn a scholarship, making last Wednesday a special day.
“I just can’t wait to play football when I get to Indiana,” Smith said.
Smith’s father, Sean Smith, credits Rodrick Clark — a former assistant coach at Stephenson High School near Atlanta who co-founded Athletic Trust Advisers with Cosey Coleman and Tim Mason — for his son landing a Division I scholarship.
Clark’s and Coleman’s company helps parents and young athletes navigate college options.
“We were lost,” Sean Smith said. “We were a little behind. (Clark) told us what we needed to do as far as training, education and eating right. Kids had been getting letters since their sophomore year. I didn’t know that kids had to be registered to be recruited through the NCAA Clearinghouse.”
Kris Smith was surprised at how much he learned from Clark about training and diet and that Clark was as committed as he was in the recruitment process.
“It’s a blessing,” Sean Smith said when he learned his son was being offered scholarships. “We give God the credit and he orchestrated Coach Clark in our life.”
William Koen Jr., a 6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman, signed his letter to play with Bethune Cookman University, a small school in Daytona Beach, Fla., that plays in the MEAC. For Koen, it was like he signed with Alabama.
Coming out of Mt. View High, he earned looks from some Division I and I-AA schools. But offers were not coming in. Koen and his family were hooked up with Athletic Trust Advisers. There was some skepticism by William Koen Sr. — until Clark provided examples of others he had mentored.
“Their family went 110 percent no matter what,” Clark said. “They trusted the process.”
The family celebrated when they received word that their son would be receive a scholarship from Bethune Cookman.
“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Koen Sr. said. “One of the best things that could have happened to me. Me and my wife (Tracey) danced around the house and gave each other high fives.”
It was similar for Archer High corner back Trevellous Cheek and his family. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Cheek is expected to sign with California. Clark said Cheek’s work ethic has been his strength.
“He would go 110 percent on anything,” Clark said. “Grades, working out. He would call and ask questions and was eager to learn. He wanted to be the best on and off the field, to the point where he would be drained.”
“He not only encouraged, he kept my son reaching,” Leon Cheek said of Clark. “That guy is a blessing to me, my family and so many other families. He helped us build this young man.”
Trevellous Cheek added, “I learned small things about what wide receivers don’t like, such as to be touched. Especially, if you keep (hands) on them all the way through five yards.”
Cheek’s teammate Deondre Singleton, who played corner back and safety, signed with Duke. And the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Singleton said aside from football, he learned from Clark the importance of dressing properly and speaking clearly and with authority to coaches and the media.
“I had to learn how to work on my body language,” Singleton said. “No matter what school it was, I had to show the same body language.”
For Archer defensive end Antonio Riles, who signed with Florida, Clark’s work was more about helping him raise his grade point average to meet admission qualifications, which he did.
Some other local Atlanta recruits who will be attending college in the fall on a football scholarship are: Ernest Alexander of Archer High (going to Navy), Sean Fowler of Archer (Shorter College), Jaypee Philbert of Archer (Alabama State), Brandon Goodson of Dacula (Wofford), Chris Palmer of Collins Hill (Navy), Kyle Simmons of Druid Hills (Stetson University), Jay Turner of Parkview (Coastal Carolina), Detavius Long and Demetrius McClendon of Tri-Cities (West Georgia Tech).
Each player that Clark has helped has vowed to come back and be a testimony to other high school football players, but William Koen Jr. summed it up best as far the collective sentiments they had for Athletic Trust Advisers.
“Without coach Clark’s help I wouldn’t be anywhere,” Keon Jr. said. “Without his help I would not be getting a scholarship to college. If you’re a good football player, with coach Clark’s help he will make you a great football player.”