Thompson celebrates 14 athletes signing to play college sports

Published 3:42 pm Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

ALABASTER – It’s one of Thompson High School Principal Wesley Hester’s favorite days each year, as he looks to his right and left before addressing a crowd full of family, friends and teammates there to celebrate a special occasion.

That was the same on Wednesday, Dec. 15, when Hester addressed a large crowd inside Warrior Arena on the campus of Thompson High School to celebrate 14 student athletes signing to play collegiate sports on National Signing Day.

“They’ve had tremendous amounts of success on the field, on the court, in athletics, in academics, in our school, our school system,” Hester said. “Everything they’ve done; they’ve had tremendous amounts of success. Today, we get to see these young people take their hard work, their success they had with us and take that next step for themselves and for their futures. That’s what makes this day so special. I appreciate and thank our kids for what they are doing. They have blazed a trail, and they are taking it to the next level.”

It was one of Thompson’s largest signing days for the early signing period, which happens in early December each year now, with eight football players, four baseball players, one softball player and one volleyball player all honored for taking the next step that only 7 percent of high school athletes get to do.

This year’s class was special for many reasons, and it starts with the eight football players who inked, including seven of them with Division I, four-year universities.

Jeremiah Alexander and Tre’Quon Fegans each signed with the University of Alabama after historic seasons on Thompson’s defense, and both were thankful for what the moment meant for not just themselves but their classmates and the school.

“Me, Conner (Harrell), Jax (Van Zandt), and a couple others, we grew up playing sports together since the age of 6,” Alexander said. “We played basketball, football, me and Jax wrestled. We played multiple sports. So the bond of us would always click, coming from a young age, growing up together, having each other’s back on and off the field.”

Harrell and Van Zandt also made big steps for their future, as Harrell signed with the University of North Carolina to join Mack Brown and the Tar Heels, while Van Zandt signed with the University of North Texas.

Harrell was named the Gatorade Player of the Year last season in the state of Alabama and was one of the state’s top players again during his senior season, working through late-season injuries to lead his team to a third state championship in a row.

“It feels great,” Harrell said of his future at North Carolina. “All of the hard work I’ve put in over the years, it means a lot knowing I get to live out my dream and play at a great school, play a position and sport I love.”

Van Zandt also had a special career with the Warriors, totaling 24 tackles for loss his last two seasons, including 15 as a senior, and more than 100 combined tackles during his junior and senior seasons.

Ryan Peppins will join Harrell, Alexander and Fegans in the power five at Utah after a stellar final two seasons with the Warriors.

As a junior, he finished with 1,037 yards and 12 touchdowns on 63 receptions, before then blowing this season out of the water with 1,564 yards and 23 touchdowns on 80 receptions. He also won the MVP of this year’s championship game.

“We’re all a family and it came by fast,” Peppins said. “We grew up with each other, even the girls sitting down with us today in their sports, we all came up as a family. It went by so fast. I hope people see me in a few years as a smart, intelligent man both on and off the football field who is a Christian and helps little kids out. I want them to look at me and say ‘That little player can go.’”

Trevor Hardy, Jaylen Ward and Ahmari Bolden all left their mark on the program as well, and now each will get an opportunity at the next level.

Hardy is headed to the University of Memphis after a historic career playing all over the field, including as kicker, which allowed him to kick the game-winner against Auburn in last year’s state championship as well as the onside kick that led to the opportunity.

Ward finished his senior year with the Warriors and totaled 862 yards and 11 touchdowns on 37 receptions. Now, he’ll turn his attention to Middle Tennessee State University looking to continue making big plays.

Bolden, who also spent time on defense, played a lot at running back as well. During his senior season, he totaled 384 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, while adding seven receptions for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

“I can’t put it into words,” Freeman said of the bond of this year’s team. “You can see it in their eyes, in their expressions and certain things we would go through where you would just see them look at each other. I told the kids a lot of times, you ought to know what I’m saying on the field through my eyes and my face. Football does that. A lot of times you can’t communicate verbally, it’s just the expression and your face. This class was a really special class because so many of them had grown up and played together almost every day of their football lives. It was a blessing to be a part of their life and part of the journey.”

The baseball team also had four players sign, including Devin Brooks, Brodie Holcomb, Gavin Chandler and Major Paraca.

Paraca and Chandler will remain teammates at the next level, as they’ll join Marion Military Institute looking to continue playing the sport they love following their senior seasons this spring.

Holcomb will head up north to Hanceville to join Wallace State Hanceville for his shot at playing college baseball.

And Brooks is headed to Alabama State University following this season with the Warriors.

Ella Pate, who helped lead Thompson to the state tournament last spring, is also set to play at the next level after signing with Jacksonville State University.

Pate finished last year with a county-high 58 RBIs and a batting average of .482. She also led the county with 58 RBIs and totaled 67 hits to earn a spot on the All-County First Team.

Thompson volleyball star Bri Wilson will also get her shot at the next level after signing with the University of South Alabama.

During her senior season, Wilson totaled 407 digs, 355 kills, 42 aces, 57 assists and 14 blocks to lead the Warriors back to the Final Four for the second year in a row.

“It’s a sad day in certain ways, it’s a glorious day to rejoice in a lot of others,” Freeman said following the ceremony. “You know, you watch a lot of their dreams come true on this day, and you wake up tomorrow and they’re going on to live that journey. What a blessing it was to have them and their parents here. We wish them the best and look forward to hearing great things about all these young men and young ladies who had this great day today.”