The road that led 11 Venice High athletes to National Signing Day this past Wednesday was one that was filled with several bumps, twists and turns for most — but ended with smiles and scholarships.
Along with Joseph Joyce (Hamline University), who swims, and Sam Ottman (Trinity Baptist College), who plays baseball, there were nine Indians football players who officially committed to their universities of choice.
In total, Noah Carr (Georgetown), Marlem Louis (Richmond), Scott Schenke (Richmond), Carson Sullivan (Rutgers), Denique Mayfield (New Mexico Military), Nick Giacolone (New Mexico State), Enzo Anthony (Tulane), Brandon Gregory (UT Chattanooga) and Zack Sessa (Georgia Southern) put pen to paper and took the next step in their lives on Wednesday.
“It’s taken these guys a lot of hard work and perseverance,” Venice football assistant coach Larry Shannon said. “A lot of blood, sweat and tears have been put into these guys over their careers to put themselves in a position to sign to play at the next level, which is extremely, extremely hard to do.”
For Sessa, who waited until Wednesday afternoon to officially announce his commitment to Georgia Southern, the path to signing day was an especially tough one.
After the passing of his father a few months ago, the senior kicker lost much of the guidance and direction he had leaned on throughout his life.
With a flurry of offers over the past two months and several official visits to Division I schools, Sessa lined up three college football hats on the table in front of him at Signing Day — the University of Houston, Yale University and Georgia Southern University.
After a brief explanation, the Indians senior announced his commitment to the Eagles while proudly wearing his Georgia Southern cap.
“I had been burned by a lot of schools,” Sessa said of his recruitment. “Some of the schools that I thought I was gonna be at, or thought I wanted to go to, a lot of things changed.
“I didn’t really trust the process in a way. I was frustrated, and I needed to look at what’s best for me. What is going to get me to my end goal, which is to make the NFL? So when I went to Georgia Southern and I talked to the coaches, the way I felt there, was that I can go there and if my end goal is to go to a bigger school, I can always do that. I just felt like it was the right place for me.”
While not as emotionally taxing as Sessa’s journey to his commitment, fellow specialist Enzo Anthony had to forge his own path to the next level.
Being a long snapper and not quite big enough to play in the trenches, Anthony had to promote himself to colleges — compiling and mailing out tapes in hopes of being noticed.
“The way I got my offer to Tulane, was that I was interested in going to their camp and I emailed the coach directly,” he said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I’m coming, but I didn’t see anything about long snappers.’“I wanted to make sure if I went that I wasn’t going to be excluded. And then he reached out immediately, and we’ve had a great relationship ever since.”
When it came to standout seniors such as running back Brandon Gregory and linebacker Nick Giacolone, there was some relief that came when they signed on the line and made their commitments official.
Though both players played pivotal roles in Venice’s march to the state semifinals, neither senior really got the amount of offers they were expecting after such impressive statistical seasons.
“The recruiting process was very difficult,” Gregory said. “Just all the stress going through it and finally realizing it’s done, it’s very nice to have this over with.”
Giacolone, who signed with New Mexico State after transferring to Venice for his senior year, is using what he perceived as a lack of offers for motivation going forward.
“I really just like how they believe in me,” Giacolone said of New Mexico State. “That’s what really sold it for me. They like how much football sense I have, and as long as I know the plays, I have a really good chance of playing (next year), so I’m really looking forward to that.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most is proving everyone wrong. Because I feel like I struggled with offers, so for all the colleges that didn’t recruit me, I want to prove them wrong because I know the player that I can be.”
With signing day finally over and commitments signed, sealed and delivered, the stress of making one of the biggest decisions of several Indians’ lives has come and gone, and now they can focus on what they do best — winning.