Joined in the Belleville West library early Wednesday morning by family, friends and coaches, five football players did something they had been wanting to do for months — sign their letters of intent.
All those years of sweating it out in double-sessions and playing through the heat, cold and everything in between finally paid off in the form of college scholarships. Recruits signed letters of intent throughout the metro-east and one of the most prominent was Belleville West All-American kicker Austin Seibert, who got a rare full scholarship as a kicker and punter with the Oklahoma Sooners.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Seibert, who had 13 field goals and 37 extra-points this season and was rated as one of the nation’s top kickers and punters. “I can’t really describe what it is, but to finally be an actual Oklahoma Sooner feels pretty good. I’m not complaining.”
Neither was Sooners coach Bob Stoops, who realized the special talent he has coming in Seibert.
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“A really special guy in the (OU recruiting) group also is Austin Seibert, a guy that punts, kicks off, (kicks) field goals, does everything,” Stoops said. “He’s an exceptional athlete and is a great basketball player on his high school team.
“He is really an exceptional guy that can do all of those things and a guy that we are really excited about because of his versatility and the strength of leg.”
Stoops believes Seibert is talented enough to compete for the kicking and punting jobs.
“Absolutely, sure we would be (interested),” Stoops said. “I would guess the endurance and fatigue of it all would have to factor in. You have to get such a volume of practice with all that, at this level, it could start to wear you down.
“He is a powerful guy, so we will try to manage that in a positive way and see what he is able to handle. He comes in with an awfully powerful and strong leg.”
Also signing for West were safety Sherand Boyd (Northern Colorado), defensive back Dominic Davis (North Dakota State), lineman Jacob Brown (Missouri Baptist) and kicker Matt Klosterman (Robert Morris-Chicago).
Other major signings in the metro-east included Highland defensive lineman Nick Czar (Navy), Belleville East lineman Nathan Sylvester (Southern Illinois University Carbondale), Edwardsville lineman Nick Kaltmayer (Western Illinois), O’Fallon tight end-defensive end Jeff Jones (Eastern Illinois) and Nashville lineman Nick Wolf (SIUC).
Edwardsville all-state linebacker Zac Rujawitz signed with Drake, but before attending his signing ceremony couldn’t resist vistiing one of his favorite spots.
“Before I came over here I just went over to the football field and kind of reminisced on all the memories I had,” said Rujawitz, the leading tackler in school history. “This is the final day, it’s over. I’m with a new team. That’s crazy to think about.”
Seibert was asked how many times he had kicked a football in pursuit of the signed letter of intent he held in his hand Wednesday.
“I don’t know, I’d say probably at least 20,000. At least,” Seibert said. “It paid off. It was my dream, so I had to work toward it.”
Things aren’t as easy for kickers, who must make themselves known by attending kicking-specific camps throughout the country and then compete against the best of the best while there.
What did Seibert feel made the difference?
“Lots of camps, practicing day in and day out, lifting weights, working out, getting mentally tough and competing against the best in the country is what ultimately gets you an offer,” he said.
Czar reports to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., June 30 for a football meeting, then begins basic training the next day.
“I just have to go into it with an open mind and expect to get yelled at a little bit,” said Czar, a defensive end who also is 30-0 as a senior wrestler and ranked fourth in the state by IllinoisMatmen.com. “It’s the military so it’s not going to be easy.”
Czar changed his original verbal commitment to Navy and was happy to finally be able to wrap things up.
“It was relieving,” he said. “It’s really nice to know the whole process is done and I’m really looking forward to what comes next.”
Davis chosen North Dakota State, the four-time defending Division I-FCS national champion and owner of 12 national titles overall. While the winning program was a big part of the decision, so was having a cousin there in former West standout linebacker Pierre Gee-Tucker.
“That helped a lot,” Davis said. “North Dakota State came down here recruiting me and I thought it was kind of far. After being down there three or four times in the summer, I thought maybe this is a good fit for me. Pierre’s my cousin, so I have people down there that I know - and it’s a successful program.
“That’s a big reason why I had to go there. I like to win.”
Edwardsville’s record-setting all-state quarterback Dan Marinko signed with Division II Central Missouri. Did he harbor any thoughts about trying to play at a higher level?
Marinko threw for a school-record 5,315 yards and 56 touchdowns in two seasons as a starter.
“Right now I’m proud of everybody that’s signing with college,” he said. “Obviously I think I could play at the Division I level, but I’m happy going to Central Missouri and I think it’s going to be a big step. It’s going to provide me a lot of competition for me as well.
“I could be part of a team that won the first championship, they’ve never won a championship before. I think it would be really cool to be able to take a program to the next level and that’s what I’m looking forward to trying to do.”
Central Missouri coach Jim Svoboda likes what he sees from Marinko.
“Dan was an incredibly efficient passer as a high school quarterback,” Svoboda said. “Combine that with his intelligence and athleticism, and you have the complete package.”
Svoboda is also high on another Central Missouri recruit, O’Fallon linebacker Marques Cooper.
“Marques is the hammer of the group,” Svoboda said. “When he hits people, they go backwards.”
Cooper is one of 72 collegiate players produced by O’Fallon in the past eight years.
Edwardsville High coach Matt Martin played at Western Illinois and that’s the college destination of Tigers’ offensive lineman Nick Kaltmayer.
“I just felt like the plan they had going for the next few years would be good for me,” said Kaltmayer, who was proud of the legacy the current Edwardsville seniors are leaving behind. “Two-time Southwestern Conference champs, my junior year we had a great run in the playoffs and this past year we could have gone further for sure. It’s just great memories.”