Football

Hester Announces Ten Commitments on National Signing Day

Snow may have been the topic of conversation around Salisbury, NC, on Wednesday morning, but by day's end, all eyes were on Catawba's National Signing Day class for the football program.

Fresh off of a 6-4 record and 14th consecutive winning season, Indian head coach Chip Hester announced the commitments of nine prep student-athletes and one college transfer.

The loss of single-season rushing leader Jamelle Cuthbertson to graduation will be felt in 2009, but the Tribe has aspirations to pound the rock and be more forceful when carrying the pigskin.

Western Carolina University running back Josh Wright transferred to Catawba College over the winter break, and is already enrolled in the school's spring semester. Wright is currently involved in team workouts and will be an integral part to spring practice and the annual Blue and White extravaganza.

A future blocker for Wright and returning running backs Antonio Hall and Bobby Morrison will be Bessemer City's Aaron Rainey, who signed a letter of intent to further his football career in Salisbury, NC.

Rainey was a terror at fullback during his tenure at Bessemer City. "Aaron is a big, physical fullback that can do it all," said Hester. "Rainey can run, catch, and block upfield."

RaineyDescribing Rainey as physical is probably a mild adjective. His Bessemer City teammates nicknamed the 6'0 230 pound fullback "The Bull."

He rushed for a team-high 964 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets in a banner senior season. It should be noted that the all-conference pick also started at linebacker for Bessemer City, collecting 104 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, five sacks, three fumble recoveries, and one interception.

Rainey is being honored for that banner season with an invitation to play in the annual NC East-West All-Star Classic in Greensboro, NC.

He was also drawing interest from FCS Appalachian State and Western Carolina of the Southern Conference.

Another recruit that Catawba snatched from the Division I ranks was energetic Harding University High School cornerback LJ McCray.

"LJ is a cover corner that is physical enough to play safety as well," said Hester. "Another talent that LJ possesses is his excellent ability as a return man."

At 6'1 180 pounds, McCray was named to the 3A/4A All-Queen City team after a terrific final prep season at Harding.

McCray drew late interest from Clemson and Appalachian State prior to National Signing Day with his blazing 4.48 forty. He accounted more than 500 all-purpose yards on offense, and tallied many interceptions on defense.

You can also tally another Gretna High School commitment towards Catawba's corner as offensive lineman Ethan Winn signed a letter of intent.

It appears that the Tribe coaching staff is beginning to start a vital pipeline into the state of Virginia. Last year's pair of defensive backs Tyon Bennett and Bryant Vennable also committed to Catawba from Gretna.

Winn stands 6'4 295 pounds and was a crucial anchor for the Hawks back to back state championship teams. He mulled over scholarship offers from Catawba, Liberty University, and a preferred walk-on opportunity with Virginia Tech.

"He is an outstanding student that has all of the physical attributes, along with the tough competitiveness to be a real impact player on the line," said the jubilant Indian head coach.

Winn earned first team all-district honors and VirginiaPreps.com Group A first team all-state honors during his final season at Gretna. As a junior, Wynn earned second team all-district and all-region accolades.

The Hawks went 13-1 during 2008 and won the 2008 Group A state title 35-20 against Floyd County.

Perhaps the biggest commitment from the signing day class came from West Craven High School quarterback Brett Mooring. The 6'4 235 pound signal-caller was invited to play in the prestigious Shrine Bowl back in December, and is the first Shrine Bowl passer to commit since All-American Brad Roach.

"Another outstanding student, like Winn, who has a tremendous skill set," Hester commented. "He has impressed our coaches with his leadership qualities."

According to MaxPreps.com, Mooring led the state of North Carolina in passing with over 4,000 yards and 47 total touchdowns as a senior. For his efforts, Mooring was named first team all-conference and first team all-state by NCPreps.com.

He combined to throw for over 5,000 yards during his sophomore and junior seasons, becoming one of the few quarterbacks in state history to compile more than 9,000 passing yards in only three prep seasons.

The Coastal Conference's Offensive Player of the Year led his Eagles to a 15-1 record and the school's first ever state title game appearance.

The Fayetteville Observer released a story earlier in the week about Jack Britt High School's Cory Johnson's intention on playing linebacker at Catawba. On Wednesday, Hester confirmed that Johnson's verbal is now an official letter of intent.

The 5'11 228 pound first team all-conference selection racked up a team-high 158 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions.

"We think Cory is an old school linebacker," said Hester. "Not only is he physical and fast, but his high school coaches raved about him as a super citizen and a super leader."

Johnson helped lead the Vikings to a 14-2 record and a thrilling appearance in the 4AA state championship game.

Speaking of thrilling, if there is a freshman that is capable of playing right away for the Indians, look no further than Beddingfield High School's cornerback Jumal Rolle.

In high school, he was not a two-way talent for the Bruins, but a three-way standout instead.

Rolle ranked as the area's number two receiver with 35 catches for 620 yards and 10 touchdowns. On defense, he accounted for over 70 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 11 interceptions.

What made Rolle a "trifecta contributor" was his knack for making heart-stopping plays in the return game. His head coach commented that Rolle never came out of games because he was involved in all three phases, making him the perfect choice for Ironman of the Year for the Wilson, NC, area.

"Jumal is an outstanding all-around athlete that brings a lot to the table," said an excited Hester. "He was always making the big plays in high school for his team."

One of the more intriguing signings of the 2009 recruiting class is 6'2 265 pound defensive lineman Tobias Brown. He played alongside Rolle, who also inked with Catawba earlier on Wednesday.

Brown is the younger brother of Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, a future first round pick in April's NFL Draft.

"Tobias' athleticism at 265 pounds is what stood out to our coaching staff," Hester gleamed. "We think he fits the same mold of the outstanding defensive linemen we have had in the past."

For his dominating presence on the defensive line and athleticism as a tight end, Brown was named to the 2008 Wilson Daily Times All-Area team.

Reidsville High School defensive end Damien Lee is another dominant pass rusher that inked with the Tribe on National Signing Day, despite Catawba returning all ten defensive linemen from last year's 6-4 team.

Lee may be joining a standing-room only defensive line as a freshman, but his mark will be left at Catawba once his career is all said and done.

The 6'3 235 pound pass rusher was one of the state's rare MVP's of a state championship game, earning the honors after Reidsville capped an undefeated 16-0 season with a dominating 24-7 win over East Lincoln.

In the championship victory, Lee recorded 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks, and made life miserable for East Lincoln star quarterback Josh Wilson.

"Damien is a playmaker at the defensive end spot," noticed Hester. "He was the MVP of the state championship game for Reidsville. He is someone that stood out every time you watched film on him."

During his senior campaign, Lee was honored as a 2008 NCPreps.com 2A all-state pick after totaling 108 tackles, eight sacks, and four fumble recoveries.

Shortly before the day's end, Hester also noted that defensive end Robbie Aldridge from Hewitt-Trussville High School in Alabama committed to the program.

Aldridge was named to the Alabama Class 6A first team all-state squad after a successful senior season.

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