Last season, one of the Valdosta Wildcats’ biggest strengths was its offensive line.
The offensive line opened holes for a rushing attack that accumulated over 2,000 yards on the ground. It protected a quarterback (Shelby Wilkes) who threw for 1,738 yards and 16 touchdowns. It played a big role for an offense that averaged 29 points per game.
On Wednesday, three members of the Wildcats’ offensive line signed letters of intent to play college football. Anthony Evans and Ronnie Stoney will be going to Miles College in Birmingham, Ala., while John White will join Reinhardt University in Waleska (a small town that lies about 40 miles northwest of Atlanta).
“I’m proud of them,” Valdosta head coach Rance Gillespie said. “It’s a huge accomplishment, because to sign is about more than just being a football player. It means you’ve done what you’re supposed to academically, you’ve done what you’re supposed to as a football player, you’ve done what you’re supposed to from a character standpoint. Those are the three things that really are the foundation of our football program.”
Evans has started for two years on the Wildcats’ offensive line, playing right guard as a junior and left guard as a senior. But he had been a defensive lineman before that, and has always been a defender at heart. So when a coach from Miles told the 6-foot-3, 280-pound Evans that the Golden Bears envisioned him as a defensive tackle, it made him very happy.
“Oh yeah,” Evans said. “I love to hit. I like being physical. ... When I got there (for my visit), I felt at home. Everything that was said in the meeting (with the coach), I was like, ‘Yeah, I like this.’ Then what really (sold me on Miles) was when he said, ‘We’re playing you at defensive line.’”
“When I got here (in 2010) Ant was a defensive lineman. He ended up moving over to the offensive line. (He) really bought into it and became a really good player for us on the offensive line,” Gillespie said. “He played some defense in the All-Star Game, and he will potentially play some defense at Miles as well.”
Like his teammate, Stoney will also be moving from the offensive line to the defensive line in college. Miles wants to use him as a defensive end.
The 6-foot, 270-pound Stoney has been a mainstay on the Wildcats’ offensive line for three years. He became Valdosta’s starting right guard early in his sophomore season — one of only two sophomores starting for a team that went 11-2 and made it to the state quarterfinals — then moved to right tackle for his final two seasons. He was an All-Region lineman in 2011, and was an honorable mention All-Region selection in 2010 and 2012.
“Ronnie’s a three-year starter at guard and tackle. (He’s a) great kid, good work habits. (He is) a real good football player,” Gillespie said. “He’s been a big piece of the puzzle.”
Evans and Stoney are happy to be going up to Miles together.
“I’m very excited,” Evans said. “I know I have somebody I can talk to.”
Miles has a long football history, dating back to 1910. The Golden Bears won their most recent Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2011.
“I chose Miles because I’m coming from Valdosta, a school full of tradition and morals and smash-nosed football, and I saw that in Miles also,” Stoney said.
Evans will major in business at Miles, and wants to become a real estate agent. Stoney wants to be a biologist.
Unlike Evans and Stoney, White will remain an offensive lineman in college. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound White doesn’t know which position he will play in college, but it doesn’t matter to him, because he can play all five spots on the offensive line.
“(I’ll be playing) guard or center. Just wherever they need me at,” White said. “I can pretty much fill in anywhere.”
“(John) is a really hard worker,” Gillespie said. “(He’s) got a lot of potential. (He’s) a very bright kid. Has good size. I know he’ll be a good fit in what they’ve got going at Reinhardt as they try to get things off the ground and get started.”
White should have an opportunity to compete for playing time immediately, because Reinhardt has a brand new football program. The Eagles will play their first football game in the fall.
“This is the inaugural season this year,” White said. “I’m thrilled, humbled, just very blessed to be going up there.”
White likes having a chance to play football in college. But he’s even more excited about the biology program at Reinhardt, which will help him prepare for medical school.
“The biology program I’m going into is one of the reasons I’d like to go up there,” he said. “They’re working on a deal with Emory right now where if you graduate (from Reinhardt) with a biology degree, you get into (Emory’s) medical school. That really sold me right there.”
All three signees from Valdosta have already qualified academically.
The three players are proud to have been Valdosta Wildcats. In the four years they were at Valdosta, the Wildcats went 33-13 and won the region championship in 2011.
On Wednesday, they said they had some great memories from their time as Wildcats. They listed the 2011 region title (which Valdosta earned with an overtime victory over Colquitt County in the final game of the regular season) and a 64-62 overtime victory over Brunswick in 2010 as two of their favorite memories. And they said they’d never forget Valdosta’s 21-17 win over Lowndes in the 2011 Winnersville Classic. That night, the Wildcats scored two touchdowns in the final 49 seconds to beat their crosstown rivals.
“It’s a blessing getting to be a part of this tradition,” Evans said.
“It’s something you dream about when you’re a little kid, growing up and playing on Friday nights around here,” White said.
“I remember growing up watching the Wildcats come out and beat the tin. It’s been a dream of mine since I was (real young),” Stoney said.
Last season, one of the Valdosta Wildcats’ biggest strengths was its offensive line.
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