E.A. Sports Today

The next step

5 Piedmont athletes celebrate their college signing decisions

By Shannon Fagan
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – There might be a little added incentive for Piedmont senior first baseman Sean Smith when the Bulldogs play Phil Campbell in the Class 3A state baseball semifinals at Phil Campbell Thursday.

In one of the games Smith will be going against pitcher Ridge Raper, a soon-to-be teammate at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how that goes,” the Bulldogs’ first baseman said. “It’s going to be a fun week this week.”

It already has been a fun week for Smith and the four other Piedmont seniors who celebrated their college signings Wednesday at a ceremony in the school gym.

In addition to Smith finalizing his baseball plans with Wallace, Jakari Foster and Elijah Johnson signed respective football scholarships with North Alabama and McDougle Technical Institute Prep in Pompano Beach, Fla.; wrestler Dylan Melendez is headed for Huntingdon; and Tikiya Mitchell will cheer at Jacksonville State.

Smith is a multi-sport standout at Piedmont, but he said playing college baseball is a dream come true.
“Baseball’s my first love,” he said. “I remember playing tee ball at the Centre Rec fields when dad (Piedmont football coach Steve Smith) was at Cedar Bluff. I fell in love with it there. I’m looking forward to the opportunities that I’m going to have under Coach (Randy) Putman.

“When I first walked in his office, the first thing I saw was all these plaques he has. He’s got so many wins. He’s been so successful in his time there. I saw in the top right hand corner in his office, it says ‘Randy Putman, outfielder/first baseman.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘He played first
base. I play first base. This is the best situation I could be in.’ I can’t think of a better situation, and I’m glad I’m getting a chance. It’s a dream come true. I’m just grateful for the opportunities ahead and I’m looking forward to them.”

Like Smith, Foster and Johnson are looking forward to their respective football opportunities in front of them.

“When you get to the big stage, you’ve got to compete for the spot you want,” said Foster, a defensive back. “They showed me that they wanted me to come up there. It’s a school I’ve always wanted to go to.”

Johnson said he’s excited to learn from former NFL running back Lorenzo White, the Bisons’ running backs coach. White played much of his professional career with the Houston Oilers.

“He said he saw some things I needed help with, but it’s not a lot,” Johnson said. “They want to start me my freshman year at running back, so that would be good. I always wanted to go to college to play football, to bring out the beast mode in me. I think it will be a great journey for me, a great experience.”

Melendez won Piedmont’s first individual state wrestling title since 2013 when he won at 120 last February. He’s the Bulldogs’ first wrestler to sign a college scholarship since Clay Dent signed with Chattanooga in 2012.

“I’ve put in so much work and dedication into this sport,” Melendez said. “After my first year wrestling here at Piedmont, I really didn’t want to wrestle anymore until Evan Cooper got me back in, so it’s really special for me to sign.”

Melendez had other offers but Huntingdon, which had him on its radar since his sophomore year, has always stood out to him.

“They’re the only school in Alabama that has college wrestling,” he said. “That’s what stood out to me the most.”

Mitchell tried sports like basketball and softball throughout her school career, but discovered cheering was “really my thing.” The pivotal moment was when she was state runner-up her ninth-grade year.

“It made me think that I needed to stick with cheer and hopefully it would lead to better things,” she said. “It has now at JSU.”

Shannon Fagan is Sports Director at WEIS radio.

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