Athletes praised for their ‘commitment and sacrifice’ in their high school athletic careers
By Dan McWilliams
Knoxville Catholic High School celebrated National Signing Day on Feb. 3 as five student athletes committed to play for colleges.
The signing ceremony was held in the school gym, with friends and family of each player making for a good crowd of witnesses. KCHS athletics director Jason Surlas addressed the gathering before the signings.
“Today would not be possible without commitment and sacrifice from not only our student athletes, but also commitment and sacrifice from their families, their coaches at all levels and affiliations, their guidance counselors, and even many of their friends,” Mr. Surlas said.
Football players Austin Rowan and Logan Punch signed papers, Austin with East Tennessee State University and Logan as a preferred walk-on with the University of Tennessee.
Soccer player Will Hunse signed with Virginia Military Institute.
Renee Semaan and Paige Merry each signed in soccer, Renee with Austin Peay and Paige with the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“The coaching staffs of VMI, UAB, Austin Peay, UT, and ETSU have discovered something,” Mr. Surlas said, “that most of us already knew: that Will, Paige, Renee, Logan, and Austin are not only great soccer and football players but great students as well; and even more importantly, outstanding young people.”
Fighting Irish football head coach Steve Matthews said he was “extremely proud” of his two signees.
“Both are outstanding young men, great students, and excellent football players,” he said. “Austin is going to play defensive line at East Tennessee State, and Logan Punch will be a long snapper for the University of Tennessee.”
Logan long-snapped for KCHS.
“He’s come a long way during his career,” Mr. Matthews said, “and I think he’ll be an outstanding player for Tennessee. [Austin] is a back-to-back All-State player for us, really a hard worker, and again one of the leaders of our team, and I think he’ll be a great addition up there at East Tennessee State.”
Logan’s father is ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch, who was on hand with wife Joni, director of development at Sacred Heart Cathedral School, to witness his son’s signing.
“We are very proud and very blessed,” Dr. Punch said, “with all that’s gone on with Logan in sports since he was a little guy, and all the great coaches and all the great friends and support he’s had in school. But being able to know that he’s going to stay close and go to a great institution like the University of Tennessee is a thrill for us as a family.”
Dr. Punch said it is a “great time to go to Tennessee.”
“Not that there isn’t a great time to go there, but with what Butch Jones and that whole staff are doing, and to go there and be a part of something I think is going to be special the next few years, we are so thankful,” he said.
Remaining objective is a must should he be assigned to cover Vol games with his son on the team, Dr. Punch said.
“I’ve done games with my alma mater [N.C. State] before on national television,” he said. “I’ve almost come to the point of slighting a team that I was close to. You’ve got to be objective. I don’t know how many times ESPN will put me on a Tennessee game. I hope I get a chance someday to do one, to do a few, and Logan’s on the field playing. It would be a thrill to be able to do a Tennessee game, maybe in the national championship—wouldn’t that be special?”
Logan Punch said he is “so excited” to sign with UT, “excited to play for my home town, representing the fans, representing the team I’ve been cheering for my entire life.”
He said he thought the signing ceremony was “awesome.”
“I’ve been waiting for this day all my life, something I’ve been dreaming about,” he said. “It’s nice to have friends and family here supporting me, and it’s just absolutely great.”
Logan was also joined at his signing by cousin Kristin Fields, aunt Lea Ann Fields, and grandparents Mary and Joe Fields.
Austin Rowan said he is “really excited” to be a scholarship player for the newly relaunched football program at ETSU.
“They’ve got a new program up there, and they’re doing a lot of good things,” he said. “Coach [Carl] Torbush is a very smart guy, a very good guy, so I’m excited to get up there.”
Austin said he was humbled by the signing ceremony.
“It was really humbling to see how many friends have helped me get to this point and how my parents have helped me get here,” he said. “Just seeing all the support and love, it just feels really good.”
Also with Austin at his signing were parents Alfie and Mitchell Rowan, head coach Matthews, KCHS defensive line coach Marcus McDonald, and Irish defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Les Greer.
With Renee as she signed were parents Nina and Eddy Semaan, brother Luke, trainers Josh Lindsey and Jamal Johnson, club coach Kris Ray, and high school coach Mark Leader.
Paige’s parents, Travis and Angela Merry, joined her at her signing. Also present were Mr. Semaan, her coach, sister Chloe Merry, and Mr. Ray and Mr. Lindsey.
Will’s parents, Ryan and Leslie Hunse, attended his signing along with sister Caroline and high school coach Gordon Heins. ■