Colleges come calling

KCHS seniors join long list of athletes to sign scholarships

By Dan McWilliams

Knoxville Catholic High School has launched many collegiate and professional athletic careers, and National Signing Day on Feb. 1 served as the latest springboard for eight student-athletes committing to colleges and universities.

Highly sought-after Fighting Irish wide receiver Amari Rodgers, a two-time Mr. Football winner as a back, made his choice official as he signed with national champion Clemson University. Fellow receiver/defensive back Chase Kuerschen put his name on the dotted line with Tulane University.

Amari, the son of Southern Cal assistant coach and former University of Tennessee standout quarterback Tee Martin, once committed to USC and also considered Tennessee, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Alabama.

“It’s such a blessing. This is what I’ve been working for since eighth grade,” he said. “Now that it’s here, all the hard work has paid off. It shows how much I’ve grown up since the eighth grade. It’s just a blessing once again. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for me.”

The Rodgers family at Amari’s signing on Feb. 1.

Amari said “it was tough” to leave Knoxville “because my family’s here, but also I wanted to get away and take care of myself. I’m going to miss my family. I’m going to be back, but I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

Being at KCHS “prepared me a lot” for major-college football and the academic side of things, he said.

“Academically, I know I’m going to be ready when I get there, because Catholic is a top-notch school program with academics,”

Amari said. “[KCHS head coach Steve] Matthews, he’s been there before, to the NFL and college. He prepared me for it mentally and physically. I thank him for that. I think I’m ready, going in.”

Also signing for KCHS were Chase Cunningham in football with Middle Tennessee State University, Beau Hollin with Birmingham Southern University in football and baseball, John Kerbyson with Hutchinson College in football, Anthony Scott III with Birmingham Southern in football, Jeffrey Wood with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in football, and Georde Goodwyn with the University of Tennessee in track and field. Georde actually signed during the early-signing period in the fall, but took part in the Feb. 1 signing-day festivities.

Coach Matthews said he was proud of his signing class.

“We’ve worked hard at it,” he said. “We’ve had eight sign today.

Hunter Kountz will be another one who signs later; he’s still making up his mind. To have eight out of 18 seniors going on to play college football is a tremendous accomplishment and a tribute to these young men.

“The headline’s kind of Amari Rodgers going to Clemson, but Chase Kuerschen is an outstanding football player who’ll be at Tulane — I think that’s an up-and-coming program. Jeff Wood is going to Chattanooga, which is another really good program. We’re excited about all of these guys. I think they’re all going to be great contributors to their new teams.”

Replacing such a highly touted crop of seniors “won’t be easy,” Mr. Matthews said.

“We’ll have to change a little bit about what we do on offense, especially at the receiving position, but I like the group we’ve got coming back,” he said. “I love our schedule. I really am excited about what’s in the future.”

That returning group includes University of Tennessee commitment Cade Mays, a Class 4A lineman Mr. Football winner, and his fellow lineman and younger brother.

“Cade Mays is one of the top players in the country. Cooper Mays, his little brother, was just offered a scholarship by Georgia,” Mr. Matthews said. “We should be really good up front. Bryn Tucker (6-5, 286), a right tackle, has been offered by LSU and Tennessee.

He’s getting bigger and better every day in the weight room. He’s only 15 years old. [WR/DB] Joe Fluker, we have some players who haven’t really been in the limelight yet, but I think are going to be really good players for us.”

Chase Kuerschen said he is “very proud” to be going to Tulane.

“I’m very excited to get started with everything,” he said. “It’s a lot of relief knowing that it’s all said and done and that’s where I’m going to school.”

Chase’s services were much in demand.

“I had 24 offers,” he said. “I was mainly considering Cincinnati, Navy, Ohio, and a potential blueshirt offer from Tennessee.”

Tulane was the choice because “it’s a great school along with great football, just a really good group of coaches, and everything put together really made it a good fit,” Chase said.

KCHS prepared him for the collegiate level because “there’s obviously a lot of good people here,” Chase said. “We had eight people sign today. There’s a lot of good talent. I think that got me ready to play at the next level. Also, academically, Tulane’s a really good school, so I think [KCHS] tested me academically and got me ready for college.”

Knoxville Catholic athletics director Jason Surlas emceed the signing ceremony.

“Over the last 10 years, close to 200 student-athletes have sat in these same chairs and signed with their universities and colleges,” he said. “That simple fact is something that we are extremely proud of.

“But some of them have even realized dreams of playing sports professionally. Last year alone, we had four former Irish football players in preseason or rookie NFL camps, with the Vikings, Browns, Texans, and Bills. We had a former

Lady Irish swimmer and track-and-field runner participate in the Summer Olympic Trials, and a former Irish soccer player made his debut in Major League Soccer for DC United.

“Obviously, we are very proud of that, but, at the same time, we are equally as proud of our former athletes who have gone on to have terrific college athletic careers and have gone on to wonderful careers outside of athletics.”

Mr. Surlas gave “a great big ‘thank you’ to each person in this room who has made an impact in [the signees’] lives and has had a hand in making this day possible.”

To the parents present, Mr. Surlas said, “You were the alarm clocks, the chauffeurs, the laundry, the volunteers at the games and, of course, their biggest fans. My guess is there were times when you said the right things after a tough day that kept that passion for the sport going for your son. Or perhaps you chose not to say what was on your mind that kept that passion going.

These eight may not realize it now, but one day they will understand just how much you did for them.”

Mr. Surlas also had a message for the athletes’ coaches, teachers, and counselors.

“Thank you for always encouraging them, for finding ways to motivate them to fulfill their potential in their sport and classroom. The bonds that you have made with these athletes will stay with them for a lifetime. Also, thank you to the KCHS Guidance

Department for making sure our student-athletes are educated early in their high school years, and for walking them through the sometimes overwhelming collegiate requirements.”

Mr. Surlas also saluted the athletes themselves.

“Thank you for simply choosing sports,” he said. “I’m sure when you were young and you wanted to play football or run long distance, that you just wanted to have fun, and you didn’t think,

‘This is going to get me a scholarship in college someday.’

But as you grew older, that fun sport turned into something more complex. More time commitment, more preparation, more sacrifice was required, and you endured it all.

“Thank you for focusing on your classwork and for making your family and coaches so proud by your actions, not only on the fields but also in the classroom as well. All of the hard work by these athletes and their parents pays off today. This is the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.”

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