On Wednesday, four Mount Airy Granite Bears placed their skills and talents into the hands of four different colleges and universities, by inking their National Letter of Intent, solidifying their future academic and athletic homes.
Will Sparks, a 5’11 point guard for the Bears, will be attending Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia to play basketball. Sparks currently averages nearly 13 points per game for the state’s eighth-ranked 1A team.
“Hampden-Sydney College is giving me a chance to play and I feel like I can benefit them. They also have what I want to study, which is pre-med, and I feel like everything I want to do is there,” said Sparks. “They have over an 80% overall acceptance rate into their medical school. They also said I would come in and play a lot for them.”
“I’m very proud of Will. He is extremely deserving to getting to play basketball at the next level,” said Mount Airy head basketball coach Levi Goins. “Hampden-Sydney is a great program with tremendous facilities, and Will is going to do a great job. He is one of the hardest workers I’ve coached.”
Jackson Smith, a 6’4, 235-pounder who played both quarterback and tight end for the Bears, will travel approximately an hour and a half to Hickory, North Carolina, to suit up for another set of Bears — those of Lenoir-Rhyne. During Smith’s senior season, he was in on nine total tackles during occasional defensive action, seven of which were solo, and he also recorded an interception. On the offensive side of the ball, he threw for 2,144 total yards and ten touchdowns as the Granite Bears went 13-2 overall and advanced to the West Regional final after claiming a share of the Northwest 1A Conference title.
“Lenoir-Rhyne’s offense fits me well, they run double tight-end, and that means more time for me to step on the field. Financially, it was also the best option,” said Smith. “I want to get there and make an immediate impact, and play into a new program that is trying to turn it around and win ball games.
“Hickory is a great town, it reminds me a lot of Mount Airy, and I think that is why I really enjoyed it. I started taking classes at Surry Community this semester, and I really came to enjoy the small classroom size and that’s why I also really loved Lenoir-Rhyne. I love the teacher-to-student ratio and just the overall possibility of a great education.”
“Jackson is going to bring some ultra-competitiveness to Lenoir-Rhyne,” said Mount Airy football coach Kelly Holder. “He is a team player, and will be extremely coachable. He also has good leadership abilities. He’s got some ‘mean ‘ in him, and that is what you have to have to play football and he has got it.”
Cody Clawson, at 6’1’, 275 pounds, will also travel around an hour and a half, to Danville, Va., and join Averett University’s football program as a Cougar.
“I took a visit with my father and my step-mother, and they showed us around campus and the history behind the school, and why the university should be the fit for me. I went into the specific visit with a certain standard in mind, and the vision that I wanted from a perfect university to be, and Averett fit just exactly what I wanted. A couple days later, I went with my mother, she adored and loved it, and I just knew Averett was a great fit for me,” said Clawson.
“Cody is a self-made player. He has worked his way up through the years and we are so very proud of Cody,” said Holder.
Gabriel King will take his talents to Raleigh to join the Wolfpack’s throwing group at North Carolina State University. King holds the 2016 NCHSAA 1A Outdoor State Champion titles in the discus and shot put, and was the MVP of the state 1A championships as the Bears claimed the team title. King also has a shot put personal record of 54’8.75“, and hasn’t finished lower than first place in the discus since 2014 with a personal record of 156.1’’.
“I have always had a lot of interest in NC State, they have a good Engineering School, and it also doesn’t hurt that my favorite color is red,” said King. “Overall, they just seemed like a good fit for me. North Carolina State seems to be a family-type school, and that the coaches really care and will do anything for you.”
“Dedication and hard work are two big things that Gabe will bring. He is a very competitive person,” said MAHS head track and field coach Clarence Cropps. “He also likes to push himself to the limits and he tries be the best at what he does. He has been a good leader and good role model to the other kids, and he is a very unique kid. I wish him the very best.”