According to Raquan Jones, Jo-Anne Whalen, his teammate Job Whalen’s mother who passed away in 2016, would’ve loved watching the Lions win, but the moment she’d perhaps most enjoy came Wednesday.
“She wanted us to go play football in college and that’s what we’re doing, she’s looking over us,” Jones said. “It’s big for us, Mama Whalen talked and talked and talked about college. It’s kind of crazy that she couldn’t see us sign today.”
That’s when Jones, Whalen and Malik Bell joined three other Louisa players — Bridgewater-bound Collin Carpenter, JMU-bound Tony Thurston and Hampton-bound Quinton Ragland via a postgraduate year at Fork Union — in announcing and celebrating their college decisions.
Bell is headed to Virginia Tech as a preferred walk-on while Jones will head to Division II Chowan as a preferred walk-on and Whalen is bound for Division II Alderson Broaddus.
“I woke up this morning and sat on the side of my bed and said I love you mom, this one is for you,” Whalen said. “I’m pretty sure she’s smiling down on all three of us. Malik and Ray, they were always at my house, 24/7, 24/7. We’d always talk about our future and we always dreamed about this. The fact that it’s really happening is just really special.”
Whalen’s decision came only recently, two days ago to be exact as he picked Alderson Broaddus, a school he visited earlier in the school year, after weighing the possibility of pursuing a postgraduate season.
“I gave Alderson Broaddus another chance, I told the running backs coach I wanted to talk to him and we talked for 30 minutes, about what the plan is, the school and everything,” Whalen said. “And I bought in.”
Whalen rushed for 1,435 yards this season, and he’d fifth all-time in career rushing in the Scrimmage Play area with 5,135 career rushing yards.
Bell’s Virginia Tech pick was also a bit of an unknown, as he had yet to announce. Tech was his dream school, and with a long history of utilizing walk-ons in big roles, Bell knows it’s an opportunity he couldn’t pass up after he rushed for 1,691 yards and 23 touchdowns this year while throwing for 893 more.
“I talked to coach Tyler and he sent me a list of all these preferred walk-ons the last 10 years and most of them were starters or All-ACC or All-American players,” Bell said. “I asked him (about how) I didn’t want to be treated any different and he was like ‘no, you won’t be treated any differently.’ I’m just going to put my best work in and do what I can do.”
Whalen is biased, but he thinks the Hokies just got a steal.
“Virginia Tech got a baller, that’s all I’m going to say,” Whalen said. “Virginia Tech got a baller.”
He also thinks Jones, who rushed for 644 yards last year and was a Swiss Army knife of a player during his entire career, is going to make a big impact. He’ll move to a more traditional running back role to start with at Chowan.
Carpenter, a key piece of an offensive line that cleared the way for more than 5,000 yards on the ground this season, heads to Bridgewater where he’s planning to study kinesiology.
“I sent out my film and they called me the same day and talked to me about possibly becoming an All-ODAC type player and that something I appreciated,” Carpenter said.
Thurston, the Lions’ rock in the trenches who earned Class 4 state defensive player of the year honors, made his pledge to James Madison University official a few weeks after pledging to the Dukes.
Ragland returned to Louisa County to announce his plans to head to Hampton University after a year at Fork Union as part of the Blue Devils’ legendary postgraduate football program. It’s clear that FUMA has had an a big impact on the 2016 Jefferson District defensive player of the year.
“It taught me a lot, that you have to have a strong mind and a good heart and you have to be patient and you have to be respectful to people,” Ragland said. “Because if you’re not, it’s going to eat you up. I met a lot of kids from New York and other places I never thought I’d get to meet people from. I have friends now that I’m really close with because we had to depend on each other. ”
But it remained important to him to announce his plans back home at Louisa with his old teammates.
“It’s home, I’ve been here since I was a little kid, and coach (Will) Patrick has always been like a father to me,” Ragland said. “Everybody in this school feels like family to me.”