PIEDMONT – There might be a little added incentive for Piedmont senior first baseman Sean Smith during this week’s Class 3A state baseball semifinals at Phil Campbell.
Smith will be going against pitcher Ridge Raper, a soon-to-be teammate of his at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how that goes,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a fun week this week.”
It already has been a fun week for Smith and four other Piedmont seniors. They all signed their college scholarships 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 Tykiya Mitchell will cheer at Jacksonville State.
Smith said playing college baseball is a dream come true for him.
“Baseball’s my first love,” he said. “I remember playing tee ball at the Centre Rec fields when dad 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.”
He’s also grateful for all the things his parents – Piedmont football coach Steve Smith and softball coach Rachel Smith – have taught him about athletics.
“Those two have guided me so much. Everything they’ve taught me and everything I’ve learned from them I’ll never forget,” he said. “They told me to choose what I wanted to do. They’ve always told me it’s my decision on what I do with my life.”
Like Smith, Foster and Johnson are looking forward to their respective football opportunities in front of them.
Foster, a defensive back, said he’s going to Florence to compete.
“When you get to the big stage, you’ve got to compete for the spot you want,” he said. “They showed me that they wanted me to come up there. It’s a school I’ve always wanted to go to.” he said.
Foster said he expects the Lions to utilize his talent at safety.
Johnson said he’s excited to learn from former NFL running back Lorenzo White. White, whom Johnson said is the Bison running backs coach, 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, who wrestled in the 120-pound category last season, won Piedmont’s first individual state wrestling title since 2013 last February.
“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 said Huntingdon has had him on their radar since his sophomore year. He said he had other offers, but Huntingdon has always stood out to him.
“They’re the only school in Alabama that has college wrestling. That’s what stood out to me the most,” he said.
Melendez becomes Piedmont’s first wrestler to sign a college scholarship since Clay Dent signed with Chattanooga back in 2012. Melendez said he looks up to Dent.
“He’s taught me a lot of stuff during the offseason,” he said. “I definitely have picked his brain a little bit. I asked him how practices go, and he said it’s going to be intense practices, but it’s only going to get you better.”
Mitchell said she’s tried sports like basketball and softball throughout her school career, but discovered cheering was “really my thing.”
“People really looked up to me, especially the little ones, so I thought I’d stick with cheer,” she said. “We got state runner-up my ninth grade year. It made me think that I needed to stick with cheer and hopefully it would lead to better things. It has now at JSU.”
Mitchell said she saw the Gamecocks cheer at a football game last season and was impressed.
“Their students are really supportive, and I really like that,” she said.
Following a successful tryout, Mitchell will now get to experience that type of environment on a full-time basis.
“I really wanted to feel out how college was going to be my first year, but something just told me to just go ahead and do it,” Mitchell said.