It might not have been as big or had the luster of last year’s signing class out of Carthage High School, but there is definitely something unique with the 2019 signing class.
Eight student-athletes who have represented the school on the playing fields signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday, National Signing Day.
The group included five football players: quarterback Gunner Capps to Sam Houston State; running back Tucker Smith to Henderson State; tight end Kaden Holcomb to Louisiana College; kicker Luis Piedra to Hardin-Simmons; and offensive guard Kevion Booty to Tyler Junior College; soccer player Junior Salazar to East Texas Baptist; baseball pitcher Seth Smith to Grayson College; and softball pitcher Taylor Wills to Tyler Junior College.
“This is a quality class,” said Carthage Coach Scott Surratt in his role as athletic director. “In Junior Salazar, we’re super excited that we had our first-ever signee to a boys scholarship, and I think that’s going to open the door for some more kids down the line. Then in Taylor and Seth, you see two pitchers who have already put up some good numbers and are going to add to them. We’re expecting a lot from them and not just as pitchers — as everyday players, too.
“Those five that signed from football are going to be hard to replace. They’re a great group of kids and are very well deserved of the their scholarships. They’ll make their universities proud. They’ve made their high school proud already.
“As an AD, I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”
Last year’s class had five Division I athletes including three D-I football players.
Capps is the only D-I player in this group right now and will join former teammates Dee Bowens and DeWaylon Ingram at Sam Houston State.
He got a hard sale from the duo, which helped put him over the top as he was wavering between football and baseball, as well as Henderson State and the BearKats — with a little bit of Southern Methodist thrown in.
While he could possibly play baseball at some time in the future for Sam Houston, he’ll have to be content with the remainder of his high school career on the diamond for now.
“It was hard,” he said of the decision. “I’ve been playing baseball since I was little-bitty. My dad played college baseball and my granddad scouted for the Twins. After a lot of prayer and thinking about it a lot, football is the way I’m going.”
The Bulldogs are 30-1 with Capps as the starting quarterback. He completed 481-of-772 passes for 7,676 yards and 96 touchdowns. His record for touchdowns passes in a game is seven.
“They were a huge factor,” Capps said of Ingram and Bowens. “They made the decision a lot easier for me. Having two brothers up there already is a real incentive. I already have a good chemistry with them, and I hope to start it up again.
“They have three quarterbacks coming back, a senior and two redshirt sophomores. The coaches are going to give me the opportunity to compete, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Hard work is something the Carthage signing class has in common, but the work put in by Salazar went a long way toward getting his offer from ETBU.
“This is such a big deal for us as a program,” Carthage Soccer Coach James Watson said. “He’s a four-year starter, and he’s out there busting his butt to find a place to play. Now we can tell them that if they’re willing to put in the time and the work, we can find them some where else to play when they’re through here.”
“It’s such a great honor to be the first player,” Salazar said. “The feeling is unbelievable. As a kid growing up, it was my dream to go and play somewhere. Now I’m getting that chance.
“ETBU made me feel like I was at home right from the beginning. And being close to home (Marshall) was important.”
While Tucker Smith is helping Salazar lead the Bulldogs on the soccer pitch and is practicing with Capps and Seth Smith on the baseball diamond, playing football at the next level was all that interested him.
“I miss football already,” he said. “I was missing it the next morning after we lost. I still think that maybe I could have done so much more.
“But it’s always been about football and the people at Henderson State have stuck by me the whole time.”
Smith rushed for 1,000 yards last season and 13 touchdowns, while also catching 36 passes for 514 yards and seven scores.
Piedra was 50-of-55 kicking PATs and was 3-of-3 kicking field goals.
Holcomb caught 37 passes for 500 yards and four scores.
Booty graded out at over 90 percent in every game and was responsible for 25 knockdowns.
Wills was the 2018 District 16-4A Pitcher of the Year last season and is currently 47-19 for her career.