Mike Hill unfolded his handwritten speech at the podium and began to read the words he’d rewritten because much of the first version was too sloppy or crossed out altogether.
It took him a night and a half to write the speech that thanked his mother first, but only about 15 seconds before his eyes welled and he stopped talking while a Lewisville High media center crowded with students, teachers, coaches and family sat quietly.
“I was petrified, I thought I was gonna have a heart attack,” Hill said afterward, relaxed and smiling by that point.
It was an emotional day for Hill and his Lewisville classmates, Trey Keels and Stacie Rollins. All three signed national letters of intent in the school’s media center, confirming they would be college athletes. Rollins will play softball at USC Salkehatchie, while Keels, towering over the other two at 6-foot-6, will play quarterback at Presbyterian College.
Hill is headed to Iowa Western, 17 hours and 10 minutes away as he pointed out during his speech, to play junior college football at one of the most stable and successful two-year programs in the country.
“That’s what I’ve got to do to make it D-I,” he said. “I’m all the way out there so I’ve got to be accountable for myself.”
He started as a ninth grader on Will Mitchell’s varsity football team and made All-State twice and was picked for the North-South all-star game last fall. He also made All-State twice in basketball and played baseball for Billy Keels, too.
Trey Keels threw 23 passes that Hill caught for touchdowns. Keels was also a three-sport standout who received college recruiting interest in football, baseball and even recently in basketball. He opted for Presbyterian over Wofford, Furman and several other schools in part because of familiarity with the program and campus.
“My mom went to PC so I’ve kind of grown up around the school my whole life,” said Keels. “I talked to the football coaches and they’re pretty cool and I think I’ll have the chance to play there.”
Keels could redshirt because his frame would easily hold more weight. That might give him extra time on either of the challenging majors he’s considering, engineering or pre-law. Those decisions will be made down the line, though, especially with the baseball season underway. With Wednesday’s ceremony done, Keels can focus on playing one last spring for his dad.
Rollins had never heard of USC Salkehatchie, a two-year school in Allendale, S.C., before last summer. That’s when she had a “come to Jerry” meeting with her Lewisville softball coach Jerry Thomas, who floated the possibility of playing in college.
Rollins bit down on the idea and worked harder than she ever had on softball. But her first visit to Salkehatchie didn’t go terribly well.
“I told my mom ‘this is not for me,’” she said on Wednesday. “I come from a little small school and I was just going to another small school.”
But the more Rollins was around the team, the better she felt about the situation. The softball players were so close and the class sizes at the school were intimate. She wants to major in psychology and would consider continuing to play at a four-year school once she’s finished at Salkehatchie.
“A lot can happen in two years,” Rollins said.