Fitch was well-represented on the annual National Letter of Intent Day held Feb. 5.
Despite an overnight snowstorm that closed schools across the area, five soon-to-be former Falcons made their intentions to the colleges of their choice. Three Fitch football standouts and two stars from track and field put their signatures on the dotted line officially starting their college careers. Ryan Sayers (Ohio Dominican), Kerrell Johnson (Notre Dame College) and Nick Sheely (Youngstown State) will be continuing their football careers while Sam Ortz (Youngstown State) and Gabby Figueroa (LSU) will keep their track careers thriving. According to that quintet's coaches, the scholarships their players received were well deserved.
"It's always an exciting day," Fitch head coach Phil Annarella said. "I couldn't be happier (for Sayers, Johnson and Sheely)."
Photo by Nik Zirounis, Town Crier
Fitch's Gabby Figueroa signs with LSU
Fitch track and field coach T.J. Koniowsky concurred and explained how he figured that Figueroa would be successful from the first time he met her.
"(Figueroa) was in eight grade, and I was awestruck," Koniowsky said. "I knew the big schools would be knocking on her door. Her passion and hard work has really made her a self-made girl.'
Figueroa holds the Ohio record in the weight throw (58 feet, 11 inches) and has won back-to back Division I state titles in that event. She is the number one ranked hammer thrower in the country.
"(The recruiting process) was stressful," she said, "but I made a great decision. I get to be part of one the most elite track programs."
Regardless of Youngstown State's record in track in field, Ortz said he's happy to continue running so close to home and to be able to still go to school with a longtime friend.
"I'm so excited," he said. "It will be a blessing to still have the support of this community. I'm close with Nick (Sheely) so it'll be great to go to YSU together."
As late as the beginning of the week, Sheely, the former Fitch kicker, wasn't sure where he'd be going to college. An eleventh hour offer by the Penguins put him in the position to follow in the footsteps of former Fitch, YSU and NFL kicker Jeff Wilkins.
'I was at work actually (when he heard from YSU), and it was a big relief," Sheely said. "Everyone knew where they were going except me."
Sayers knew he would be going somewhere, but wasn't quite sure where because he had a lot of offers. The Austintown feel at Ohio Dominican was a major reason why the pass rusher will be harassing quarterbacks for the conference-winning Panthers next season.
"It felt like home," Sayers said. "The coaches spent a lot of time with me. (The recruiting) was a long process that took forever, but I'm so happy."
Johnson, a cornerback, said he now must prove to a whole new audience just what kind of athlete he is.
"It's like high school all over again," he said about attending the college in Cleveland. "I need to be hungry and not let obstacles hold me back."
None of these student-athletes held anything back when discussing how important Falcon Nation was in getting them to this higher level. All five kids bragged how the support of the Austintown community enabled them to give their all both in the classroom and on their choice fields of athletics. They also unanimously gave credit to the men who worked the closest with them.
"My coaches did everything they could to make me succeed," Johnson said.
Sayers and Sheely also recognized their mentors.
"I can never repay my coaches and the Austintown community for always pushing us," Sheely said. Sayers agreed, adding," I'd like to thank Coach Annarella and my other coaches for making me the person I am."
Ortz had the pleasure of working with both the football and track and field staffs and was equally thankful. "It was truly a blessing," he said. "I was part of two very successful programs."
The best tribute, however, was the one paid by Figueroa when asked what her time at the Austintown school meant to her. "I couldn't imagine where'd I end up without Fitch," she said.
Now all five of these Falcons will get the chance to pay back Austintown by representing their hometown honorably in college.