ROCKINGHAM — Out of the 27 seniors who suited up for the Richmond Senior football team during the 2015 season, 24 of them will be attending college in the fall, two will join the United States military and one will enroll in a program at Duke Energy.
That’s what you call a clean sweep.
“I think it’s huge for the program, but I think it’s even bigger for the community,” coach Mike Castellano explained. “It’s not football that did that. It was these young men listening to people that cared about them within our system and community that gave them the goals and ambitions to do that.”
To celebrate the class of 2015’s on-and-off field successes, the football Alumni Program held its first annual senior picnic Thursday afternoon at the school’s practice field. The seniors from this past season, along with current players, were able to enjoy food and drinks thanks to donations from former players and local businesses.
“We had teachers and former students that came back to help and I think it went great considering we’ve never done anything like this before,” said Suzanne Hudson, a teacher at Richmond Senior High School. “We looked like we knew what we were doing.”
The idea to host a senior picnic started when Castellano and a member of his coaching staff, Jon Trump, began to discuss the number of players that were heading off to college. Since he remembered “not having a lot of things” when he went to college, Castellano came up with an idea to help his former players get a head start before they embark on their new journeys.
Eventually, word got to Hudson about the idea and things began to take off.
School administrators, local businesses, members of the BETA club, former players and graduates and Dannell Ellerbe’s charity foundation all found a way to help put together the program’s first annual picnic.
Even Superintendent Cindy Goodman got in on the action, as she bought a pillow for all of the recent graduates.
“It really was a community effort,” Hudson added. “Chicken was donated, tea was donated, all of these supplies back there were donated — and it just kind of came together.”
The supplies that Hudson mentioned, were all placed in the care packages that were made — towels, washcloths, shampoo, laundry detergent, snacks and more filled up each basket that was handed out.
Thursday’s celebration, Castellano believes, laid the foundation for the underclassmen who will receive their high school diplomas in the coming years.
“I think we’ve got smart people. I think we’ve got people that can go out in the world and be very productive,” Castellano said. “Hopefully the younger guys understand what they can achieve if they do the right things inside of school, on the practice field and then in the community.”
To cap off the eventful day, Devon Hunt and John David both officially signed their letters of intent to play college football.
Earlier this month, Hunt — along with Nakeem McKenzie, Tyler Calhoun and Alex McLean — was recognized in the school library for having the opportunity to play college football. However, Hunt was not sure of which college he would be attending.
All of that was laid to rest Thursday when he signed with Shaw University.
“At a time, I was worried,” Hunt said of his college future. “I didn’t think I was going to be anywhere…but it worked out and I’m glad it did.”
David, on the other hand, will look to make history at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg.
“It was a long process, but I finally got it out of the way, so it feels real good,” David said. “I can start a legacy there, because they’re just starting football.”
This past February, St. Andrews announced its plan to add a football team to its athletic program. The four-year private school will play in the Mid-South Conference on the NAIA level starting in 2017 — giving David a year to work on his game to get settled into his studies.
David believes he has a good chance to be named a starter and will major in criminal justice.
“It’s a new beginning,” David said. “I can score the first touchdown and be in the record books — the record books are always good.”
All in all, Castellano was pleased with how the day went.
“It was hectic, but it was a great day,” Castellano added. “Hopefully we can continue this as the years go by.”
“We hope next year to do it bigger,” she added. “I don’t know if people realize how much time these kids commit. They give so much, they play hard, they go home, they do their homework and, I guess, they sleep sometimes.
“It’s just a little way to give back to them to say we appreciate everything you did, we want you to be successful at the next level and we’re behind you.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.