Six Red Raiders sign letters of intent on National Signing Day
By SHAREIK FLOWERS
BELLEFONTE — For many high school athletes across the country the idea of competing at the collegiate level is simultaneously a desirable but yet unobtainable dream. To have NCAA qualifications players must have a wide set of traits – ranging from a dedicated-work ethic, a high IQ in their respective sport as well as dynamic athleticism.
According to ScholarshipStats.com just 7.5 percent of high school athletes will advance to the collegiate level, and on Wednesday six Bellefonte Red Raiders joined that sacred group as they signed their letters of intent.
Cati Besch, Noah Badger, Rees Kelley, Chris Persiko, Caleb Rockey and Cameron Stephens signed their letters of intent Wednesday, on National Signing Day, to continue their athletic careers in the fall at the next level. The six members represented Bellefonte with pride during their high school careers, and all are predictably excited to carry that enthusiasm to their college campuses after graduation in June.
Rockey will attend Bloomsburg University in the fall after posting a ridiculous Pennsylvania-high 17 sacks in 2018. Rockey is a two-time first team All-State selection and two time All-Conference in football.
Rockey was highly recruited and received over six offers from other schools. He felt the selection process was difficult – but knew Bloomsburg was the perfect fit when he visited the campus.
“The campus was incredibly nice,” said Rockey, who’s majoring in Criminal Justice. “And all the players I ended up meeting were incredible people, especially the quarterback. And I met two of their professors, they were nice, relaxed and chilled-out people, and I think that’s my best learning environment.
“Bloomsburg’s just a great program with great coaches. I [enjoyed meeting] the head coach and defensive line coach. Overall, it was just everything I wanted in college.”
Persiko will attend Millersville University in the fall after ending his high school career securing all of Bellefonte football’s school-kicking records.
“I’m very excited to play in college,” Persiko said. “I’m very excited to see what Millersville has for me, and I’m ready to make a very valuable difference to the team there.”
Persiko had an unique embrace to football, given he had never kicked a field goal three years ago. Hailing from Germany – his host father in Bellefonte invited him to the football field where Persiko attempted his first field goals. Unbeknownst to him, a certain Bellefonte coach witnessed his kicking and immediately saw the potential in him.
“To my luck [head coach] Shanon Manning was there,” said Persiko, who’s majoring in Criminology. “He watched me kick and he took me up to the high school and fit me for gear the next day. It just got better from there.”
Persiko commenced his senior year with a game-winning 26-yard field goal against Jersey Shore to lift the Red Raiders over the Bulldogs, 17-14, in the season opener.
“He made a lot of things come true for us this year,” Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning said of Persiko. “There were a lot of opportunities that we had, and he made happen for us.”
Badger will attend Lock Haven University in the fall after ending his Bellefonte career as a two-year letter-winner in football, while also being a part of Bellefonte’s 2017 District 6 championship-winning team. As a tight end, he notched 30 receptions in 2018 for 406 yards and a team-high eight receiving touchdowns.
“I’m really excited to go to LHU and study, but I’m even more excited to go up there and play football for them,” said Badger, who’s majoring in Health and Physical Education.
Prior to Badger’s high school football career he never envisioned playing college football. He assumed his university years would be strictly educational and that he would immediately enter the workforce after obtaining a degree. But his mindset changed once he became immersed into Bellefonte’s football culture and dedicated his energy into the sport.
“Bellefonte football helped me prepare for the next level with the amazing coaching staff,” Badger said. “They really get the thought across of having us to play at the next level. They’ll help you with anything.”
Bellefonte football’s fourth and final signee was Stephens, who’s attending Wilkes University in the fall. Stephens was a first-team All Conference defensive lineman for the Raiders.
When reflecting his high school career he holds dearly the memorable moments on the gridiron, but cherishes the moments with his teammates off it.
“Two-a-days, running with my brothers, team-family dinners and stuff like that really stand out,” said Stephens, who’s an undeclared major. “The district championship was amazing, but the bond I made with my teammates I’ll never forget.”
Stephens’ signing rounded out Bellefonte football’s four signees on the day.
“This is an impressive group,” Manning said. “In junior high they struggled to win games. By JV they were winning some games – and as they then took the helm and became leaders we flourished with them in the lead.”
Besch will attend Juniata College in the fall after locking in a second team Mountain League All Star selection in soccer her senior year. Besch was Bellefonte’s goalkeeper and ended 2018 with 150 saves and two shutouts.
“I’m super excited and this is an amazing opportunity that [Juniata head coach] Scott McKenzie has given me,” said Besch, who’s majoring in Bioinformatics. “I couldn’t do this without the help from my coaches in high school, my parents and all my teammates who supported me.”
Besch, who’s also a member of band, the National Honor Society, Spanish Honor Society, and a basketball manager – said the Bellefonte soccer program instilled in her the significance of an all-in work mentality.
“My whole team works really hard, and my coaches push us all the time to make sure we always do our best,” Besch explained. “That’s definitely something I’m going to take to college because I know from high school what it takes to work hard and get the results you wanna see.”
In 2018 Besch filled the vacant spot left behind by previous goalkeeper Gabrielle Pighetti, who’s now a member of the Nazareth College women’s soccer team.
“We’re all super proud of Cati,” Bellefonte girls’ soccer coach Stacey Miller said. “She had a phenomenal playoff game against Hollidaysburg and we look forward to being able to go watch her play in college.”
Kelley, Bellefonte’s last signee of the day, will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in the fall to play lacrosse. Kelley was a three-time varsity captain and two-time midfielder of the year.
“I’ve had great coaches and great teammates through the years,” said Kelley, who’s majoring in Mechanical Engineering. “Bellefonte lacrosse made me the player I am today, and the person I am today.”
Kelley’s selection of RPI was a mix of the school’s fine athletic and academic resources.
“I chose RPI because I wanted a great engineering school and a good lacrosse team to play for,” Kelley said. “I wanted great teammates and coaches invested in the program, and RPI has all of that.”
Notes: Prior to Bellefonte’s signing day on Wednesday two members of the Red Raider baseball team signed their letter of intent to continue their athletic career in college.
Ashton Wetzler will pitch at Seton Hill University. He was a 2018 first team All Mountain League selection, and was a member of Bellefonte’s historic 2016 State Championship winning season. Wetzler will major in Sports Management/Business Administration.
Colton Burd will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He was a second team Mountain League selection for catcher last season and was also a member of Bellefonte’s 2016 title run. Burd will major in Mechanical Engineering.