4 players from Pine-Richland state title football team accept walk-on offers

Saturday, February 13, 2021 | 9:01 AM

Pine-Richland football had four players accept preferred walk-on offers on Feb. 3, and each one has a unique story.

Eli Jochem, the Rams’ record-setting wide receiver, is headed to Indiana to play at his mother’s alma mater.

Caden Schweiger spent months recovering from injuries sustained in an ATV accident but worked his way back to play a full season and will continue his career at Furman.

Sam Neill didn’t play football his sophomore and junior years, but after some convincing from friends, came out for the team and impressed enough to get a spot at Duquesne.

Charlie Mill thought he potentially lost his dream of playing college football after what he called a “disappointing” junior year but put his full focus on improvement and is going to play at Elon.

The quartet joined early signees Miguel Jackson (Charlotte), Luke Miller (Kent State) and Harrison Hayes (Liberty) to make it seven seniors from the 2020 Class 5A state champions to go on to play in college.

Eli Jochem

Jochem broke Neil Walker’s records for receiving yards and receptions and set the school’s single-season receiving touchdowns record this year with 18.

The sentiment from Jochem’s teammates is that he’s vastly underrated and will prove that he will shine at a Power 5 school.

“I don’t know how he slipped through the cracks,” Mill said.

Jochem’s father played at Indiana State and his mother is an Indiana graduate. There was some hope in the household that he’d be a Hoosier.

“Both of my siblings went to Penn State and I’m the youngest, so my mom kind of tried to convince me to go to Indiana,” Jochem said. “I ended up going there for a visit, and a couple weeks later, they offered me the PWO.

“It’s awesome. A big factor in the decision was that they are on the way up. One of my former teammates, Michael Katic, is there, and he said a lot of good things about the coaches and he just loves it there.”

Caden Schweiger

Schweiger spent months rehabbing from his injuries sustained in the accident and admitted he contemplated his athletic future.

“Right after it happened, when I was basically in bed every day, I had thoughts that my football career was over,” Schweiger said. “I had a couple surgeries on my legs and collarbone. At one point, I was barely able to move at all. It took a while to get back to where I was before.

“I had to relearn how to walk and basically do everything. It took a lot of hard work, but by July, when we actually started to practice, because of the delay from the pandemic, I was mostly back. There was still a little pain when I was running, but I was able to work through that.”

Schweiger went on to score three rushing touchdowns in Pine-Richland’s 41-7 win over Cathedral Prep in the state title game. He’ll likely be a defensive back or nickel linebacker at Furman.

Furman entered the picture in late October when Schweiger was offered a PWO, and he considered them the top choice immediately.

“I had a couple offers from PSAC schools and some Division II schools in West Virginia, but it came down to the fact that I’ve always wanted to go south,” Schweiger said. “My brother is at the University of Tampa, and I really liked the idea of warmer weather. Being in Greenville (S.C.) will be nice. Their academic program is really good, and I’m looking forward to going there and getting out of it what I can.”

Sam Neill

Neill thought he had hung up the cleats for good after his freshman year but started getting some pleas from his friends to come back out for football. He was hesitant at first, but eventually came around to the idea and ended up being a lockdown corner for the Rams. He finished third on the team in tackles with 63.

“They needed a corner, and I went to a few offseason workouts,” Neill said. “I never imagined I’d go on to play college football. It’s a wild feeling.”

Duquesne was already on Neill’s radar prior to his return to football, and he toured the campus in the summer. Once they offered a PWO, it was the perfect match.

“After the season, I followed all the coaches on Twitter and I know (Pine-Richland grad and current Duquesne receiver) Seth Bolin,” Neill said. “I was talking to him and he told me I had the skill to play there. My coaches started reaching out to them, because they know them pretty well. They looked at my film, and that’s when they started contacting me.”

Charlie Mill

Mill didn’t get the results he hoped from his junior year and thought he may have squandered his chances to play at the collegiate level. But he turned that disappointment into motivation and ended up with 20 receptions, including six touchdowns this season.

He also drew inspiration from his teammates, including Jochem, one of his best friends.

“Seeing his success is so awesome,” Mill said. “We worked out every day during the summer. I see him vertical jumping 60 inches, and I know I can’t do that, but seeing him work at it and be so good made me want to push myself. If I can be close to what he does, I know I can be successful.

“He gets a lot of credit for pushing me, and that’s the same for Sam and Caden. Especially seeing Caden come off that injury with his work ethic and being able come back for us and go on to play college football.”

Now he’s looking forward to his next chapter at Elon.

“I contacted one of the coaches, and we were talking on and off for a while,” Mill said. “Then I went on a visit. You couldn’t talk to any of the coaches, because of the pandemic, but I toured the campus, and it was awesome. It’s a great location, and there’s great weather down there. I fell in love with it. It felt like home. They have a great business program there. I liked everything about it, and it was an easy choice.”

As each of them get ready to depart and go their separate ways, they leave behind a resume that includes two WPIAL titles and a state championship.

“I want this team to be remembered as a team of brothers,” Schweiger said. “We didn’t get thrown together once we got to high school. We played together all the way through from youth, and I want us to be remembered as one that played together and fought together.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer


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