Penn Hills football players ink commitments to Division I schools
Wednesday, February 6, 2019 | 4:03 PM
Penn Hills’ Daequan Hardy had a senior season for the ages, capped off with a historical performance in the PIAA Class 5A championship game. Hardy officially opened his next chapter as he signed his national letter of intent to attend Penn State on Wednesday morning.
On National Signing Day, Hardy headlined an Indians’ senior class that will have six players moving on to play football at the NCAA Division I level.
Hardy was joined by teammates Corey Thomas (Akron), Terry “Tank” Smith (St. Francis, Pa.) and Armand Gustave (Robert Morris) in the Penn Hills High School auditorium to sign their letters of intent.
Quarterback Hollis Mathis (William & Mary) and wide receiver Dante Cephas (Kent State) shared the stage with their teammates after they signed to their respective schools during the early signing period in December.
Early in his recruitment process, Hardy received Big Ten offers from Michigan and Michigan State. However, he wanted to focus on his final season at Penn Hills as the Indians were on a mission for a state championship.
Hardy noticed the spots were filling up and decided to focus on producing on the field while bringing home a state title.
In the end, Hardy was rewarded for his play on the field and got the offer he was waiting for Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a dream come true. It’s the biggest moment in my life so far,” Hardy said. “The atmosphere there makes it feel like a family. Everyone feels like they’re in it together.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound cornerback and wide receiver was named the TribLive HSSN Player of the Year in December after leading Penn Hills to its first PIAA title since 1995. He also was the state’s Class 5A Player of the Year in a statewide vote of sportswriters.
Hardy finished his senior season with 22 touchdowns, including four in the state final. Hardy had 37 catches for 817 yards and also ran for 373 yards during his senior season.
Hardy had two receiving touchdowns, an 84-yard kickoff return and a 100-yard interception return in the 36-31 win for Penn Hills over Manheim Central at Hersheypark Stadium.
The historical performance in the state championship opened many eyes.
“It was a big part of my recruitment. It opened a lot of coaches’ eyes. I think it opened Coach (James) Franklin’s eyes a little bit, and they gave me opportunity,” Hardy said.
Hardy, who will play cornerback for the Nittany Lions, made his official visit to Penn State on Jan. 25. He didn’t receive an offer from Penn State until around noon on the eve of National Signing Day.
Hardy was mulling offers from Buffalo and Toledo and had recent offers from Akron and William & Mary.
Thomas finds a home
Thomas loved the consistent recruitment by Akron and the potential of how he could flourish in the Zips defensive scheme.
“The coaching staff really made me a priority. The defensive scheme I feel like I could fit in real well. They have good academics and it’s close to home,” Thomas said.
Thomas is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound senior safety/wide receiver who played at Serra Catholic and Central Catholic before transferring to his home district for his senior season.
A three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, he also had offers from Army, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Indiana, Navy, Robert Morris and Toledo.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment ever since I was young and I’ve been working towards it, and for it to be finally be here I’m ready to get up there and keep working and get to the next level,” Thomas said.
Thomas believes he has the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary but believes his home will be at safety or nickel in the immediate future.
Tank heads to St. Francis
Earlier in the year, Smith originally committed to attend Howard with Mathis. However, after a coaching change, both Indians decommitted from Howard and re-opened their recruitment.
While Mathis decided to follow the Howard coaching staff to William & Mary, Smith decided to commit to St. Francis (Pa.).
“I was disappointed that I had to decommit to Howard, but I believe things happen for a reason. I really believe I’ve been put in this place to go to St. Francis (Pa.), and I believe it’s the best place for me to fulfill my dreams,” Smith said.
Smith, a 5-9, 200-pound running back, finished with 1,757 rushing yards, with 23 touchdowns on 213 carries.
Gustave picks RMU
At the beginning of the season, Gustave wasn’t in the starting lineup. However, he continued to work and finished his senior season with 80 tackles and 12 sacks.
“I was being careful with the recruitment process. To finally commit means a lot to me. I put a lot of thought into it and I’m happy with my decision,” Gustave said.
“(My coaches) supported me, and now I hope I can support them.”
Before committing to Robert Morris, the 6-1, 196-pound senior defensive end had offers from Millersville and Lock Haven and a preferred walk-on offer from St. Francis (Pa.).
Cephas will move onto Kent State after finishing with 810 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
Mathis, the William & Mary commit, finished the season with 2,800 passing yards with 40 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Mathis finished with 468 rushing yards.
“I’m just excited for the guys to get the opportunity to play at the next level and get a free education,” Penn Hills coach Jon LeDonne said. “What we did this year was a lot because of these of these guys, and to see them be rewarded right now is awesome.”
Andrew John is a freelance writer.
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