ENID, Okla. — Marlo Hughes, one of six Plainsmen athletes recognized Wednesday at the Enid High School food court on national signing day that are going on to college to continue their athletic careers, had a special message.
Hughes, who formally signed to play football at NCAA Division II Central Oklahoma, addressed one special person in attendance that has made the largest difference in his life.
After each player gave brief remarks thanking family, friends and teammates, Hughes rose again and offered additional comments.
“I really, really want to thank my father here,” Hughes said. “You know, he has been through everything. He paid for all my care ... everything. Basically, he brought me to Oklahoma from Ohio where I was having a tough time there and came here and look at me now. This man has made me what I am today. Thank you.”
After Hughes spoke, the families of all the players gathered for pictures and the celebrations and congratulations were on in full force.
Joining Hughes at the signing table were fellow football players JaeShaun Sears, headed to Southwestern (Kan.) College along with teammate Jerra Williams and Lincoln Sefcik, who signed Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, where teammate Austin Whitehead already is enrolled and attending class. Soccer standout Alejandro Yanez rounded out the strong signing contingent, inking with NCAA Division II Oklahoma Baptist.
The six signees represents the largest contingent in several seasons.
Hughes, who rushed for a team-leading 753 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, was recruited for his defensive prowess, where he excelled this season both at linebacker and in the defensive secondary, recording 55 tackles. Hughes said he will be playing linebacker for the Bronchos, who finished 8-4 last season, including 7-4 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
But Hughes didn’t just choose UCO for football.
“I was looking for an engineering program and they had the best engineering program for me,” Hughes said, who still was enjoying the atmosphere of the packed food court. “This is one of the biggest days of my life because I have always dreamed of this day,” he said. Referring back to his dad, he said “It’s one of his biggest dreams too. He always wanted his kids to go to college and me being the first one to make it, it’s a great day for my family.”
Plainsmen teammates Sears and Williams will continue to be teammates at the next level with both signing with NAIA school Southwestern College in Winfield, Kan. Sears, who was limited to five games this season after suffering a torn ACL, was one of Enid’s defensive playmakers with two fumble recoveries for a touchdown. He hopes to play corner for the Moundbuilders, who finished 5-6 this past season.
He said the coaches there made him feel like home and had what he called a “perfect visit.” Sears said his knee is getting better and has been rehabbing his knee in track with his dad, EHS track coach and assistant football coach, Kareem Sears.
Williams said he decided to sign with the Moundbuilders because it reminded him of Enid and he was comfortable with their style of play. “They ran the same offense that we did,” he said. Williams had the ultimate breakout season for the Plainsmen, leading the team with 799 yards receiving and six touchdowns. He set a new single-season team record with 66 catches, not a bad season for a player who coming into the season preferred basketball and was lukewarm at best to football.
“It’s just amazing what things can do and what can happen,” he said.
“I think he never would have envisioned this happening for him last June because he was always such a good basketball player for us,” said Enid head football coach Steve Hayes. “It’s great to see how football has opened up this window for him.”
Another pair of teammates will remain teammates when Sefcik joins Whitehead at NEO. The Golden Norseman went 9-3 last season in winning their conference.
Sefcik, second on the Plainsmen last season with 29 receptions for 330 yards, said he chose NEO because it was his “best opportunity to move on to the next level.” He expects to play tight end or slot receiver.
Whitehead, already on campus at NEO, wasn’t able to attend Wednesday. The Class 6A All-Star selection at center, didn’t allow a sack this season, had 47 pancake blocks and graded out at 93 percent for the year.
“Austin wants to play D1 football and felt (going to NEO) was his best opportunity to do so,” Hayes said. “He had several opportunities to play below (Division I), but he wants to play at the highest level and I believe he can. It’s a good decision for him to get some exposure.”
But the signings were limited to the gridiron, and included the soccer pitch with Yanez, an attacking midfielder, signing with OBU.
“Their head coach is actually the assistant coach form my club team,” Yanez said. “It was a perfect visit. I went to the summer camp and he liked my energy, my tenacity and my love for the game. I think it’s a very good challenge for me.” He plans to study psychology.
OBU, under head coach Anthony Yousey, went 7-9-1 last year playing in the Great American Conference.
Plainsmen soccer head coach Charles Owens called Yanez “the hardest working, self-driven person I have ever met. One of the most intelligent and physically gifted players we have. He is going to do big things, whether it’s college or just in the business field.”