February 6, 2014

Trio of Cats will play college football

For Dalton High School defensive back Chris Childs, having a chance to go to college and play football is a chance to make his mark not only in football, but in his philosophies on life.

Childs was one of three Catamounts who celebrated national signing day and their college choices Wednesday at the school with family and friends. Elijah Stidmon and Childs, who both played defensive back, signed letters of intent to play at Tusculum College, an NCAA Division II program in Greeneville, Tenn. Defensive lineman Jordan Keener is heading to Danville, Va., to play at NCAA Division III member Averett University.

Childs joins the Pioneers with a clear plan for his life — a plan he said was shaped by his time with the Cats. The first part is an education.

“What drew me to Tusculum is they are more focused on the player getting a quality education and focused on getting your grades first,” Childs said. “The coaches here at Dalton did the same thing, and that is what got me through high school. They will help me be a better man, and then I can help others like they helped me.”

Stidmon and Childs are part of an incoming class at Tusculum with more than 40 signees listed on the school’s website (tusculumpioneers) as of Wednesday night. Eight of those listed were from Georgia.

The Pioneers went 4-7 last season and 2-5 in the South Atlantic Conference, which includes Newberry College, Mars Hill University and Carson-Newman University, among others. Frankie DeBusk is entering his 17th season as the Pioneers’ head coach.

With such a large incoming class of athletes, Stidmon knows that he will have to work harder than the others in order to stand out.

“I feel like I really control my own destiny at this point,” Stidmon said. “I will put in the work, and I am excited to have the opportunity. My main focus coming into the season was on the season at hand and hoping that my hard work would pay off, and it did. No matter what, you don’t give up. You have to always work to get to your goals.”

Childs and Stidmon were both All-Region 7-4A selections last year after helping lead Dalton to the region championship and the state playoffs during an 8-3 season.

“Chris Childs is one of the most driven kids that I have ever had the privilege to coach,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “He had some struggles, and it has taken him three years to become a good student, but I am so proud of him.”

Both players came to Tusculum’s attention when Dalton had its summer camp there. Pioneers coaches got to see each player in action in the brutal August heat and apparently came away impressed with the duo.

“The reason Tusculum is signing Chris is because they watched him ‘coaching up’ the other players on the team,” Land said. “While others might have been taking a break, Chris was working with the younger guys backing him up and trying to make them better.”

Coaching is definitely something Childs has his sights set on. He intends to major in education and said his dream would be to come back to his alma mater and join the faculty and the coaching staff.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to go to college and I am going to make sure that I take advantage of it,” Childs said. “The coaches here taught me and built my character. They made me a better person, and I will carry that with me the rest of my life.”

In Stidmon, Land says Tusculum is getting a player with tons of upside.

“Elijah is a guy that will find another level when he gets to college,” Land said. “He has lots more potential, and that was what drew Tusculum to him was his size and his speed and the fact that he is still developing his game.”

Averett University was 1-9 in 2013 with a 1-7 record in the USA South Conference, which features schools such as LaGrange University, Methodist University and Maryville College. The Cougars recently announced the hiring of Cleve Adams as the new head football coach.

Keener was a first-team All-Region 7-4A selection and garnered honorable mention to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team this past season. He had originally committed to play at Sewanee — another member of Division III, which does not permit its members to give athletic scholarships — but a visit to Averett changed that.

“They had a coach come down and put it in front of me that I would have an opportunity to play early,” said Keener, who is receiving an athletic scholarship that will cover a majority of his school costs. “I visited in Virginia, and decided that was where I was going to go over Sewanee. I felt like the staff was better, and I really liked the town.”

Land said that even if Keener didn’t have many tangible stats on the Dalton defensive line, he did his job — keeping Dalton’s linebackers free to make tackles — as well as anyone in the region.

“Jordan has always been a blue-collar player and he may be one of the most unselfish guys around,” Land said. “He knew his job and what it meant for the success of our team. What Averett gets with him is that they know that Jordan is going to make their team better, period, from the moment he steps on the campus with his play and his leadership.”

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