FOOTBALL: Signing day shows ripple effect of National Championship

Keith Farner

Fourteen months after winning the 2002 National Championship, the aftershock is still rippling through the Western football team.

Yesterday, coach David Elson announced that 22 players signed national letters of intent and will enroll next semester. Elson said the program had a high success rate from players it offered scholarships to and he was especially pleased to get 13 linemen.

“I said a year ago when people asked about what the impact the national championship would have on last year’s recruiting class, I said ‘not as much as what I think it will in the future in the next couple years’ and I think that held true,” Elson said.

Those linemen could be counted on to fill a void after the departure of as many as four of the Toppers’ top six defensive linemen from last season. Elson said this group of linemen brought more height than past classes have. Charles Stradley is the poster boy of that group standing at 6-foot-6 260 pounds. Stradley, of Corbin, was a second-team all-state selection after collecting 65 tackles last season.

Steven Tajer is another tall lineman Western hasn’t seen consistently in recent memory. Tajer, a 6-foot-3 250 pound defensive lineman out of Hoover, Ala. was a first team all-state selection and was on the team that won the Class 6A state title.

Hoover coach Rush Propst could not be reached for comment.

Elson brought in eight players from Kentucky, four from Ohio, three from Florida and three from Tennessee.

“We had a lot of interest,” Elson said. “A lot guys that maybe in years past we wouldn’t have had much of a chance on we were able to get in on and recruit.”

One of the Kentucky players is Fort Campbell High School product Gio Love, a cornerback. He was part of a Falcons’ defense that ranked No. 1 in Kentucky last season yielding just six points per game.

He sat out his junior year to focus on basketball but Fort Campbell football coach Shawn Berner talked him into returning to football because of his athleticism.

“As far as developing some of his skills, I think his best years are ahead of him,” Berner said.

If his athleticism carries over to the Division I-AA level, Love can expect to compete for time with sophomores Dennis Mitchell and Artis Neal. Love could be part of a brand new secondary after the departure of seniors Jeremy Chandler, Carl Birts and Antonio Veals.

Western will start its spring practice on March 11.

Reach Keith Farner at [email protected]