Thomas Sumter Academy watched as two of their student-athletes signed to continue their careers on Wednesday. Those two Generals are taking two very different paths.
Quarterback Noah Steele-Allen is sticking with the familiar. He signed with Erskine, where he'll join forces with two former TSA coaches in Terry Anton and Bryan Newhouse. Ava Teeters, meanwhile, will travel to Bethel College in Tennessee as a bowler.
Steele-Allen was thrilled to sign with Erskine, joining a program that will provide a nice mix of familiarity with brand-new experiences.
"I think it's amazing to sign to any college for any sport," Steele-Allen said. "Since I was at Lakewood and watched other athletes sign, I wanted that to be me. To have an opportunity to prove myself, I think that's a blessing from God."
Thomas Sumter head coach Brannon Tidwell was thrilled to see his quarterback earn the opportunity to join the program at Erskine.
"I'm proud of Noah," Tidwell said. "He's going to a good football place that's going into Year 4 of restarting their program. They're adding yearly to upgrading facilities and things like that, so he's kinda on the front end of what they have going on. That's exciting for him.
"Noah has worked really hard. He went from coming in as a junior and playing some defensive back for us to throwing him in against Wilson Hall and saying, 'Good luck,' to this season, where he got a lot better than he was as a junior. The biggest thing is that Erskine is looking at his upside. He gained 40 pounds in the offseason after his junior year, and he might end up being 6'4" or 6'5". They see the intangibles and what he might be down the road. He's a hard worker and a smart kid, so I'm excited to watch him."
The relationship with Anton is a blessing, as Steele-Allen was able to get to know the program from the inside.
"My connection with Coach Anton helps a lot," the TSA QB said. "From Day 1, I really respected him. I loved his coaching style, so I knew going into this I would love that experience again. I also know the offensive scheme going into Erskine. Lucky enough for me, it's a scheme I fit really well in."
Tidwell thinks that built-in knowledge will only be a blessing.
"It's a big deal," Tidwell said. "It is nice for Noah to be up there and have familiar faces. That's just a really good thing for him when it comes to being comfortable when you go in as a freshman and become the smallest fish in a very big pond."
Once he got to campus for a visit, Steele-Allen knew he found a great fit.
"Seeing the campus there really helped me out," he said. "I love the small environment and the family atmosphere there. I love how the professors will know you on a more personal level."
With a previous knowledge of the offense, Steele-Allen hopes he can compete for the starting job right away.
"I'm a competitive person. I get it from my dad," the quarterback said. "On Day 1, I want to go there and compete for a starting job and move up in the depth chart."
He'll also join a growing group of local talent. Earlier on Wednesday, a pair of Swampcats from Laurence Manning signed. Steele-Allen is excited to get a chance to line up with some of the tri-county's best, rather than see them on the other sideline.
"I love it," Steele-Allen said. "There are kids going to Erskine that I haven't been able to play with that I feel I can have good chemistry with, such as Thomas Sumpter from LMA."
While there will be some familiar faces at Erskine, going off to college is always a new adventure, and Steele-Allen is looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm excited to learn alone and to be put into it and see how I do," he said. "It's hard leaving family and doing well, so I'm excited to see if I can."
When Teeters began the journey to find a collegiate bowling program, she had a message for coaches. That message was of development, stating that she has been a team captain since joining the team and worked hard to improve each season.
"This past school season, I placed six overall and made the All-State team. This was just the first step of my goal," she wrote to programs before the start of her senior year. "Going from my freshman and sophomore (years) not playing Top 10 to my junior year placing Top 6 showed me that I can do it and that my bowling career doesn't have to end after graduation.
"Not only did the thought of winning a state ring motivate me to work harder and harder every day, but the story of my mom's uncle that is always told to me. Him not being able to walk without crutches never stopped him from bowling. He's my main reason why I push myself while bowling. He taught me not to let anything get in my way."
When she finally signed on Wednesday, it was proof that the hard work paid off.
"Signing to continue my bowling career in college meant that all of the hours and effort I put into the sport over my high school years paid off," she said.
After reaching out to schools, she scheduled trips to several schools. When she got to Bethel, she was reminded of the comfort of attending a small school like Thomas Sumter.
"I noticed that it was a smaller college than Clemson or USC. Coming from a private school with smaller classes, I figured I would be more comfortable," Teeters said. "When I went to practice with the team after the tour, even though I was nervous, they made me feel welcomed. One thing I will always remember during the practice is when one of the girls asked me if I liked Dr. Pepper and Slim Jims. When I responded with yes, she said I would fit in perfectly with the team. I liked seeing how close everyone was on that team, and that's something I've always loved about a team."
Teeters can't wait to start a new adventure.
"Something I'm looking forward to experiencing at the college level is the traveling for the tournaments and matches," she said. "And improving more."
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