Brendon Weatherspoon and Mackensi Mankel stood tall during the recent L.D. Bell college signing ceremony.
The day was especially sweet for the pair of Raiders, because not that long ago they couldn’t stand at all, thanks to knee injuries.
The duo were among six Blue Raiders who made their commitment via letters-of-intent to play at the next level. Weatherspoon is headed to the University of North Texas to play football as an offensive lineman and Mankel is going to Northeast Texas Community College as a softball pitcher.
Also signing were girls soccer player Savannah Gill (Louisiana Tech) and football players Devunte Dawson (cornerback, Henderson State), Donovan Gladden (offensive tackle, East Texas Baptist/ETBU) and Ivan Traylor (running back, Mary Hardin-Baylor/UMHB).
The ceremony was held in the Bell auditorium. Raiders football coach Mike Glaze said the athletes deserved the attention and the spotlight setting.
“I thought we needed to put a greater emphasis on this,” he said. “I know if it was my kid, I’d want to make a big deal out of it.”
“Going out of that huddle, I never thought it’d be the last time I’d play with my buddies,” Weatherspoon said of the play on which he was hurt in the fifth game of the season.
“But it’s what happens after the injury that counts. I found the right guidance with my coaches, the coaches at North Texas, my friends, family, a lot of people who wanted me to come back.”
Despite the injury, Weatherspoon was an All-District 5-6A selection. The three-year starter for the Blue Raiders sees his signing with the Mean Green, a NCAA Division I program, as a second chance.
“It’s a chance at redemption for what I couldn’t do my senior year,” he said.
Weatherspoon helped the Blue Raiders to a 3-7 record, a two-game improvement from Glaze’s first season. He is joining a North Texas squad that has qualified for the Heart of Texas Bowl two of the past three seasons after going a decade without a bowl appearance.
Mankel suffered her injury as a sophomore. As he announced her scholarship, Bell softball coach Thomas Shives noted her two no-hitters and one-hitter last season.
Mankel is entering her fourth season as a varsity starter. She is a two-time all-district selection and three-year academic all-district.
“Because of her ACL injury as a sophomore, it put her recruiting back,” Shives said. “Her best ball is in front of her.
“I think her potential is great at the college level. She’s a big, tall girl with long arms who throws hard, and she’s hungry to succeed, especially after what she’s been through.”
Mankel will once again play a key role this season as the Lady Raiders go for a seventh straight playoff appearance.
Gill is following a family tradition as she heads to Louisiana Tech.
“My grandparents and uncle went there, along with my great aunts, a lot of family,” she said. “And they have an amazing soccer program, not just on the field, but also in the community. I visited a few places, but once I visited Louisiana Tech, I knew why my family went there and that it was where I wanted to go.”
The Lady Bulldogs are coming off a 14-6-1 season.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Savannah since kindergarten,” Bell girls soccer coach Corey Rolf told the crowd, announcing his star player was a four-year letterman, three-time all-district selection and led the team in scoring last season.
Traylor is joining a UMHB team that is the reigning NCAA Division III national champion. The two-year starter rushed for 1,208 yards and 14 touchdowns in his varsity career and was named all-district this past season.
A three-year starter at Bell, Dawson had 41 tackles and an interception this past season and is a two-time all-district pick. He joins a Reddies team that is 39-8 over the past four seasons, including 8-3 in 2016.
Gladden was named all-district in both of his varsity starting seasons for Bell. He is going to a ETBU Tigers program that is coming off back-to-back 7-3 campaigns.
“This signing class is the result of players who did well in the classroom and on the field,” Glaze said. “I still think another two or three will sign in the next couple of months.”