By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Thousands of scholar-athletes signed college letters of intent on National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 6. Three Cherokee Braves signed to play football at the next level including Damian Blanton (Brevard College), Isaiah Evans (Gardner-Webb University), and Joaquin Layno (Western Carolina University) during a ceremony at the Charles George Memorial Arena.
Blanton, a Smoky Mountain All-Conference selectee with 98 tackles his senior year, plans to continue as a linebacker in college. “It’s pretty amazing. It’s crazy. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it because I’ve always wanted to go to college. It’s just a dream come true.”
Evans, who gained nearly 3,800 yards rushing during his career as a Brave and played in the 2018 Shrine Bowl, noted, “It’s definitely a great feeling knowing that you get to play more than high school and that you’re good enough to play more than high school. “It’s just a great opportunity for me personally to go to school and play. Since I started playing football, I always wanted to play college football. It’s been my main goal throughout high school.”
He was named Smoky Mountain All-Conference in 2017 and received an honorable mention nod the year before.
Layno, a Smoky Mountain All-Conference selectee with 82 tackles his senior year, played multiple positions over his years at Cherokee including both offense and defense. “I started playing football at an older age, and it feels to great to put on another helmet and get four more years of playing football. I think it’s an honor to get a preferred walk-on at Western, and I will do my best to do whatever it takes to get a scholarship.”
Kent Briggs, Braves head football coach, praised the players and said they have accomplished much in their careers, along with all of this year’s senior class, including winning the 1A State Championship in 2017. “They’ve worked hard here, and I am proud of what they’ve accomplished and what they will accomplish in college. These young men make our school proud.”
Craig Barker, Cherokee High School assistant principal and an assistant coach on the varsity football team commented, “I can’t say how proud I am of these young men and how much I look forward to them continuing their education and athletic career. They’ve been a blessing for me personally here and have always represented our school and our Tribe with style and dignity.”
Peanut Crowe, Cherokee High School athletic director, said he was very happy to see three more students signing to continue their education. “It’s putting us on the map when it comes to colleges. It used to be colleges would say, ‘it’s Indian kids, we don’t know if we want to take a chance on them’. Now, more colleges are coming in and saying, ‘hey, these Indian kids can play and they’re going to stick with us’. We’ve had 14 or 15 college coaches come to watch our basketball teams play this year.”
He added that many college coaches want to make a trip through Cherokee now. “They know that they’re tapping into an unlimited potential. I couldn’t be more proud of the whole group of kids. The past three years that I’ve been here, to put 11 kids into college programs is just unbelievable.”