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Wildcats announce college football picks
From left, Joseph Petrino, Justin Jeffery and Sam James before making the college football announcements Friday morning. - photo by Ted O'Neil

After months of speculation, Richmond Hill football players Sam James, Justin Jeffery and Joseph Petrino announced Friday morning where they will continue their academic and athletic careers next fall.

James chose West Virginia University, Jeffery will attend the University of Cincinnati, and Petrino will go to the University of Maryland.

“These are three very special individuals who worked hard to get the national recognition they deserve,” Wildcats Coach Matt LeZotte said. “I’ve gotten so many compliments from college coaches on how well-mannered and how well-prepared they are.”

The trio made their announcements jointly in the RHHS media center.

James said he chose the Mountaineers because the coaching staff there “made me feel loved” and he likes the way their offense uses skill players.

“They call it wide receiver u for a reason,” he smiled.

Jeffery said a year ago, as he was recovering from a shoulder injury, he had doubts this day would come.

“It’s a relief to make a decision,” he said. “I feel very blessed.”

Jeffery said the business school at Cincinnati played a part in his decision.

“Football eventually comes to an end,” he said. “You have to have something to stand on.”

Petrino also said he plans to study business at Maryland, and its proximity to Washington, D.C., was a factor in his decision.

“Two years ago, I was a soccer player and had never thought about football,” Petrino said. “It’s hard to imagine all this has happened.”

LeZotte gave credit to his coaching staff, and Patrick Means in particular, who is the position coach for all three.

LeZotte said Petrino’s growth as a kicker has been a pleasant surprise.

“We knew he had the natural ability, but he continues to get better fundamentally,” he said. “If we were 60 yards out last year, I’d let him try a field goal and wouldn’t blink an eye.”

James, a three-star recruit, is the “ultimate leader” according to LeZotte.

“He’s the guy that teammates look to to make a big play,” he said.

LeZotte also praised Jeffery’s persistence in coming back from his injury.

“He could have gotten discouraged, but he stayed true to himself and continued to work.”

The players and LeZotte agreed that making their announcements now will let them focus on football when the season starts next month.

“They’ll definitely be more focused and more relaxed,” LeZotte said. “I’m happy for them and it was easy to help them through this process because they’re such great kids.”

Before Friday, James had narrowed his list of schools to West Virginia, Cincinnati, Maryland and Mississippi State.

Jeffery also had offers from Liberty, Central Michigan, Florida Atlantic, North Carolina-Charlotte and The Citadel in addition to Cincinnati.

Petrino had offers from Army and Samford aside from Maryland.

All three are all multi-sport athletes. Petrino was first team all-region in soccer as well as football, while James was first team all-region in football and won the state title in the 400 meters at the Class AAAAAA state track meet in May. Jeffery was honorable mention in football, while he and James were also members of the Wildcats basketball team that made the state playoffs this past winter.

The last time Richmond Hill had three football players sign with Division I schools in the same year was 2012, when Dominque Allen signed with the Air Force Academy (he later transferred to The Citadel), Canon Rooker signed with Middle Tennessee State University and Taylor Hayes chose Alabama State University.

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