WHEELING -It was all set.
Wheeling Park senior linebacker and Huff Award winner Geremy Paige was committed to California University of Pa. to continue his athletic and academic careers.
Twenty-four hours later, however, everything changed.
Four Wheeling Park football players all signed letters of intent to continue their academic and athletic careers in college. From left, Matt Hackathorn (Gannon), Eric McCave (Mercyhurst), Zach Phillips (Gannon), and Geremy Paige (Gannon).
''I committed to Cal,'' Paige said, ''then the next day Gannon (University) gave me an offer.''
The dilemma was his best buds, first-team all-state quarterback Zach Phillips and first team all-State offensive lineman Matt Hackathorn, had already committed to Gannon.
''Two of my teammates were going there,'' Paige said. ''I really couldn't pass up an opportunity like that.''
Fast forward two weeks and the three Gannon recruits, along with Mercyhurst commit Eric McCave, gathered in the Performing Arts Center at Wheeling Park High School to sign their National Letters of Intent.
''Honestly, it's a dream come true,'' Phillips said. ''It's been a goal of ours forever (to play college football together). A couple weeks ago, we didn't think it was going to happen. Then the door opened up and we're all going to be together. It's going to be an amazing time.''
While Phillips will be joined by Paige and Hackathorn at the Erie-based campus, McCave won't be too far away.
Mercyhurst is a mere 10-minute drive down State Street.
''I'll be able to hang with them,'' said McCave, who finished third in the state in quarterback sacks this season. ''People from Gannon might not like that, but oh well.''
He's right about that.
If you think the two schools aren't rivals, listen to this. According to McCave, there's a sign hanging above the mirrors in the Gannon locker room that reads: What did you do today to beat Mercyhurst?
''It's definitely going to be a good battle,'' Paige said when the two PSAC teams meet next fall. ''Probably a lot of smack talking between all of us before the game, but after it, we're all going to shake hands.''
''I'm going to like playing against Hack (Hackathorn) and Zach,'' McGrave said. ''I'm playing D-end, so I'm going to get my shots on them.''
The individual matchups might have to wait a year as all four will most likely redshirt their first season, something the group thinks is the best approach to take when it comes to college football.
''Redshirting does nothing but good things for you,'' Hackathorn said. ''It gives you a fifth year to play football and begin work on your masters.''
The four seniors are coming off one of the best seasons in Wheeling Park history. The Patriots finished the regular season 9-1 and made an appearance in a state semifinal game.
The 6-foot-2, 175-pound Phillips set a school record for passing yards in both a season and career, touchdown passes in a season, completion percentage for both a season and career, tied the Park record for most touchdowns in a game and was selected for the NUC National Underclassmen All-American Game as well as the All Midwest Elite Exposure Camp for quarterbacks.
He finished his senior campaign with 1,971 yards, 22 touchdowns, five interceptions (two in the regular season) and completed nearly 62 percent of his passes. As a starting quarterback, he won 18 games.
Paige (5-11, 220) graduates from the school as a two-time first team all-state honoree and was named the West Virginia defensive captain after his senior season. Along with the Huff Award for best defensive player in the state, Paige was also the Big 22 Defensive Player of the Year and holds school records for most tackles in a season and career. He finished his senior season with 156 tackles, including 21 in a second-round playoff game against Point Pleasant, 10 sacks and two forced fumbles.
McCave (6-3, 235) received all-state honorable mention laurels after a season where he totaled 77 tackles and eight sacks, while Hackathorn (6-5, 255) started three-years along the offensive and defensive line.
''It's one thing to be a good football player, we've had a lot of them here, but they've done other things outside of the locker room,'' Park football coach Chris Daugherty said about the group. ''They're good kids in our school, they stay out of trouble, they got great ACT scores, and they've done a good job in the classrooms. You can't just be a good football player anymore. You've got to be good in the classroom. All four of these kids have done that.''
According to Daugherty, the four scholarships add up to $760,000.
''I don't think they know how big this is yet,'' he said. ''It'll be four or five years down the road before they figure out, wow, I have a lot of friends paying a lot of college bills off and I'm not one of them. It's a blessing.''