TOWAMENCIN >> It was not hard to tell the Ricky Johns contingent Wednesday afternoon inside North Penn High School’s Audion, the group decked out in blue-and-gold West Virginia shirts, hats and foam fingers as the senior signed his National Letter of Intent to play with the Mountaineers.
“It means a lot. I do it for them,” Johns said. “They love to see me play and I love to see them here watching me and being with me throughout the journey. So, hopefully we’ll continue this from here on.”
Johns was one of five North Penn football players announcing their college choices on National Signing Day. Quarterback Reece Udinski, the second player in Pennsylvania history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, committed to Virginia Military Institute while Nick Vasger, Jake Hubler and Nick Dillon will all be in the PSAC next year — Vasger going to Kutztown, Hubler to Millersville and Dillon heading to Lock Haven.
“I couldn’t ask for a better senior year between our record and the guys I played with and the fun I had,” Vasger said. It’s awesome to see me and some of my best friends go out here and we’re about to embark on another journey.”
North Penn had one of its best seasons under head coach Dick Beck in 2016, finishing 14-1, winning Suburban One League Continental Conference and District 1-6A titles — its first district championship since 2011 — and advanced to the PIAA semifinals.
“Sitting with the guys at that table, we put in so much hard work, to see this day come true, sitting hitting with my teammates I think it just shows how hard we worked,” Udinski said. “I wouldn’t want to sit with any other guys cause we’ve all been through it together.”
Udinski join his brothers Ward and Grant in playing at the college level and at VMI — a state-sponsored military college in Lexington, Virginia — he will compete in the Southern Conference, a part of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. The Keydets went 3-8 last season.
“Seeing them play college football kind of opened my eyes and obviously I wanted to play college football myself,” Udinski said. “And the fact that I get to play at a Division I level I think is something cool. And I’m really looking forward to it.”
Udinski, an 6A all-state selection, threw for 4,1119 yards and 39 touchdowns last season to a talented receiving corps that included Johns — also an all-state selection who caught 54 passes for 1,296 and 11 touchdowns — Hubler, an All-SOL Continental first team pick at wide receiver who hauled in 38 passes for 859 yards and five touchdowns.
“It was a long stressful process. Emailing coaches, texting coaches, calling coaches, trying to get a response, see where you can go,” Hubler said. “It was fun though, it was a good process to go through.”
Hubler said a big plus for Millersville — which went 2-9 last season — was the Lancaster County school’s campus.
“Millersville’s campus is beautiful,” he said. “Brand new dorms, got suite-style dorms, cafeteria’s nice, got a bunch of different places to eat on campus, so that’s a good thing. Yeah, that’s kind of what sold me.”
Johns, meanwhile, wanted compete in the top tier and after looking at Temple, Marshall, Villanova and Towson, North Penn’s all-time leader in receiving yards decided on WVU and playing in the Big 12 Conference.
“West Virginia was the first school to offer me and it’s a big-time school and I want to play big-time competition,” Johns said.
An all-conference first-team pick at linebacker, Johns is likely to be on the defensive side of the ball for the Mountaineers, who finished 10-3 after a loss to Miami in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“My sophomore year it was before the season started, during lifting (Beck) pulled me into the one room and told me I had to start lifting, I had to start getting into it cause he sees me as a Big 10 linebacker,” Johns said. “But he wasn’t far off. Big 12 safety is not far off. He’s always right and I give it too.”
Dillon’s tough running collected a team-best 1,046 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground, earning him a place on the All-SOL Continental first team.
“As the season was starting to get into it, I started to get more comfortable on the field,” Dillon said. “Felt like more eyes were on me. “So, after that more colleges got in contact with me.”
Dillon verbally committed to Lock Haven Tuesday and said a top reason for choosing the Eagles — who went 4-7 in 2016 — was the coaching staff.
“I didn’t plan it out or nothing like that. I was talking to him and I had a great conversation with him so ‘Are you ready?’ I’m like yeah I’m ready to commit, so happened right there. Happened to be January the 31st.”
Vasger also made he college selection recently, going with Kutztown over a handful of other PSAC schools.
“I had an official visit Saturday night at Bloomsburg,” he said. “I woke up Sunday and a spoke to the Bloomsburg coach a little bit and then I was just coming home that day, driving home, I just realized where I wanted to go. And I made the decision then.”
Vasger was an all-conference first team defensive end and also caught eight passes for 114 yards and five touchdowns as a tight end for the Knights in 2016. He is looking to be a linebacker for the Golden Bears, who finished 7-4 and won the PSAC East Division last year.
For Vasger, the path to Kutztown definitely had its ups and down, but he is fully satisfied in the destination.
“The process is kind of stressful,” Vasger said. “You’re not exactly sure where you want to go, want you want to major in yet, so that’s a hard thing to figure out. And you need to figure out a school you want to play football for and you want to get a degree at as well. It’s something that’s hard to compromise in between but I’m just happy where I ended up.”
NOTES >> Johns and Dillon both said they are looking into athletic training as a major, Udinski economics and business, Hubler chemistry while Vasger was interested in marine biology.