EAST ROCKHILL >> Austin Howell never left states without a medal.
“Of all the great athletes we’ve had here at Pennridge in track,” coach Bob Hosier said, “he is the first one to have the opportunity to be a four-year medal winner at the state level — indoor and outdoor.
“That just tells you how good his career has been. He’s smooth, he’s strong, and he’s dedicated. This was his sport.”
And Howell’s headed to the right place — The University of Iowa. Forget corn fields, Iowa’s now known for acquiring the fastest track there is.
“Brand-new indoor facility,” Howell said of the six-lane, 200-meter banked track unlike any other in the United States. “They got it from Portland, from the World Indoor Championships — only used it once, and shipped it over.
“When I was at Iowa on my visit,” the middle distance ace said, “the track still said Portland World Championships on it so it was pretty cool to see. There’s a bunch of world records on it.”
Safe to say Howell has picked the right home. The Rams’ speedster was part of an amazing Pennridge foursome on Thursday afternoon, each of which signed their college letters of intent in a ceremony at the school.
Also headed to the next level are Juliet Ryan (Slippery Rock), Jagger Hartshorn (Wagner College) and Joe Robinson (Bloomsburg), all of which have enjoyed fantastic careers in green and white.
“Joe just had an incredible year at linebacker,” said Pennridge coach Jeff Hollenbach, who coached both Robinson and Hartshorn on the football field. “He really did some nice things for me on the offensive side of the ball too.
“He is the school record holder for tackles in a season — both he and Nick Tarburton tied with 96 tackles this season, which is just phenomenal. Joe is incredibly quick on his reads and we just loved how he saw what the opposing offense was doing and he got to the football.”
Robinson was also considering playing baseball at the next level, with a bit of fate pushing him entirely towards football.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, I wanted to play baseball in college and I was actually gonna go to a Bloomsburg baseball camp during my junior year and I hurt my thumb and wound up not going,” Robinson said. “But after my junior year of football, I just realized that I loved football a lot more than baseball and I wanted to pursue it.
“Bloomsburg was just the right fit,” Robinson said of the Huskies, who play Division II ball out of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. “They got to me very early and wanted me as a player on their team, impact early. I just felt it was the right fit. And my sister went there so I was familiar with the campus.”
Robinson will see time as both an inside and outside linebacker and eventually may man the “Mike” position.
Hartshorn heads to Staten Island, N.Y. and Division 1-FCS Wagner College with a strong right arm and another secret weapon — a tremendous set of hands.
“Jagger’s gonna be a real find for Wagner,” Hollenbach said. “Everybody can see what he can do with his running ability, his athletic skill — he gets out in the open field and he is just a handful. But I think what people didn’t see about him is his ability to catch the ball.”
Hartshorn may see some productive time in the slot.
“They said they’re gonna try me out at quarterback, defensive back, slot receiver and wide receiver. I just wanna get on the field,” Hartshorn said. “When I went there, it just seemed like one big family and I like that.
“This is my dream to go play football in college,” said Hartshorn, who, as a thrower, runner and receiver, scored a total of 25 touchdowns this past fall.
For Ryan, things started to come into focus her junior season.
“I knew I loved running and I could see myself doing it for another four years,” said Ryan, who will hit the cross country trails in the fall and will be cranking out half miles and 400’s in the spring at D-II Slippery Rock. “I knew I wanted to go to a state school because it had everything I wanted.”
Ryan brought a rare level of dedication to every race, every practice.
Said coach Bill Smith: “She is a very, very determined young lady. She said ‘I’m gonna run cross country in the fall (of her junior year) and that’s gonna prep me up for my 800 open.’
“She started out as the No. 6 cross country runner her junior year and worked her way up to No. 2. And then in her senior year, she wound up making it to the state meet. Just a phenomenal performance.”