Half of Graduating Highlander Football Players Land Spots on College Teams

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Even for the best high school athletes, earning a spot on a college team can be tough. But for this year’s graduating Heathwood football players, the odds of landing a college athletic scholarship have been a lot better than average. Half of the seniors on this year’s Highlander football team—and just over 20% of all the boys in the class of 2016—will be playing football at the college level next year. They’ll be joining 11 members of the Heathwood classes of 2013, 2014 and 2015 who are already competing in intercollegiate athletics and will continue to do so in 2016-17.

Senior Woodson Bagnal committed this month to play at Hampden Sydney next year, making him the 4th graduating Highlander to move on to the next level. His teammates Brandon Hill (Duke), Justin Taylor (Furman), and Ben Wilson (Western Ontario) have also signed letters of intent. Brandon will join 2013 Heathwood graduate Gabe Brandner on the Duke football team, where Gabe has been a starting offensive lineman and a member of the All-ACC Academic Team.

Woodson, Brandon, Justin, and Ben have all made the most of the athletic opportunities available to them at Heathwood—between them, they will graduate with 36 varsity letters, in sports ranging from wrestling to basketball to soccer to track & field. That, says Heathwood Athletics Director Jeff Whalen, undoubtedly contributed to their success.

“As you look at these four young men you will notice that they all participated in more than one sport during their high school careers, which I think is very important for athletes today,” Whalen notes. “If you look at the list of other student athletes from Heathwood who have gone on to play at the collegiate level you will notice that the majority of those athletes also participated in multiple sports. Our athletic department believes in the multi-sport athlete, as we believe that it helps us to develop well-rounded young people.”

When four players earn spots on college teams in one year, you have to assume the coaching staff is also doing something right. But, says Heathwood Head Football Coach Steve Victory, the biggest predictor of success at the next level is the attitude of the player. “All four of these guys earned a chance to play in college because they were committed to work hard everyday in practice,” Victory says. “They played unselfishly, always putting the team’s success ahead of their own, and led by example rather than being ‘all talk.’ In my 21 years of experience, the only guys who have ever been successful making the transition from high school football to college football at any level have been the ones who were completely committed to being the best player they could be and more importantly, the best teammate they could be.” 

Whalen says that kind of character is contagious. “All four of these young men have also been important contributors to Heathwood athletics, not only as players, but as leaders as well. Each one of these young men has been a captain of their team. From the leadership example that these young men have set, the younger athletes learn the valuable lessons of work ethic, commitment, and leadership.”

Head of School Chris Hinchey echoed Victory’s assessment of the character and talent these four students display, but added that parents, coaches, and teachers also play key roles in a student-athlete’s success: “Making the commitment to play athletics at the next level is an enormous sacrifice.  These young men are unique in that their athletic talent, passion for their sport, and commitment to excellence are superior to many high school athletes.  That being said, all four young men have grown significantly – physically, emotionally, and intellectually – during their time at Heathwood, and I believe that high expectations coupled with caring support and skilled mentoring helped them all realize their full potential.  These young men have had an incredible amount of support from their families, and the commitment of our coaches and faculty to the development of young people is second to none.”

Whalen says that providing a culture that encourages character development as well as skill development is a key goal of the Heathwood athletics program. “At Heathwood, not only do we give the student athletes the resources to be quality students, we do the same thing in athletics by offering them a quality athletic program which stresses commitment. Just as our teachers demand excellence in the classroom, the same can be said about what our coaches, and the athletic department expect when you are a member of a team.  All of our teams may not win the final game or championship, but all of the athletes are coached to improve the individual, while pursuing the goal of championships in their sport.”

Recent Highlander graduates who are playing for their colleges include:

  • Casey Glick, 2015 - Lacrosse (Rhodes)
  • Trenton Flemming, 2014 - Basketball (Johnson)
  • Will Detwiler, 2014 - Baseball (College of Charleston)
  • Victoria Dickerson, 2014 - Basketball (Benedict)
  • Jessica Withycombe, 2014 - Rowing (Clemson)
  • A’ja Wilson, 2014 - Basketball (South Carolina)
  • Gadson Lefft, 2014 – Basketball (Clemson)
  • Grace Smith, 2013 - Soccer (William & Mary)
  • Kelly Turbeville, 2013 - Soccer (Brevard)
  • Brooke Grice, 2013 - Cross Country (Virginia)
  • Gabe Brandner, 2013 - Football (Duke)

Want to know more about Heathwood’s four 2016 football commits? Here are their athletic bios:

Woodson Bagnal (Hampden-Sydney, NCAA DIII - Old Dominion Athletic Conference)

Bagnal, a three-year varsity starter, earned honorable-mention All-State honors this past season at linebacker.  He started games in the secondary, at linebacker, and at tight end throughout his Heathwood career.  He additionally has been a four-year starter with both the Highlander Wrestling and Soccer programs, helping lead both to outstanding seasons in his senior campaign.  He will finish his Heathwood career with 11 Varsity letters.

Brandon Hill (Duke, NCAA DI - Atlantic Coast Conference)

On the field, Hill has earned 4 Varsity football letters and was a four-year starter, earning All-State honors the past two years from SCISA, the High School Sports Report, and USA Today HSS among others.  He was rated as a 4-star prospect and the #14 outside linebacker in the nation by Scout.com.  In addition to his football career, Hill earned Varsity letters with the Track & Field, Basketball, and Soccer programs.  On the soccer field, he is currently 2nd all-time in goals scored (58), is a three-time All-Region, two-time North-South All-Star, and two-time All-State honoree.  This spring, he has also been named a national finalist for the Watkins Award, and an NSCAA Academic All-American nominee.  He will finish his career with 13 Varsity letters.

Justin Taylor (Furman, NCAA DI - Southern Conference)

Taylor, a 6’1”, 278-lb. lineman, earned unanimous 1st-team All-State honors this season for the Highlanders, capped off with a selection to the 2015 North-South All-Star game.  In addition to his exploits on the football field, he helped lead the Highlander Wrestling team to their first appearance in the SCISA State Championship final, and captured an individual state championship.  He participated in the Highlander Basketball team’s State Semifinal run, and has also been a member of the Highlander Lacrosse & Track & Field program.  He will finish his HH career with 6 Varsity letters.

Ben Wilson (Western Ontario, CIS - Ontario University Athletics Conference)

On the field, Wilson earned 4 Varsity football letters and was a four-year starter, earning All-State honors the past two years from SCISA and the High School Sports Report.  Wilson also earned Varsity letters in Wrestling and Lacrosse.  He will finish his HH career with 6 Varsity letters.