Pitcher, distance runner are headed to Penn State

LEWISTOWN – Jon Colwell seemed shocked when he arrived at Mifflin County High School’s media room Friday, apparently unaware that the school’s annual Letter of Intent ceremony was going to be so, well, ceremonious.

Colwell, a distance runner, is accustomed to being out on a path by himself, and can be excused for the slight – very slight – social faux pas.

Truth be told, all of the students present for Friday’s event – eight in all, representing six sports; three headed to Division I schools, including two Penn Staters – were probably a bit overwhelmed. That shouldn’t be a surprise – it was a record crowd for the school in terms of scholarship athletes at one event.

Colwell, who is headed to Penn State, is one of four boys who announced their future plans at the ceremony. The others are Seth Wagner, who will play baseball for the Nittany Lions; Derek Yoder, whose football career will continue at Millersville; and Addison Monroe, another track and field athlete, who will attend Lock Haven.

No one in the room could fail to notice Yoder or Wagner when they walked in – Wagner, a 6-foot, 7-inch southpaw towered over everyone; Yoder, whose 6-3 frame belies his 300-pound stature, offered a reminder of who really wins and loses football games: those five guys up front.

“Offensive lineman are constantly evaluated by college coaches who know their value,” said George Miskinis, Mifflin County’s football coach.

“All the hard work pays off,” Yoder said. “When (a rusher) puts up 300 yards a game you can kind of tell who’s doing it. It’s good to get recognition for what I’ve worked for the past four years.”

Yoder chose the Marauders out of a few good options, one of which, Miskinis revealed, was to be a “run-on” at Penn State.

“Lock Haven was also very much in the mix til the final decision,” his coach said. “I think with focusing just on offensive techniques he will be a great addition to the Millersville University program.”

“They have a history of winning. I like where I’m going in now with a new coach,” Yoder said. “I think it’s going to be a great fit for me.”

Yoder’s goals include starting on the line for four years, achieving All-American status – and bringing home good grades.

“I believe that Derek is well equipt to handle the demands of the college game,” Miskinis said. “The exposure to the athletes in the Mid-Penn will prove to be a valuable experience as some will become his teammates and others will continue to be opponents.”

Yoder spoke of the commitments his family had to his passion, of long road trips where he got to rest and others did the work around him until game time.

“I never would have been able to get into Division I baseball if it weren’t for traveling up and down the East Coast with my parents. I got to play in front of numerous college and Major League scouts, which benefits me so much,” he said. “It’s been baseball, baseball, baseball since I was very little and I love it. I’d love to play the rest of my life if I could.”

It might be – Yoder is entered into the Major League draft and he’s hoping for a professional opportunity – especially if it includes a guarantee he’ll be able to finish school.

“I firmly believe that Seth is a draft candidate,” said his coach, Travis Zook. “He’s an intelligent, athletic young man; he’s 6-7, 220 pounds, he’s left-handed and already throws 89 to 91 mph. He has a great work ethic and there is room for him to improve. I think that MLB scouts will have a tough time passing on that kind of potential.”

Zook also expects Wagner to do well in Happy Valley.

“I expect Seth to be one of the top three pitchers entering into the program at PSU,” he said. “It is a big jump going from high school to college in any sport but I think that Seth will be successful at Penn State and will be successful in his freshman season.”

Colwell is joining a Big Ten squad whose aim is to win the conference in cross country this fall – and he wants to be part of that. His success, he said, will be driven by the fact that he’ll be surrounded by top talent every day.

He admits, though, that Penn State almost didn’t get him. He was recruited after the coaches saw him at the Kevin Dare Invitational meet.

“Without the indoor track program, I wouldn’t have ended up at Penn State,” he said.

“Jon simply has to continue being Jon,” Mifflin County track and field coach Scott Gants said. “He is an extremely dedicated and talented runner. If he continues to do the things that he has been doing he should become a very integral part of a deep and talented distance crew at PSU.”

Monroe is hardly the first track athlete to leave the area for Lock Haven – heck, he’s not even the first from his family. Brother Alex has made a name for himself with the Bald Eagles.

“I’m kind of doing my own thing, but he’s going to be a great teammate next year,” Addison said. “He’s someone to look up to. It wouldn’t be bad to be like him.”

“Addison is a very talented athlete and has always been able to respond when challenged,” Gantz said. “This is another challenge that he will have to face and we would expect him to face it no differently than others in the past.”

Although track accounted for just two of the eight signees this year, the program continues to show its success at helping high school students transition to – and pay for – college. Gantz expects that to continue with the success of the Huskies.

“I have always been a firm believer in that success breeds success,” he said. “Many of our younger athletes have taken it upon themselves to be like those who have come before them. We are just fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some really great kids.”