It was a day of celebration for six Hancock College athletes, their families, friends, coaches and fans.
The six-pack of Bulldogs signed their national Letters of Intent Thursday to continue their academic and athletic careers at four-year universities. The signing ceremony took place in Hancock’s Joe White Memorial Gymnasium.
The student-athletes are truly going places — from Northridge to West Palm Beach, Florida and several places in between.
In all, three football players, two baseball players and one softball player have found new places to call home in Division I, Division II and NAIA universities.
—Baseball player Walker Armstrong (St. Joseph High) is staying closest to home. Armstrong signed with California State University, Northridge.
—Softball’s Larissa Ostrander (Santa Clarita High) is moving the farthest. She will soon be off to Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida.
—Football’s Thomas Leggett (Navarre High, Navarre, Fla.) already moved across the country to attend Hancock. He’s moving a bit closer to home when he joins the Texas Tech program in Lubbock, Texas.
—Football's Sean McComas (West Valley High, Cottonwood, CA) will be off to Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas.
—Baseball’s Chris Taitague (Lompoc High) will head to Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
—Football's Chris Barganier (St. Joseph) will head to Chadron, Nebraska to play at Chadron State College.
“Today is a fun day but my nerves are kind of catching up to me,” said Ostrander, the shortstop for Hancock softball for the past two years. “We had a great softball season. It ended too soon but softball has been a big part of my Hancock career and I can’t thank my coaches enough.”
Ostrander was an All-Conference First Team pick this spring after she led the Bulldogs with a .388 batting average, 10 doubles, 10 triples, 44 RBI and 20 stolen bases.
Ostrander will soon receive an associate’s degree in the Administration of Justice. She plans to get her bachelor’s degree in the same field, attend an East Coast police academy then go back to college to get a masters degree.
“Growing up, I had grandparents on the East Coast and I visited them often. I’ve always wanted to live in Florida but originally I wasn’t thinking of Keiser University,” she said of the NAIA school. “But when the opportunity came up, I just took it. I visited their campus for a week, met the coaches and my teammates, toured the campus. The city is really nice. It was a really good experience — and I’m getting scholarship help, otherwise, I don’t know how I would have paid for it.”
Scholarship help was one reason each of the athletes chose their next schools. They are all getting some kind of financial aid — from partial to full scholarships.
Taitague is headed to Campbellsville University, a NAIA program in Kentucky. Campbellsville won its third straight Mid-South Conference title this season and made its 19th appearance in the NAIA Regionals. Taitague hit .244 with one home run and 12 RBI his sophomore season for the Bulldogs as a catcher and outfielder.
“I am really excited to join such a successful program with a great coaching staff,” said Taitague, who plans to major in criminal justice. “I can’t wait to compete at the highest level possible, play in the postseason and win a championship ring or two. Campbellsville is in the Top 25 every year.
“And getting a bachelors degree in criminal justice definitely opens doors for better jobs. I plan to return to the Central Coast — preferably to Lompoc — to get into law enforcement and work with kids. The Central Coast is where I want to be.”
Armstrong will concentrate on pitching for Cal State Northridge.
The right-hander was named the Western State Conference Pitcher of the Year after he went 8-5 with a 2.15 ERA, three complete games and 81 strikeouts over 100 2/3 innings. The St. Joseph graduate also hit .310 at the plate. Armstrong was the conference’s pitcher of the year, first team all conference for a dual player (pitcher and hitter) and won the conference’s Gold Glove for his defensive work on the mound. When he wasn’t pitching, Armstrong was the Bulldog’s starting first baseman.
“I chose Northridge because the coaches were really interested in me as a pitcher and a person and said I will have an opportunity to compete for a starting spot,” said Armstrong. “Northridge has a great computer science program, which I plan to make my major. They also play in the Big West Conference, one of the most competitive and strongest Division I conferences in the nation.”
The CSUN Matadors are in the middle of their 2017 season. Northridge is coming off back-to-back 33-win seasons, the program’s most successful two-year period in 14 years.
“And Cal Poly and UCSB are also in the Big West, so when we come up here, it will be a good chance for my family and friends to see me play. They can also drive down to see me play at Northridge – it's is only about three hours away.”
McComas will join former Hancock quarterback Curry Parham at Tabor College, another NAIA program, where Tabor will concentrate on punting duties.
The Bluejays won the 2016 Kansas Collegiate Athletic Association title and qualified for the NAIA Playoffs. McComas averaged 33.2 yards per punt for the Bulldogs. His longest punt of the season was 48 yards.
“I came to Hancock because they gave me an opportunity to play quarterback and punter,” said McComas, who will receive an associate degree in Social & Behavioral Sciences. He plans to major in Pre-Med at Tabor.
“I like the school because it’s a Christian College. Of all the school’s that I was looking at, Tabor wanted me the most and gave me the best offer.”
Barganier will head to Nebraska to play at Chadron State, a Division II program. He finished his Hancock career with 69 receptions for 1,071 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6 foot, 1 inch receiver caught touchdown passes in five straight games his sophomore season.
“I really grew as a man and an athlete at Hancock,” said Barganier. “I am ready to represent Hancock at the next level and show everybody what I can do and earn a degree at the same time.”
The Chadron Eagles compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. They have gone 33-23 under sixth-year head coach Jay Long, including an appearance in the NCAA Division II Playoffs in 2012.
Leggett is making the biggest jump. He’s heading into the thick of the Big 12 conference, joining Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders with a chance to start right away in the defensive backfield and getting a full-ride scholarship.
“Hancock gave me the opportunity to keep playing and to get an education. Once I got here, my options kid of exploded,” said Leggett. “At Texas Tech, they need help on the defensive side of the ball and coach said I’ll get a chance to play — to contribute — right away.”
Leggett has been majoring in business at Hancock. He plans to switch his major to nutrition with a minor in business at Tech. The 6 foot, 1 inch freshman led the Bulldogs with 50 tackles in 2016. He recorded four tackles for loss, two interceptions and broke-up four passes.
“Texas Tech started pursuing me from day one,” said Leggett, who has three years of eligibility left. “They rolled out the red carpet for me during my recruiting trip. They have a great campus, stadium and coaching staff. I can’t wait to get there.”
The Red Raiders have played in two bowl games and owned the nation’s highest-scoring offense last season under Kingsbury. Leggett’s older brother, Jordan, played tight end at Clemson and was taken in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
“Helping student-athletes transfer to a four-year university is what we are here for at the college,” said Kim Ensing, associate dean and athletic director at Hancock. “These six athletes committed themselves to athletics and academics. As a result, they have earned a chance to earn a bachelor’s degree and continue playing the sport they love. We couldn’t be prouder of them.”
The last word belongs to McComas, “Start Here, Go Anywhere – right? That’s what we’re all doing.”