IRVINGTON, NJ — Feb. 16 was a proud day for the Irvington High School football staff, players and their families as seniors on the football team made their final decisions and signed their names on the dotted lines of their commitment letters.
“Today, we’re having a signing-day ceremony for the seniors on our football team for the Class of 2022,” assistant football coach and offensive coordinator Darnell Mangan said on Feb. 16. “I think it’s a major accomplishment that you give kids an opportunity to grow and go to college and, for the next three or four years, continue to play the game that they love. They’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I think the families are grateful that they have a community of coaches that wants to put their young scholars in position to receive opportunities like this.
“We have a lot of guys that put a lot of work in that is deserving of this opportunity,” he continued. “I’m ecstatic about this moment. I can’t wait to see the school community feel overwhelmed and overjoyed about what’s happening here. This is big for this town, this school and this program.”
Before the big reveal, the players were excited to announce where they’ll be fore their collegiate careers. One player, IHS senior Lensley Therlonge, who signed with American International College in Springfield, Mass., said he felt blessed to receive a college scholarship.
“Today is just a blessing for all of us seniors,” Therlonge said on Feb. 16. “For most of us to be going to college for free is just a blessing. … I was really excited because this was my first offer and, once I went for a visit, I knew that was where I wanted to end up going. It’s a true blessing for me to go to college for free.”
Another player excited for his transition was IHS senior Justin Evans-Jenkins, who was the only senior who had already committed, to the University of Nebraska.
“We have 14 out of 21 seniors signing their commitment letters today,” Evans-Jenkins said on Feb. 16. “This moment is a blessing. Not only am I proud of myself, but I’m also proud of my teammates who are signing with me today, because they’ve been working as hard as I have. In Irvington, we’ve all been struggling to get up and go to school and to practice late at night, so I’m just proud of everyone. I already signed to the University of Nebraska in December; I’m very excited to start this new chapter in my life and for what comes next. I’m most excited about the transition from high school to college and being on my own. I hope to go to Nebraska and dominate the Big 10. I’m ready to go out there, listen to my coaches and just work.”
Unlike Therlonge and Evans-Jenkins, IHS senior Tafari Thompson was undecided for a while before eventually signing with Independence Community College in Independence, Kan.
“This is a dream come true,” Thompson said Feb. 16. “I watched my brother go through his signing day and watched seniors sign their commitment letters. It was special to them, so it’s special to me. I’m ready to get to the next level, go farther and explore what college is. My family really wants me to go to college, so I want to do that for them.”
Proud of all 14 signees, head football coach Ashley “Smoke” Pierre mentioned how historic this moment was for the program.
“We’re sending these guys off the right way and having fun while they accept their scholarships and to go to school for free,” Pierre said on Feb. 16. “As a program, we have 14 guys signing and going to school for free, which has probably never been done in the history of this school and never will be done again. This is a monumental moment for us as a program in New Jersey. This is a huge deal today and I feel good. This feels like our championship game. To be able to send our kids off to school, debt-free — you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
Photos Courtesy of Felicia Laguerre Owens