BELLS — The Panthers had a lot to celebrate on Wednesday morning.
Inside the school’s main gym, football standouts Chance Morse, Jake Bulanek, Hunter Hawthorne and Newman Montgomery along with volleyball standout Dezeray Poe each signed national letters of intent to play in college in their respective sports.
Morse is heading to Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma while Bulanek is heading west to play at McMurry University in Abilene. Both offensive linemen were key pieces up front for the Panthers in 2017.
“I love the campus,” Morse said of SNU. “There’s a good set of moral values there and they play high-level football. I’ve had a great high school career and I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Both players are also ready for the opportunity to realize their dreams at the next level.
“It’s exciting and a great opportunity,” Bulanek said.
“It’s very exciting, Morse said. “The four years of hard work paid off and I’m ready to move on and reach my full potential.”
Bulanek was an honorable mention all-state selection this past season by the Texas Sports Writers Association while Morse was an honorable mention all-state pick by the Associated Press as a senior after being second-team all-state as a junior.
Two dynamic receivers will each head out-of-state to play college ball. Hawthorne, a three-time all-state selection with two first-team all-state seasons, will play up the road for the Savage Storm of Southeastern Oklahoma State. Hawthorne had a big year in 2017, finishing with 1,785 yards and 24 touchdowns this past season. He also recovered three fumbles on defense for the Panthers.
“I’ve had good relationships built with the coaching staff and the players,” Hawthorne said. “It’s a really good environment and it’s close to home. That played a part in my decision.”
Hawthorne ended his career with 338 catches, which is second all-time in Texas High School Football history behind Jared Reagan’s 391, 4,846 yards, which is third all-time, and 59 receiving touchdowns, which is fourth all-time.
His teammate, Montomery, will play at Bethel College in Kansas. Montgomery was the second-leading receiver for Bells, finishing with 536 yards and five touchdowns on the year.
“It felt like home. It’s a small campus just like it is here and it feels nice to be a small area,” Montgomery said. “It means a lot to go play at the next level.”
The Panthers also had a standout volleyball player who will keep her talents in-state. Outside hitter Dezeray Poe signed with Arlington Baptist University and says she found a perfect fit with the school.
“I loved that it’s a very close-knit Christian community and that my future teammates all share similar values,” Poe said of her new school.
She was the Co-Offensive Player of the Year in District 11-2A as a senior
During the ceremony, Bells head football coach Scott Ponder said he was proud that Bells would have a large signing class for a school its size. It was something that was not lost on Poe.
“It’s very exciting and humbling,” she said. “The Lord has really blessed me.”
The four football players also helped establish a strong culture of winning at the 2A level — setting a school record with four straight playoff appearances — and even as they go their separate ways in college, they credit the foundation at Bells for helping them reach this milestone in their lives.
“It shows how we’ve grown up and how the coaching staff has prepared us to become better athletes,” Hawthorne said. “It’s playing out how it should be.”
“I grew up with these guys playing football together and it’s great to see them move on,” Morse said. “I hope we all have prosperous careers.”