For four Ellison athletes, Wednesday offered proof that hard work pays off.
Football players Jh’Mal Gatewood, Reggie Jackson and Hayward Clay and soccer standout Alyssa Conde signed letters of intent in front of a packed Ellison gymnasium.
Surrounded by family and watched by friends, who filled up the stands, each athlete signed as the crowd roared its approval.
“It feels really good to know that all my hard work paid off and I actually made it to college,” Clay said.
Clay will play wide receiver at West Texas A&M while Jackson will play the same position at Texas Lutheran. Gatewood will play cornerback at East Texas Baptist, and Conde will continue her soccer career at St. Edward’s.
Clay, Jackson and Gatewood were part of an Ellison team that went winless for a third straight season in 2013. But assistant head coach Jerry Brakel — leading the ceremony in place of head coach Trent Gregory, who was having shoulder surgery — said Wednesday was a testament to the true success of the team.
“Even though the success was not there on the scoreboard, there’s many ways to judge success,” Brakel said. “To still be able to have the pride to come out and work at the ability that they did on a daily basis is extremely exciting.
“And this is the gratitude and the reward for all that hard work over a four-year career.”
For Gatewood, East Texas Baptist offered a chance to grow as a football player and in his faith.
“I kind of wanted to get a closer relationship with God and they gave me a chance to play football, so that’s where I decided to go,” he said.
For Jackson, Texas Lutheran was a perfect fit in the classroom and on the field.
“The school, it has a great athletic program, and it has my major and everything I want to further my education,” said Jackson, who plans to study physical therapy.
Second-year Ellison girls soccer coach Matthew Watt knew Conde was headed for the next level. Conde will wrap up a four-year varsity career this season with what she hopes is a school record in goals scored. She led the Eagles in scoring each year of her varsity career and is 15 goals shy of the school record.
“I don’t see why she won’t achieve it,” Watt said. “She works that hard.”
As for St. Edward’s, which she chose over Hardin Simmons and Trinity, Conde said the Austin school felt like the right choice.
“It was a process,” she said. “Everything with travel ball and talking to different coaches and just getting down to this final decision, I just knew it was the right school for me.”
And after all the hard work each athlete put in over the past four years, Wednesday was a nice reward and a chance to put in the same effort at the college level.
“It feels great,” Jackson said. “I’m just glad for the opportunity.”