SALADO — A pair of teammates who helped each other reach the next level and a multisport star signed paper Wednesday that makes college play official.

Eagles offensive linemen James Collins and Jakob Popple inked with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and Panhandle State, respectively, while Ashley Adams signed with Northwestern State to run cross country.

“It’s an unbelievable day for Salado,” athletic director and football coach Brent Graham said. “On National Signing Day, to have two football kids sign and then a girl be a multisport athlete at the next level, I’m proud of all these kids. Any time that they can further their education and compete at the next level is awesome.”

Perhaps even more special was how the recruitment of Collins and Popple intertwined.

Before Collins committed to UMHB, he was recruited by Panhandle State head coach Russell Gaskamp.

When Gaskamp called Collins in search of more recruits, Popple was an easy choice.

“Popple’s been like my brother for the last four years,” Collins said. “I had to tell him about him.”

He played a successful recruiting matchmaker as Popple found Gaskamp, who is also the offensive line coach, and Panhandle State to be a perfect fit.

“I really liked that aspect of the school,” Gaskamp said. “The other players, the other coaches, it felt like a great family environment.”

Collins, meanwhile, felt the same way about UMHB, where he’ll play for a Division III national power.

“It’s a great place,” Collins said. “The campus is amazing, those facilities are great and they have great academics and they have the best degrees.”

Adams, meanwhile, will wrap up an outstanding career in cross country and track and field this spring, one that head cross country coach Cindy Mewhinney is sad to see end.

“It’s sad to see her go, but I’m glad for her,” said Mewhinney, who coached Adams since she was in seventh grade. “She worked hard. She’s been a great leader, she’s my only senior girl on the team this year, and obviously we got sixth in state this year.”

With track season ahead of her, Adams said she aims to prove she belongs on the next level.

“The coaches were really welcoming, the athletes were really welcoming,” she said of her Northwestern State visit. “It was just a great experience altogether, and I’m excited to make them my teammates.”

It was a feeling shared by Collins and Popple on Wednesday as they celebrated the reward for years of hard work with dozens of family and friends.

Contact Jordan Mason at or 254-501-7562​

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