By Evan Mohl
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – The next time Troy Vital takes the football field, he'll be in Tuscon, Ariz. on national television.
On Wednesday, the Copperas Cove senior running back and Associated Press first-team all-state selection signed his national letter of intent to play at the University of Idaho.
The Vandals play the Arizona Wildcats on Aug. 30 on ESPN.
"It didn't hit me that I'd be playing Division I football until I signed that piece of paper," said Vital, who donned black and gold Vandals gear. "It really just hit me, and I'm pretty excited."
Wednesday was the first day high school football players could sign their binding letters of intent to play for the college of their choice.
Vital, who rushed for 2,029 yards (8.4 per carry) and scored 25 touchdowns this season, verbally committed to the Vandals in January after head coach Robb Akey and his staff visited the running back's house in Cove for the third time.
Vital shrugged off other big-name schools like Baylor, Tennessee and Georgia Tech – to many people's surprise – because the Vandals showed genuine interest with home visits and offered him a chance to play right away.
"I wanted to play where I was wanted," Vital said earlier this month. "I felt if I was redshirted or relegated to the bench behind three or four guys, I would have lost my love for the game."
Vital will have some stiff competition, though. Current Vandals running back Deonte Jackson, the nephew of St. Louis Rams star running back Stephen Jackson, put up some gaudy freshmen numbers.
Jackson's campaign ranked fourth all-time for carries (240), seventh all-time for yards (1,175) and sixth all-time for all-purpose rushing plays as a freshman for the Vandals.
Vital thinks the team could make quite a duo.
"I actually spoke with Deonte over the phone," Vital said. "We had a good conversation. We talked about having a 1-2 punch and a good combination to help us win."
The Vital commitment is part of Akey's plan to increase the Vandals presence in Texas. Last year, he signed four players from the Lone Star State. Today, he inked two, including the Cove running back.
Vital will head to Moscow, Idaho – a place he said reminds him of Copperas Cove – in June. He plans to pursue a criminal justice major and go to law school.
Vital did not fumble once this year and set the school record for yards in a single game with 327 on 18 carries.
Seven other Cove seniors also signed their national letters of intent on Wednesday, giving the Bulldawgs the most football recruits in the area.
"I'm proud of these kids," Bulldawgs head coach and athletic coordinator Jack Welch said. "It's exciting to see everyone get signed and get opportunities to play football and further their education."
Offensive lineman Sean Robertson along with defensive lineman Anthony Gonzales both committed to coach Brad Franchione – son of former Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione – at Blinn Junior College.
"I felt like Blinn gave me the best chance to succeed both athletically and academically," a nervous and excited Gonzales said. "It's a place where I can start, play a couple of years and then move on to a Division I school."
Blinn finished 7-3 last year, and has sent many of their players on to Division I schools.
"It's a good program," Robertson said with both his parents at his side. "I think it's the best one around."
Steven Welch, who anchored the Bulldawgs defensive line in 2007, chose Tarleton State after a rocky recruiting process. He had verbally committed to Stephen F. Austin State, but, according to Welch, they reneged the non-binding offer.
So, Welch had to do a lot of scrambling at the end. His choices came down to Tarleton, Montana St. and Wofford College in South Carolina. He chose Tarleton because they had been knocking at his door from the start.
"Tarleton recruited me from the beginning," Welch said. "I fit in well and it's a place I want to be a part of."
Offensive linemen Jerry Hill and Thomas Durcan signed with Division III Texas Lutheran University where they'll be rooming together in the fall.
"I'm feeling good," a tired, but excited Hill said. "I'm looking forward to heading down there soon."
Both Hill and Durcan will major in kinesiology.
"The coaching staff is awesome," Durcan said. "They really promote team unity, which we had a lot of here."
Outside linebacker Joseph Wright and tight end Donel Morrison committed to Trinity Valley Community College.
"This is a dream come true," Wright said. "I'd never thought I'd see this day where I get to go to school and play football."
Morrison said he actually might switch positions to halfback or fullback.
"They liked my size," Morrison said. "I'm open to a position change, especially to fullback. I'd like to run the ball some more."
Today was the first day students could sign with the school of their choice. According to head coach Jack Welch, the Bulldawgs will have more players ink letters of intent in the near future.
Contact Evan Mohl at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7564.