Offensive lineman Donnie Richards said he learned one very important lesson playing football for four years at Havelock High.
"Hard work pays off," Richards said. "You have to put in the work to get the reward."
And for Richards, that reward is the opportunity to play football in college. The senior, with parents and coaches by his side, signed Monday to play at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
Richards said the scenery surrounding the campus in Buckhannon, W.Va., grabbed his attention right away, and the people he met kept it.
"There’s a lot of friendly people," he said. "It’s a place where I felt at home."
Richards was initially considering offers from Guilford and Wingate, but Wesleyan hired a new coach, George Shehl, who plans to run a spread offense similar to the one at Havelock. Rams coach Jim Bob Bryant said Wesleyan coaches called him asking about potential players, and he gave them Richards’ name.
"They needed guys who were in shape that could move and who played in similar offenses and played it at a high level," Bryant said.
Richards said he hoped playing such an offense in high school would help him at Wesleyan.
"They run a fast-paced offense," he said. "Hopefully high school will have me a little bit more prepared than everyone else, seeing as how I’ve done it before."
And that has him looking to get some playing time as a freshman.
"The coaches told me that they think I can compete for a starting spot, but that I have to go up there and earn it, which I plan on doing," he said.
Richards said he came away from his visit to the school impressed with the coaching staff.
"They were really all about me," he said. "They toured the school with me and made sure I had a good time, and they seemed really legit in making sure that I was going to be a successful person not only in college but after college."
The Bobcats, an NCAA Division II school playing in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, went 3-8 in 2012, but Richards said the new coaches are optimistic.
"They’re looking to rebuild and start a good tradition up there," he said.
Richards (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) played guard and tackle during Havelock’s 2012 state championship season. The three-year starter was part of a line that helped the offense average 47.9 points per game in 2012 and 50.7 points per game during the 2011 title season.
"I’m excited for him," Bryant said. "Four years of hard work paid off. I’m glad somebody saw the value in a good, smart offensive lineman who’s a good character kid."
Richards said he’s looking for success on the football field at Wesleyan, along with meeting new people and getting a degree in athletic training.
As for his high school days, Richards thanked the coaching staff.
"They really turned us into the men we are today," he said.
And, he said he would always carry the memories of those two state championship seasons with him.
"Back-to-back state championships — not too many people get to experience that," he said. "It’s been a great four years."