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Four state champions at West St. John opt for out-of-state colleges

  • Tags:
  • Feature Story
  • National Signing Day
  • By:
  • George Becnel
  • Posted:
  • May 11, 2018 - 7:15pm

Signing scholarships Friday were, from left: Kyree Thorne (Aurora), Caleb Batiste (Arkansas Pine Bluff) and Kelon Gardner and Horace Lewis (both with Oklahoma Panhandle).

The timing may have been a bit late but it all worked out in the end for four members of West St. John’s 2017 Class A football state champions.

The four – Caleb Batiste, Kyree Thorne, Kelon Gardner and Horace Lewis – were part of a signing ceremony at West St. John on Friday morning as all received scholarships to further their educations and continue their football careers.

“We wanted to wait for these guys to make decision and be sure about where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. We were holding out for a couple of kids who made other decisions and decided to do other things as far as school. We just wanted to give the kids the maximum amount of time to have to themselves to make their decisions,” said Brandon Walters, West St. John’s football coach and athletic director.

All four players will be attending schools out of state.

Batiste will attend Arkansas Pine Bluff but with a bit of a Louisiana connection.

He was originally recruited by Juan Navarro, an assistant coach with the Southern Jaguars. Navarro moved over to Arkansas Pine Bluff and decided to take Batiste along.

“At Southern, I really appreciated him giving me a preferred walk-on. But with him going to the school he is now and him taking me with him, that’s a real blessing. I didn’t see that coming,” Batiste said.

Finishing up his West St. John career as an offensive tackle, Batiste may be making the switch to guard.

“It’s nothing. I started out there and I’m going back to it. It should be fine for me,” said Batiste.

Thorne will be attending Aurora University in Illinois after receiving a scholarship for both football and track.

“I was looking to find a place that was kind of small and not too big and they found me. I went up there and loved it,” Thorne said.

The multi-spot athletic said he found the mentality of the coaches at Aurora to be similar to that of the coaches at West St. John.

“The coaches’ expectations on moving on from West St. John are the same as West St. John. They expect stern, solid players who get it done both in the classroom and the field and they hold everyone to a high standard so the transition won’t be too hard,” said Thorne.

Gardner and Lewis, who grew up together and consider each other like brothers, will be together for the next four years with both attending Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

“I love it. Going there with my brother; all our lives we grew up together so it will be with someone I know,” said Gardner.

“You don’t have to go up and there and try and make new friends. You already have somebody I’ve been knowing since I was little,” said Lewis.

Both are looking to make a quick impression at the Oklahoma school.

“I want to just go up there and make myself know early. I want to set the tone and do a good job and take somebody’s starting spot,” Gardner said.

“Me and my brother will go out there and try to start a new era. We will try to go out and get us a new starting spot and make us a new home and try and take over and do all the things we’ve been doing,” said Lewis.

For Walters, the foursome has been a fixture in his life for the past five years.

“I’ve watched all these kids grow up from eighth grade. It’s just a joy to see them finally see their dreams come to fruition, and again, I just wish them the best,” Walters said.

George Becnel | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

George Becnel is an award-winning journalist and has been a sports writer and editor for more than 30 years.