STEENS — Three was a magical number Thursday for the Immanuel Christian football program.
Fresh off the momentum from one of the best seasons in school history, Justin James, Wesley Lake, and Dustin White signed to play football at East Mississippi Community College.
James, Lake, and White played integral roles in helping the Rams (6-6) finish with their most wins in a season since 2003. The success catapulted Immanuel Christian into the playoffs and helped push the program solidly into 11-man football.
Shawn Gates, who completed his second year as football coach this season, complimented the players for setting the standard future classes will try to meet.
“It opens the door,” Gates said. “Other kids will see you can sign from Immanuel Christian School and you can be successful here and move on to a junior college or a four-year school.”
James and White played on the defensive line, while Lake played cornerback. All three players will grayshirt, or redshirt, at EMCC.
James said he projects as a lineman or as a linebacker. White will work on his punting skills, while Lake will compete for playing time in the secondary.
“They all have good character and are hard workers,” Immanuel Christian defensive coordinator Daniel Merchant said. “We”re going to miss them a lot. It is going to be hard to fill their shoes. We wish them all of the best at EMCC, and hope they can further their careers.”
Merchant pointed to the players” work in the weight room and their participation in summer conditioning that helped them improve. He also said the school will get some exposure from the fact
“I think big things are going to happen for Immanuel in the future,” Merchant said. “If you get in the weight room, you never know what is going to happen. The weight room is where it starts.”
James, who was injured at the end of the season and missed the team”s playoff game against Tri-County, said he fared well at an initial tryout and the invitation-only tryout at EMCC. He admitted to being a little rusty coming back from the injury, but said he was proud of his performance.
“I feel like I impressed some of the coaches, and it is a real good opportunity,” said James, who used his work with the basketball team to get back into shape. “I really had no idea what the coaches were going to think. I just went down there and did my best. I am just thankful for the opportunity.”
Lake said his work ethic helped him realize a chance to continue his football career. He, too, attended both tryouts at EMCC and felt he made an impression on the coaches.
“I was prepared for it,” Lake said. “I did a whole lot better the second tryout than the first one. I have never had to try out for anything. It was interesting. I was glad to be a part of it.”
For White, he significance of the signing didn”t hit him until Thursday. He said he worked hard on his conditioning and on his punting since November to put himself in position to do well.
“There were a lot of good punters there, but I stood out pretty good,” said White, who has only been punting for three years. “My leg was feeling good, and I had some pretty good punts they felt were impressive.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.