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News Story
Updated: 02/10/2013 07:59:30AM

First Bartow IB student signs football scholarship

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PHOTO BY LARRY JEWETT
Gabriel Al-Shaer signs a letter of intent Stetson University in DeLand.

PHOTO BY LARRY JEWETT

Vontarius West looks at the pen and paper on the letter of intent to play football with the Golden Panthers of Florida International University.

By LARRY JEWETT

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The next step for two Bartow High school football players became official on Wednesday.

In front of family, friends, coaches and the media, Gabriel Al-Shaer and Vontarius West choose their colleges. Al-Shaer will be going to the fledgling football squad at Stetson University in Deland. West will head south to play for the Golden Panthers of Florida International University. The signing ceremony took place in the Bartow High School cafeteria.

“This occasion is the result of two young men having supportive families helping them with their dreams,” said head football coach Brett Biggs. “They have had a great cast to prepare them for this moment and special time.”

Biggs cited the commitment of the two that extended beyond football. Al-Shaer, believed to be the first student from International Baccalaureate to sign a college letter for football, carried a grade point average higher than 4.0. West was no slouch in the classroom, maintaining a
3.8 average in school work.

“These are true student athletes,” Biggs added.

Both were defensive standouts for multiple seasons for Bartow. In addition to his duties in the defensive backfield, West also played wide receiver on offense and returned kicks on special teams.

Coach Kenny Strong echoed Biggs’ words, adding “Whether it was in the weight room, the classroom or on the field, they were leaders by the examples they set. They represent themselves well and are great representatives of our school and program.”

Al-Shaer had narrowed his choices to Davidson in North Carolina and Stetson. The schools maintain very high academic standards and Stetson does not offer athletic scholarships. The Hatters football team will take the field in 2013, marking a return to the sport. The last time the school had a football team was 1956, giving Al-Shaer a chance to get in on the ground floor. The team hired former Princeton head coach Roger Hughes and will play in the Pioneer Football League.

“I’m really happy,” said Al-Shaer in describing his signing. “This is the culmination of four years work and it is a good feeling.” He plans to major in history with his sights set on attending law school. He will focus on playing linebacker for the Hatters.

West choose Florida International after considering many other programs, including two Florida schools and institutions as far away as Iowa State.

“This feels good,” he said with a smile. “I was a little nervous before we got started, but I’m OK now.”

His decision to go to FIU came about after a visit.

“I really felt at home there,” he said. I knew some people who were there and it just felt right for me. They have a great engineering program and that’s my interest.”

West will target the cornerback position in college and looks to make a mark to earn playing time as quickly as the program will allow. Five of the nine cornerbacks on the FIU roster last season were seniors.

“This really feels great,” added Biggs after the signing and celebration with cake and snacks was well under way. “To see the progress that these kids have made and continue to make is a great feeling. I know the work ethic that they both have and know that day in and day out, they were there and willing to work and give it their all. They added a lot to the program.”

Biggs has emphasized the “student” part of student athletes from his first day on the job three seasons ago. “This is vindication for our efforts,” he said. “The study table is huge when you see the grade point averages. We hold our study table two days a week and the guys work. Cs are not allowed and Bs are tolerated. We promote accountability. you’ll see a lot of programs where the team stars are sidelined because of grades and we don’t want that here. Sure, there are some that don’t get it until later, but when you have guys like these who are the stars of your team working like this, it sets a great example. Their impact and effect is going to carry on as they go on to their new teams.”


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