Jeff Braun of Winters Mill and John Bassler of Francis Scott Key have spent the better part of their football careers as rivals. On Wednesday, however, the two lineman officially became future Division I teammates, as each signed national letters of intent to attend West Virginia University.
The Carroll County standouts were two of three players the Mountaineers signed from Maryland (DeMatha running back Ryan Clarke was the other). For both, the day was a long time coming.
"I've been dreaming about signing day for four years now," said Braun, who orally committed to the school in November 2006. "I just always imagined myself being up there signing a piece of paper saying your education is going to be free if you play football."
Bassler's connection to West Virginia dates back even farther. His older brother Chris, named a first-team All-Metro tight end by The Sun following his senior season at Key in 2002, played in Morgantown until injuries forced him to quit the sport in 2005. He graduated last summer.
Braun, 6 feet 5 and 315 pounds, is ranked as the 52nd-best defensive tackle in the nation by superprep.com. Last season, he registered 56 tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble.
Bassler, 6-4 and 285, is ranked as the 115th-best offensive tackle. He recorded 63 tackles and time and again helped to open huge holes for the Eagles' running backs.
Both were named first-team All-Blue Ridge Conference on both the offensive and defensive lines last season. They also became close friends along the way.
"We've gotten a really good relationship just from playing against each other in the county," Bassler said. "He's a good guy, and we both have the same kind of interests as far as school. The more we got to know each other, it kind of came down to, for the both of us, Maryland or West Virginia. We like the idea of playing with each other."
That decision, however, was made somewhat more difficult in December, when Mountaineers head coach Rich Rodriguez abruptly resigned to replace Lloyd Carr as the head coach at Michigan. The situation caused several players to waver on their oral commitments to the school.
For Braun and Bassler, however, the hiring of longtime West Virginia assistant Bill Stewart -- who had personally recruited both -- removed any doubt.
"With Coach Rod leaving, I didn't know what was going to happen with some of the coaches that had influenced me," Braun said. "Coach Bill Stewart recruited me, and me and him just formed a great bond. If he would have gone, it would've really been a hit to me. So seeing him get the coaching job at the Fiesta Bowl helped out for me tremendously."
Both players said how quickly they see game time in college will depend largely on how hard they work during the offseason.
Braun, who's projected as a nose tackle, has been told by West Virginia coaches he already has the size and strength to play as a freshman, and he might be forced to do just that because of the team's lack of depth on the defensive line.
"I definitely have to get up there and work on my speed a lot more, but [Stewart] said I could definitely see some minutes next year if everything works out," Braun said.
Bassler, who was limited somewhat by injuries during his high school career, has more modest expectations.
"It's a matter of weight-room strength and experience, because I've only had 2½ or three years of playing football because of injuries," he said. "There's every chance that I could play in a year or two, and there's also a good possibility that I won't. It's just going to depend on what I do in the offseason."
For two players to sign with major Division I football programs in the same year is a rare occurrence in Carroll County. That fact was not lost on either, though Braun said he initially was surprised to hear about Bassler's decision.
"At first it was kind of hard, because I kind of wanted to be the main guy," Braun said. "When I first heard he was going there, I'm not going to lie -- I was just thinking, 'Am I going to be shoved off or something?' But me and him have formed a great bond and friendship, which a lot of guys don't get a chance to do before they go up there. Now I'm very happy and excited to be going with him. It's real special that two of us can go."
A half dozen wrestlers from Carroll County -- three each from North Carroll and South Carroll -- are included in the Maryland State Wrestling Association's latest rankings.
The list is led by South Carroll's Cam Hobin (119 pounds) and Tyler Mullen (171 pounds), who each are ranked second in their weight classes. The Cavaliers' Zac Stavish is ranked sixth at 160. North Carroll's list is led by Jason Thomen (215 pounds), who ranks third. The Panthers' Kyle Lemmon and Jeremy Seipp were named honorable mention at 125 and 130, respectively.
McDonald's Roundball Classic
Four players from Carroll County have been selected to take part in the McDonald's Roundball Classic Tri-State Elite All-Star Game, scheduled for March 21 at Hagerstown Community College.
Cammeron Woodyard and Devon Lesniak from Winters Mill, Colton Weaver from Liberty and Bobby Krauk from Westminster will play for the South team in the game, which features 30 of the top high school seniors from Central Maryland and parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Liberty's Ryan Miller also will play for the North team in the Shining Stars' game, part of the same event.
To submit news and story ideas about Carroll County high school athletics, contact Rich Scherr at CarrollSports@comcast.net.