St. Frances linebacker Sam Thomas, cornerback Jordan Swann and quarterback Isaiah Robinson committed to play college football earlier this week, bringing to ten the number of players from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions headed to Division I programs on scholarship.
Thomas, The Baltimore Sun's Defensive Player of the Year, is headed to Towson. Swann, a first-team All-Metro selection, will play for Connecticut. Robinson is headed to Rhode Island.
For all three Panthers, making their commitments relieves a lot of pressure — just in time to enjoy the holidays.
"I feel great. I really do," Robinson said. "Now, I get to relax and I don't have to worry. I found a great fit for me. I only have to think about getting stronger and faster and fitter for the next level."
Swann said, "It's just a huge weight off your shoulders, being able to breathe and know where you're going. Now you can focus on school and finishing your senior year and on preparing for college on and off the field."
All three will sign their National Letters of Intent when the signing period for football begins Feb. 1.
For Thomas, who opted for Towson over Rhode Island and Central Michigan, staying close to home turned out to be an important factor in his decision. He didn't want to go to a big school, figuring he would be more distracted there. Towson was the right size, and he can remain connected to a lot of family.
"Being from Baltimore, it means a lot for my mom to come see me play," he said. "I've been to Towson a number of times and I like everything about it. I have a lot of close friends who play on the football team. My cousin, Morgan Scroggins, who went to Calvert Hall, plays on the team."
Scroggins did a little recruiting for the Tigers.
"He was calling me every week," Thomas said with a laugh.
Scroggins also had help. Panthers teammate Myles Wright had already committed to the Tigers and Thomas' best friend, Diondre Wallace, an Arundel graduate, is a sophomore linebacker on the team.
As an inside linebacker, Thomas said he thinks he'll fit well into the Tigers defense.
“I’ve watched their defense. They’re aggressive,” said Thomas, who had six interceptions, four sacks and three forced fumbles this fall. “I know they had a losing season [4-7], but I talk to a lot of commits playing defense and we’re looking to come in and change it. I think it will be a great fit for me, because Diondre — me and him playing the same position — he can teach me a lot. That’ll be great.”
Thomas said he wants to have a career in sports, so he plans to major in sports medicine.
For Swann, Connecticut was a favorite from the moment he made an unofficial visit in July. He also considered Temple, Illinois, Kent State and Delaware.
"I just loved the coaches at UConn and when I went up there, it just seemed like a great atmosphere," Swann said. "It seems like they just need a few players to turn the program around. They're not that many wins away from a successful program."
A cornerback with 10 interceptions during the regular season and another in the Maryland Crab Bowl all-star game, Swann said he should be able to compete for playing time as a freshman.
"God willing, I can come in and play. They said I would have the opportunity to play corner, play a nickel which is a type of corner, and definitely punt return. Now I have to get in the mindset for next year, because I'm going to be playing against grown men next year."
He said the Huskies play zone and man defenses and he fits either.
"Their corner Jamar Summers had [eight] picks one season. They let their DBs run to the ball and play the ball a lot, so that was one of the things that stuck out."
Swann plans to major in business, looking for a future in business administration.
Robinson, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound pro-style quarterback who threw for 2,223 yards and 23 touchdowns this fall, was drawn to Rhode Island by the coaching staff.
"I really liked all the coaches, coach Will Fleming, the quarterback coach; coach [Ari] Confesor, he's the recruiting coach for our area; and head coach Jim Fleming," he said. "Talking to them, I think they can get me to be a better person and a better player on the field. I feel like they're going to change the program around to a winning program. I like starting something."
Robinson chose Rhode Island over St. Francis (Pa.) and Eastern Kentucky and visited the campus last month.
He will play quarterback for the Rams, who play in the Colonial Athletic Association with Towson, and said he was told he would have the opportunity to compete for the starting job right away.
"Their type of offense is a spread offense," Robinson said. "They like to move the ball around. I see myself as a pro-style quarterback, a pocket passer, so I just like to distribute the ball and if I need to get extra yards by using my feet, I can do that. At Rhode Island, we run a lot of run-pass options and we do a couple of read options but we also hand the ball off a lot, so it fits my abilities perfectly."
Robinson also plans to major in business with the goal of taking over his father's business one day.
St. Frances coach Henry Russell said the choices are perfect for each player.
"We're really excited for them. All three of them were leaders for us," Russell said. "Sam's just an unbelievable player in addition to guiding our defense as a selfless player. He's going to shine at Towson.
"Jordan is just a playmaker and he'll be playing in the American [Athletic] Conference, which is a tough conference with Houston and the Naval Academy. He'll also get a chance to return kicks up there.
"Isaiah was an extension of the coaches on the field and he leads by example, so he's a great kid to have in your program and as your quarterback. We were blessed to have him. He can really get it done."
For the three Panthers, all of whom spent only their senior year at St. Frances, the commitments they and their teammates have made to play college football mean a lot to the team, especially after it made the jump from an 0-6 A Conference team to the conference champion.
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"This is good for kids like us coming up in the city," Thomas said, "and also kids coming from different places. This was our dream when we came to St. Frances. Nobody thought we could win the MIAA championship. Having so many players go on to play college football means a lot to us and the school and the coaches and our families."
In addition to Thomas, Swann, Robinson and All-Metro tight end Wright who is headed to Towson; All-Metro running back Gary Brightwell has committed to Temple; defensive tackle B'Ahmad Miller to Maryland; defensive end Kinglsey Jonathan to Syracuse; defensive back Caleb John to Army West Point; linebacker Tariq Coley to Morgan State; and defensive lineman Jamehl Wiley to Delaware.
This is, by far, the largest number of football players in one class to commit to play college football from St. Frances.
"We called ourselves the first team at St. Frances again," Swann said. "We were just being blessed to be on this first team. Coaches will be talking about it 15 to 20 years from now. Soon, I'll be considered one of the old guys coming back and just giving advice to the younger guys who come into St. Frances so that's a great position for me to be in. I'm real proud of my teammates for what they accomplished."