ADAMS TWP — High school football players all over the country recently made it known that they are ready for the next challenge.
For Mars senior Connor Biggs, that means taking his academic and athletic careers to the University of Dayton.
A three-year starter for the Planets, Biggs helped Mars win the Greater Allegheny Conference title last season as a linebacker and offensive tackle.
“It's always been a dream of mine to play football in college,” said Biggs, who plans to major in chemical engineering. “But it was during my junior year that I saw it as reality.”
Biggs is one of five Planet players who have committed to play in college, joining Alex Smith (Mercyhurst), Jake Tumminello (Clarion), Cole Horan (Baldwin Wallace) and Chris Panza (North Dakota State College of Science).
“They've done a good job for us and people have recognized that,” said Mars coach Scott Heinauer of his college-bound players. “College coaches know that when they look to Mars, they are getting a quality player. It's awesome for our program.”
Biggs (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) was recruited to play inside linebacker for the Flyers, who turned in a 6-5 season last fall under head coach Rick Chamberlin.
Dayton, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school, competes in the Pioneer Football League. The conference includes nine other teams, including Jacksonville University, Davidson (N.C.) College and the University of San Diego, among others.
“For road games, we will travel by plane,” said Biggs. “I'll get to see a lot of the country and I'm really excited about that. It's going to be amazing.
“My main goals are to get a degree in engineering and then go to graduate school.”
• Smith and Tumminello both chose Division II schools in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The former will receive a full scholarship at Mercyhurst.
“They play a 3-3-5 defense,” said Smith, who will begin his collegiate career as a free safety. “Three safeties are on the field in their base defense. They rotate in a lot of players and the coaches told me that the best guys will see the field. I have a good knowledge of the game and I'm just looking forward to going up there and getting some playing time.”
Smith will play baseball this spring for the Planets, but is looking forward to the challenges of college football.
“The speed of the game is going to be a big change for me,” he said. “I want to get in the weight room and become a stronger player. Having time to just focus on one sport will benefit me.”
Tumminello played defensive end at Mars, but will likely move to outside linebacker at Clarion.
“At first, I was skeptical about the switch, but the coaches assured me that they will make sure I'm prepared,” he said. “They won't just throw me in at a different position.”
The 6-2, 210-pound resident of Valencia is grateful for the lessons he learned while suiting up for Heinauer and his assistants.
“I used to be a bit greedy, playing just for myself,” admitted Tumminello. “But over the last few years, I realized that you have to play for the team. The coaches here at Mars instilled that in me and I'm a better player for it.”
• Horan will also remain on defense as either a lineman or linebacker at Baldwin Wallace, a Division III school located outside of Cleveland.
“They run a 4-3 defense,” he said. “I've been told that I will have the chance to rush the passer. That's good because I love getting after the quarterback.”
But the advantages of attending his school of choice extend beyond the gridiron.
“I'm going to major in sports management,” Horan added. “Baldwin Wallace has a strong connection with the pro sports teams in Cleveland and I might be able to get an internship with one of them.”
• Panza will be manning a spot on the defensive line for the Wildcats of NDSCS, located in the southeastern part of the state. He will receive a scholarship to the junior college.
“I wasn't able to actually visit the campus, but I did take a virtual tour on the internet,” said Panza. “It's far from home, but it seemed to be the best fit for me.”
The Wildcats are coming off a 3-6 season under veteran coach Chuck Parsons, but a recruiting class of over 30 players will infuse new talent into the program.
Editor's note: Chris Smith will join his brother Alex playing football at Mercyhurst. Chris could not be reached for comment before this publication, but he will be featured when this story runs in the Butler Eagle.