By Travis M. Smith | KBEC Sports
MIDLOTHIAN — Two Midlothian Heritage big men signed Division-I letters of intent Wednesday to continue their football careers, becoming the fourth and fifth Jaguars in program history to accomplish the career milestone.
The ceremony for Carson Walker (University of Houston) and Coby James (Northwestern State University) was held in the front foyer of Heritage High School, making for a unique and more intimate scene. Typically, Jaguars continuing their playing careers sign in the gymnasium in front of the visitors’ section of bleachers packed full of teammates, family and coaches.
COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines prevented the traditional signing day festivities. The bleachers were replaced with students and staff donning masks and leaning over the second-story railing above the handsomely decorated signing table and Heritage backdrop. Families and coaches were safely distanced on the ground floor, where they and the two student-athletes were showered — often — with applause from above.
James and Walker helped Heritage to a 9-3 overall record and an undefeated District 5-4A championship this season. The Jaguars finished the past two seasons 18-8 overall with the two on the field, which included four playoff wins.
Walker (6-foot-4, 295 pounds) was the first of the offensive linemen to sign, committing his next four years at the University of Houston. He’ll join 2018 Midlothian Heritage graduate and offensive lineman Jack Freeman IV on the Cougars’ line. Freeman was the first-ever Jaguar to ink a Division-I NLI.
The signing was extra special for Midlothian Heritage head football coach Lee Wiginton, as he explained, “sadly, in this profession, coaches move around a lot. But I have had the luxury of pretty much being here throughout his school years.”
Walker and Haydon Wiginton, the head coach’s son, quickly became friends and teammates when the family moved to Midlothian. At the time, Wiginton was the head football coach at Midlothian High.
“From Waxahachie YMCA flag football to the Little Dribblers and then all of those guys going to Walnut Grove, it’s a special time,” Wiginton said. “And, on top of that, his family is very near and dear to my heart. It has been so much fun being around this family and so much fun watching him develop.
“There was never a doubt that he was going to be great. There was never a doubt that he would end up where he is right now. It has been really, really cool to see the progression. There are not many guys who have worked harder in this game than Carson has.”
Wiginton added that Heritage fans “got to see him dominate for a long, long time,” and they’ll continue to see that same level of success at the next level.
“I just want to thank everybody for coming today,” said Walker from behind the U-of-H decorated table. “I couldn’t have done this without y’all. It has been a true honor to play with every one of my teammates. Thank you all.”
With Walker officially signed and photographed, James (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) took his turn at the now-black-and-purple Demon-themed table.
“There are quite a few things that stick out in my mind about Coby and memories that I have,” said Wiginton of the Northwestern State University signee. “One of which is that I’m not sure that I’ve ever coached a tougher football player.”
Wiginton went on to talk about James’ junior season and his battle through a right labrum tear, a muscle that is awfully important for a lineman.
The coaching staff did their best to keep James as fresh as possible for gameday, often holding him out of practice and limiting his snap count on Fridays.
“He didn’t play every snap and physically, he probably shouldn’t have played many, but he was going to play every single snap that he could,” Wiginton added. “[…] He was going to give it all he had in the game and play until he just couldn’t go. And every snap he gave us was incredibly valuable to the success of our team.”
James had surgery to repair his labrum in the offseason and returned to the field, “looking like a different guy.” He was bigger, stronger and more determined to fulfill his collegiate dreams as ever.
“The amount of work he put in to do those things was really fun to watch,” Wiginton said.
James is a young man of few words for those who do not know, which led to resounding applause when he told his head coach that he’d like to address those in attendance.
“Thank you all for coming. I really appreciate it,” said James, drawing quite a bit of laughter and even more cheers.
All photos by Travis M. Smith/KBEC Sports
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith