By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – Last week, two Grapeland Sandies – in two different sports – inked their names to National Letters of Intent to take their talents to the next level and continue in their athletic careers.
Oklahoma Panhandle State University was the beneficiary of the May 11 signings as Sandies Dustin Ackley (in baseball) and Joel Barbosa (in football) traded in the maroon and white of the Grapeland Sandies for the red, white and blue of the OPSU Aggies.
Following the formal signing ceremony, Ackley and Barbosa discussed their decisions to commit to play at OPSU.
“They gave me the best offer,” Ackley said.
Recruited as a pitcher, Ackley said he has four different pitches in his arsenal.
“I throw two types of fastballs, a curve and a change-up. They also told me they wanted to see how my hitting was at the beginning of the season but they said they really didn’t want their pitchers swinging a bat,” he explained.
Ackley said he looked at other schools in the area but felt OPSU gave him the best opportunity and seemed to be the best fit.
On the recruitment process, Ackley said “… it’s kind of tricky. If you don’t know how to talk, you can wind up with a bad deal. You also always have to look for the right school. The school is located in a small, little town known as Goodwell so it should be an easy transition from Grapeland. They’re a DII school right now but I think they’re going to become part of the NAIA.”
Barbosa echoed Ackley’s sentiments and said he had visited several other schools, but also liked the comfort level he felt at OPSU.
He also said there was another reason for his choice.
“At all of the other schools I visited, they told me all about the things I did well out on the football field, but when I had a one-on-one session with (Head) Coach (Russell) Gaskamp, he told me about things I needed to work on. I thought if I’m going to play at the next level, I want someone who will be honest with me and tell me about what I need to work on to get better,” Barbosa said.
The offensive lineman who worked primarily as a guard and tackle in the Sandies’ offense said he thought he would be moved to center at OPSU.
“Coach Gaskamp was a center at UT when Vince Young was quarterback and they won the national championship. So, I feel like if I’m going to play center it would be good to learn from somebody that knows what it’s about,” he said.
Both Ackley and Barbosa stressed the need to put an emphasis on academic studies because without being able to pass at the high school level, student athletes would not get a chance to take the field, court or track at the high school level and the opportunities to attend college on an athletic scholarship would not be there.
“My parents always taught me it was education that would get me to the next level. I told a lot of the guys on the team this year that for me, it’s not all about football. It’s about education and I’m just using football to better my education. Work hard on your grades, work hard on the field and have a good attitude both on and off the field,” Barbosa said.
Athletic Director Wayne Mahaffey also commented on the signing of Ackley and Barbosa.
“Anytime you get a chance to continue doing something you love to do – whether it’s football, basketball or baseball – anytime you get an opportunity to continue playing, it’s an honor. Those honors, however, don’t come along very often unless you take care of business in the classroom like these guys have done,” the AD said.
“If you don’t take care of things in the classroom, you will be throwing away lots of money that is available to help. You always hate to see seniors go, especially those that get to play at the next level but I’m pleased and happy that both of them get to continue with what they love to do,” Mahaffey said.
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.