Ben Holmes earned his reward for keeping the faith in his athletic gifts Wednesday.
He’s not the only area talent who saw a scholarship dream turn into reality on National Signing Day, but the difference between the Orchard Park alumnus and fellow All-Western New York talent Matt Foster of Williamsville South is about three years.
The 21-year-old Holmes has reached the end of his long journey as he is at last a Division I quarterback. The 2014 JUCO All-American Honorable Mention moves east from Nassau Community College to fellow Long Island school Stony Brook on a full-ride scholarship to the Football Championship Subdivision member.
Foster and teammate Jake Fuzak, All-WNY first team picks last December, also signed on the dotted line Wednesday as Williamsville South added to its collection of football players sent to Division I ranks over the past six seasons. Foster, a receiver/tight end, signed his letter to go to Elon (N.C.) during a ceremony before an estimated 100 at the library at Williamsville South. At the same ceremony, Fuzak – the Trench Trophy winner as the area’s lineman of the year – basked in the limelight of becoming a University at Buffalo Bull.
Holmes played receiver for Orchard Park when it won the state Class AA title in 2011. He moved to quarterback for his senior season, guiding the Quakers back to the state final.
He didn’t have an offer to play quarterback at the Division I or II level in college because his senior season was his first as a signal-caller but was confident enough in his abilities not to give up on his quest.
So he went to play at a Texas prep school for a year, before heading to Nassau CC.
At Nassau, Holmes earned all-league honors and guided the program to 13 wins, including a flawless 10-0 mark in 2014 that included a victory over Scottsdale CC at the Sun Bowl. In two seasons, he passed for 29 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in 18 games. The dual-threat quarterback rushed for 1,612 of his 1,846 yards as a freshman.
“This is what I had worked for,” said Holmes, who also earned conference offensive player of the year during his time at Nassau. “This was my intent … to get a Division I scholarship. This is a dream come true, to be able to play at the Division I level.”
Foster, Williamsville South’s all-time leader in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, was courted pretty heavily by Elon – which is located near Greensboro, N.C. The coaching staff flew into Western New York six times during the season to see him play and follow his progress. That didn’t go unnoticed.
He selected Elon over a host of schools including Old Dominion, Cornell, UConn and Rhode Island.
“I started talking with the coaches over the summer,” said Foster, who finished with 2,068 yards and 28 touchdowns in his three seasons. “I really liked everything about it. It’s the place for me.”
With Foster and Fuzak signing Wednesday, that means Williamsville South has graduated five football players to Division I programs over the past six years.
“We’ve been blessed here,” South coach Kraig Kurzanski said. “This is awesome.”
Canisius’ Justin Jones signed his letter to attend Robert Morris. The first team All-WNY linebacker finished with 75 tackles and three interceptions his senior season. As a junior, he was part of a defensive unit that spearheaded the Crusaders’ march to the state Catholic title.
Defensive tackle Kevon Perry, a 2013 Burgard grad and All-WNY second team selection who had been attending Allen Hancock College in California, signed with Louisiana. He had 27 tackles for losses and eight sacks for Hancock last season.
In non-football signings:
Tahelah Noel of Christian Central signed to play women’s soccer at Division I Valparaiso. Noel led the Monsignor Martin Association in goals (31) last season and finished her four-year career with 159. She’s the first girls soccer player from CCA to earn a Division I scholarship. Others interested in her services included Liberty, Niagara and Division II Roberts Wesleyan.
“It feels really good” being the first Division I signee for girls soccer, Noel said.
Other Williamsville South athletes to make commitments included girls soccer stars Jamie Boyer (Daemen) and Gabrielle Fogarty (Niagara).
Williamsville North’s Clare Ahern (field hockey) and Ian Harris (boys soccer) both are heading to Division II Mercyhurst, while Spartans golfer Mike Kessler signed with NAIA Division I Missouri Valley College.
Three of St. Joe’s four scholarship earners will be playing lacrosse: Goalie Erik Deakin at LeMoyne; goalie/long-stick midfielder Cameron Carpenter at St. Mary’s (Md.) and middie Carter Stefaniak to Canisius. Hockey player Chris Berger stays at Brown.