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St. Francis' David Bartholomew will go to Columbia; Canisius' C.J. Ozolins signs with Mercyhurst

St. Francis’ David Bartholomew looks the part of college student-athlete.

The defensive end stands 6 feet, 6 inches and weighs 225 pounds, but having the look is different than having the tools to be a scholarship player.

The Red Raiders senior believes the combination of competing daily against Division I signee Eric Schon along with offseason conditioning and daily instruction from the coaching staff are the reasons he will get to play Football Championship Subdivision football.

Bartholomew, a third-team All-Western New York defensive lineman, made it official on Wednesday’s National Signing Day by signing an offer from Columbia.

Bartholomew was among many area football players to sign on the dotted line during Wednesday’s National Signing Day. Bartholomew was one of two Raiders to officially accept scholarship offers, as defensive tackle Jack Lauer, another third-team All-WNY pick, is heading back home to Pennsylvania, where he’ll attend D-II Clarion University.

These two along with Schon, who signed with the College of the Holy Cross back in December, mean three members of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association regular-season champion Red Raiders have earned collegiate scholarship-playing opportunities.

“I think it’s great for the program,” the 6-foot-2-inch, 245-pound Lauer said.

Especially Bartholomew who essentially earned the Division I chance based on his only varsity season. Bartholomew picked Columbia of the Ivy League over full-ride offers from Bryant University and Division II Southern Minnesota State and partials from Bucknell and Dartmouth.

After two seasons on the junior varsity, he opted just to play basketball his junior year. He missed the sport and made a late decision to return to the gridiron. He also wanted a chance to play for longtime football coach Jerry Smith.

“I was good at basketball, but I just didn’t have enough potential, I mean not even close to anywhere in football,” Bartholomew said. “Coach Smith saw my great potential and just told me that you know if I worked hard … if I did the little things, I would be successful.”

Bartholomew worked out with one of his older brothers, adding about 40 pounds of muscle to his 185-pound frame. That work, learning proper technique and working against first-team All-WNY lineman Schon in practice resulted in Bartholomew improving and increasing his level of play quickly.

“It just goes to show you how much competition we have among our program,” said Bartholomew, who in his only varsity season last fall recorded 34 tackles, including four for losses, one sack, forced two fumbles and recovered one. “I was going against Eric in practice a lot. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have had the same mentality coming into games. We butted heads so much in practice. I have to thank him.”

Lauer, who moved from the Clarion area to Eden three years ago due to his father’s work responsibilities, gets to return to his hometown where he still has plenty of family, including his grandparents.

“I’ve always wanted to go there,” Lauer said. “As soon as they offered me I knew that’s where I wanted to be."

POY Ozolins to Mercyhurst

Anyone who has followed Canisius High School linebacker C.J. Ozolins on social media knows that he had a standing offer to attend SUNY Buffalo State in exchange for free room, meals and tuition. Being the son of the Bengals’ football coach has its perks.

While Ozolins appreciated the offer from his father, Christian, he wanted a chance to play at a higher level than Division III.

The 2019 Buffalo News Player of the Year will play for nearby Division II school Mercyhurst. In opting to become a Laker, the 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pound linebacker gets to attend a school that’s close to home but far enough away in Erie, Pa., that he’ll get to experience the full-time college life – including living in dorms.

Ozolins led the state in tackles with 145 and finished with 5.5 sacks, three interceptions, blocked three extra-point kicks and recovered two fumbles. He scored the state championship-clinching conversion on the final play of the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association final for the Crusaders in a 25-24 win over Cardinal Hayes.

Division III schools do not offer full-ride scholarships. But Ozolins’ parents were willing to let him live at home, feed him and take care of tuition.

“My visit really helped solidify what I wanted out of a school,” Ozolins said. “They showed brotherhood and it’s really related to what Canisius was here. It made me feel at home.”

While Ozolins signed with a school, the door is open for fellow senior Donovan Cornelius to experience the same ending. He just has to show University at Buffalo coach Lance Leipold that he’s worthy of the full ride. The 6-foot-1-inch, 285-pound center made his verbal commitment official to UB as a preferred walk-on.

Preferred walk-on means he’s guaranteed a spot on the team, even though the Bulls didn’t have a scholarship to offer.

Cornelius, a first-team All-Western New York selection, isn’t the first Canisius lineman to have to go the preferred route in hopes of earning a scholarship at UB. Current senior Mike Kenefick achieved the feat for the Bahamas Bowl-champion Bulls.

First team All-WNY destinations

• Micah Brown signed with Division II Stonehill, but St. Joe’s will hold a signing ceremony Thursday for the first-team All-WNY utility selection.

• Southwestern’s 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound running back Tywon Wright is now a Rhode Island Ram. Wright signed with the FCS program following a season in which he rushed for 1,675 yards and 27 touchdowns on 146 carries. The first-team All-WNY pick rushed for 10 touchdowns and 606 yards over a two-game stretch in the playoffs to lead the Trojans to the state Class C semifinal. Fellow first-team selection and two-way lineman Cooper Pannes is heading to Division II Edinboro. Third-team pick Conrad Thomas signed with Division II Gannon.

• Clymer/Sherman/Panama’s Cam Barmore will join Ozolins at Mercyhurst as the first-team All-WNY receiver signed his offer Wednesday.

Where WNY athletes are heading for National Signing Day

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