A trio of Washington Blue Lions, all members of the graduating class of 2018, prior to their graduations signed letters of intent to attend Thomas More College, located in Crestview Hills, Kentucky.
Derrick Wade, Zane Nelson and Caleb Rice all signed to play football for the Saints.
Nelson will also be a member of the Saints’ wrestling team.
“I wanted to find a school where I could do both,” Nelson said. “Before that, I talked to Wilmington, too, just for wrestling, but they were starting the program.
“I just fell in love with (Thomas More),” Nelson said. “Both the wrestling coach and the football coach, they really, really like me down there. They think I can start in both as a freshman. They think I can be a double sport All-American. If they believe that, I’ll have to prove that they’re right. I love it down there.
“Derrick and I were going to go (to Thomas More) for sure, together,” Nelson said. “Caleb was on the border of (Thomas More) or Marietta. I think the three of us will be a good addition.
“When I was a freshman, all I wanted to do was make it to State (in wrestling),” Nelson said. “Coach (Louis) Reid thought I could do it as a freshman.
“Then, I had a couple of injuries,” Nelson said. “Then, I got ringworm and the doctor gave me the wrong medicine for it and I put that on it and I ended up not being able to wrestle in the Sectionals. I was pretty sad about that.
“I wanted to come back next year better,” Nelson said. “As a sophomore, I was a State alternate. Then, as a junior, I didn’t have any problems. I had the same goal, to make it to State. I ended up a State alternate again.
“Then, this year, I was doing good in the off-season,” Nelson said. “During the season, I got my 150th win. I made it to State, but I went two and out.
“In football, as a freshman, I was just happy to play,” Nelson said. “My sophomore season, they had a position change at quarterback for j-v. That was fun.
“My junior year, I finally started varsity,” Nelson said. “I did good on defense.
“My senior year, I really turned it on,” Nelson said. “I was All-FAC. I was one of the best in the league at safety.
“Louis Reid has always been there for me,” Nelson said. “In middle school, he would always check to make sure I was making weight. He was my mentor in high school. He believes in me. I love him to death. He’s a cool guy.
“Coach Williamson, when he came my junior year, I was super-excited,” Nelson said. “All the changes he made, we had one of the best seasons I ever had. Senior year, we were working to be better than the year before. We had a couple of problems, but, I still had fun my senior season with Coach Williamson.
“He’s cool in the classroom, too,” Nelson said. “He always make sure we had the grades to play. He would be the first to let us know if (we were slipping, academically).
“My favorite class would be science,” Nelson said. “My favorite teacher would be Coach Reid. He’s laid back and it’s always fun in the classroom with him.
“Coach Reid prepared me for wrestling in college,” Nelson said. “I’d like to thank Coach Williamson, as well. His practices were like college practices. He made sure colleges would contact us and he helped get us ready for college, as well.
“I’d like to thank Heidi George and Rob Penrod,” Nelson said. “They would always make sure I had all my stuff turned in for school. I thank them so much.”
Wade narrowed his college choices down to Marietta, Thomas More and West Virginia State.
“For Marietta, I really didn’t like the campus that much,” Wade said. “It just didn’t seem like my type of place to be. The same for West Virginia State.
“My mom lives close to Thomas More and so does my sister,” Wade said. “It seemed like the right place; the right fit.”
What might Wade choose as a course of study in college?
“Right now, I’m thinking criminal justice and maybe something else after that,” Wade said.
As for favorite classes in high school, Wade replied:
“Any gym class was pretty fun,” Wade said. “I liked a lot of the science classes I took. Sociology and psychology were really fun to take.”
Williamson certainly made an impact on Wade.
“Personally, I loved playing for Coach Williamson,” Wade said. “He ran things very professionally. It was every day, you had to be there at a certain time. He had the entire day’s activities (planned), from watching film, stretching, lifting, the actual practice. He had it all timed out perfectly. I can’t remember having a bad day of practice. Even the days when we weren’t all firing on the same page, we were still getting our work done; we were still getting better.
“Trevor Hicks and I are still pretty close friends,” Wade said. “I was talking to him recently about the difference in the atmosphere from my sophomore year to my junior and senior years with Coach Williamson. He was there to make sure he could do everything he could to help us. I think he did everything and more to help us.
“With the way Coach Williamson ran (the program) to the way I hope it is in college, I would assume it’s pretty close,” Wade said. “He is always preparing and helping us prepare. I couldn’t tell you how many hours of film I watched. I was studying up on how I could win, how I could help my O-line in our schemes and stuff.”
Wade spoke about a couple of his fondest memories from Blue Lion football.
“Losing to Trace my freshman and sophomore years, I could see how much the juniors and seniors cared and worked (to beat Miami Trace),” Wade said. “For my class and the class above me to beat Trace, it was more than I could have wished for.
“The first thing that comes to my mind, was my freshman year, the first week of camp,” Wade said. “Skyler Hawk, it wasn’t hazing, or anything, but, him and a few of the seniors in the locker room were like, ‘we need to find a freshman and shake him up a little bit, just have a little fun with him.’ Hawk didn’t know that I wrestled and he came up behind me and grabbed me around the head and I ended up flipping him over. I wasn’t a small guy, but Hawk is Hawk and I flipped him over and got on top of him and pinned him and the whole locker room just erupted. It was by far the best experience I had with Blue Lion football.”
Wade talked about the training he received from Mark Bihl in the weight room.
“I’ve been in other high school’s weight rooms and they might have been a 15 x 15 room, real tiny with a few little weight sets in there,” Wade said. “Our weight room, it’s impressive.
“There were many small things (Bihl) was able to teach us from his days at Michigan,” Wade said.
“I think it was my sophomore year and we had Huntington coming in,” Wade said. “They were going to have a workout with us and after that, we were going to do a 7-on-7 big man challenge. I think, within 30 minutes, seven of them had gotten sick and by the end, their head coach said, ‘look, none of my kids can even run, so, there’s no way we’re going to be able do the 7-on-7.
“We were all so ready to go,” Wade said. “That’s what we were looking forward to all day, getting that workout over so we could play some football and have some fun. And, it didn’t happen. I’m happy I got to be with (Bihl) and be part of his program for as long as I did.”
What about having two high school teammates on the team with you at college?
“Zane and I are going to be roommates,” Wade said. “Zane and I have always been close. The three of us have a kind of chemistry. Just being together, we know how we like to work and get things done. Being able to go into a new environment with a little bit of home still with you is going to help out a lot.”
“(I) definitely (want to thank) my mom and dad,” Wade said. “They’ve given so much. I don’t think my dad has ever missed any type of game or sporting event that I’ve ever been a part of. My mom is probably right there, too.
“My grandparents, my coaches, all the coaches of any sport I’ve ever done,” Wade said. “Anybody that’s ever tried to show me what’s right and what’s wrong and how to not only move my way through sports, but, at the same time, just move through life. The two of them kind of parallel each other.”
“I was thinking of Wittenberg or Marietta,” Rice said. “I really liked Coach (Brad) Zink (a Miami Trace graduate who coaches safeties and is a special teams and recruiting coordinator for Thomas More). I really liked the coaching staff and the small campus at Thomas More. I thought I’d fit well on the football team.
“I think (Wade and Nelson also attending Thomas More) will really help me to feel comfortable,” Rice said. “I really want to thank Coach Williamson.
“A coach that really helps me and talks to me a lot would be Coach (Ray) Anderson,” Rice said. “He’s always checking with me, seeing how I’m doing. He’s always there for me.”
As for a couple of his favorite classes in high school, Rice mentioned anatomy and geometry.
“To be able to start as a freshman, I’m going to need to put in a lot of work,” Rice said.
“Caleb is a tremendous athlete,” Williamson said. “He played on both sides of the ball. He was just so athletically talented, we used him at defensive back and as a slot receiver.
“He had one of the best catches I’ve ever seen, he just laid completely out and made the play,” Williamson said. “He’s a quiet kid, but he led by example. He worked hard and did all the right things.
“Derrick was our leader,” Williamson said. “The kids followed him because of his work ethic. Derrick loves football. He never missed a practice. He was out there giving it his all every day. He was voted unanimously as captain, which did not surprise me.
“Zane Nelson is another kid who played a little bit both ways,” Williamson said. “It took us a little longer to get him on the offensive side of the ball. When we did, he had two touchdown catches. He flew around. Again, he was voted captain for a reason; the way he carried himself. He played every down as hard as he possibly could.
“I can’t say enough about all three of them,” Williamson said. “They were not only great players, they were great leaders. I told them when they signed, that’s what Blue Lion football is all about, those guys right there. That’s what we want our whole program to look like: the way they work, the way they carry themselves. They just did everything the right way. We are going to miss those guys.”
“Zane is an extremely hard worker,” Reid said. “One of his main goals this year was to make the podium (at State). He had a chance to make it to State every year, going back to his freshman year.
“He’s been blessed with some talents,” Reid said. “I think those talents are going to take him to the next level in college. He’s obviously a good football player and a great wrestler. He has yet to reach his full potential and I think the environment he’s going to be put into at Thomas More is going to help him reach that.
“He’s continued to wrestle in the off season and is doing extremely well,” Reid said. “He’s won a few summer tournaments already. He’s a very humble kid who works extremely hard and makes others around him better. I was extremely fortunate to coach a kid like him. He appreciates everything you do and he works extremely hard for everything he has accomplished.”
Editor’s Note: I am re-running this article due to a repeated error I made, referring to Zane Nelson as Zane Joseph. Mr. Nelson, I regret the error. Best of luck to all the fellows at Thomas More.