February 4, 2010 9:00:00 AM
Three student-athletes who are familiar with success in high school will try to reach similar levels in college.
Ryan Hollivay, Kelli Petty, and Blake Roberts signed scholarships Wednesday to continue their athletic careers at the next level.
Hollivay, an offensive lineman, signed to play football at East Mississippi Community College. Petty, a sprinter on the school''s track team, signed with Mississippi State, and Roberts, a pitcher on the NHHS baseball team, signed with Jefferson State C.C.
Hollivay played a key role in helping coach Michael Bradley build a program at New Hope High. He was a starter on the offensive line and helped New Hope make the playoffs the past two seasons, including a trip to the Class 5A North Half State title game against West Point in 2009.
"I am ready to move on," Hollivay said. "It is great. I am going to love every minute of it. I have a lot to learn, and I am open to learning everything they can teach me so it will make me a better person."
Bradley said Hollivay "is a great young man, and has been a very positive leader for us." He said the 6-foot-7, 340-pound Hollivay anchored the offensive line and did an outstanding job making a seamless transition from left tackle to left guard this season. He said Hollivay matured this season and showed his commitment by dropping 30-40 pounds to help him be more of a force up front.
Bradley feels even better things await Hollivay.
"Ryan''s best football is ahead of him," Bradley said. "From his sophomore year to his junior year was a complete change. From his junior year to his senior year was another complete change. He has grown so much in the past two years as a player."
EMCC football coach Buddy Stephens said Hollivay''s size is just one reason he wanted to add him to the program.
"He is so dadgum big he can blot out the sun if he wanted to," Stephens said. "He''s a great kid who doesn''t know how good he can be yet."
Petty, who also plays softball and basketball at New Hope High, realized a dream when she signed her scholarship. After years of having to divide her time between sports, Petty is excited about the opportunity to focus on a sport she truly loves.
"I waited all my life, and I fell in love with track the day I started running," Petty said. "
Petty said she will try to play fast-pitch softball later this year. NHHS track and field coach Justin Putnam said he will work with softball coach Tabitha Beard to find a way to make things work for Petty and the teams. He said he is equally excited to see what Petty will be able to do once she gets into an established program with top-notch facilities.
"Kelli just has phenomenal talent, and so much off that talent hasn''t been tapped yet," said Putnam, who worked with Petty as an assistant coach last season. "I am going to do my best to push her to do better than she did last year."
Petty said she first noticed she attracted attention last year at a meet in Meridian. Victories in the 100 and 200 meters and in the 4x200-meter relay helped her catch the eye of MSU assistant track and field coach Bryan Fetzer, who told her she had a lot of potential. It didn''t take long for that statement to turn into a scholarship offer, which delighted Petty.
"It felt like an honor (to have Fetzer express interest in her)," Petty said. "It felt like God had sent me a blessing and my hard work paid off and God rewarded me for doing what I was supposed to do."
JSCC baseball coach David Russo said he is excited to add a caliber of pitcher like Roberts to his staff, and that he is confident he will succeed as a Pioneer.
"Not only is Blake a very fine pitcher, but he also is a great student in the classroom, which is as important as anything to our program," Russo said.
Roberts went 11-2 with a 2.85 ERA for the Trojans last season. New Hope advanced to the Class 4A North Half State final, where it lost to eventual state champion West Lauderdale in game three of the best-of-three series.
Roberts appeared in 17 games and had four complete games. He allowed 70 hits in 73 2/3 innings, and struck out 68 and walked 22.
"You can''t take it for granted," said Roberts, a right-hander, who has rebounded from elbow surgery. "Anything can happen at any time, and you know you have to work hard to get back to where you were. It means so much to know I am going somewhere to play baseball."
Roberts said he liked Russo, the players, and the campus in Birmingham, Ala. He said JSCC offered him a full scholarship last month and he quickly capitalized on the opportunity. He also considered EMCC, the University of West Alabama, and Shelton State.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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