For four senior Vilonia Eagles, their next step includes playing football at a higher education institution.
Defensive lineman/tight end Jaden Wimberly, running back Draven Smith, offensive lineman/nose guard Nathan Schwulst and super back/athlete Tyler Moran all signed letters of intent to continue their education and athletic careers at higher levels.
These four went through a coaching change as former coach Ron Young left after their sophomore year and then coach Todd Langrell transitioned from Mayflower over to Vilonia and the team saw immediate improvement.
During these guys’ sophomore year, the Eagles went just 1-9 and with Langrell at the helm, the team went 4-6 in 2018 and then went 7-4 as a 5A West conference runner up and an opening round playoff host.
“Great coaches are always followed by great players,” Langrell said. “Those four are great players and great teammates. They were very selfless, dependable. They worked hard, they were leaders on and off the field. All these guys – not as far as their athletic ability – earned it, but for their academic performance. We have a couple of them that have 27s on their ACTs. They’re smart guys, not just good athletes.”
Wimberly, who signed his letter of intent with Arkansas Tech, said it was big for the change.
“It meant a lot. It was a big culture change through my sophomore and my senior year,” Wimberly said. “We went through a coaching change from coach Young during my sophomore year to coach Langrell my junior year. He came in and told us we had to work harder and make it mean something to play as a Vilonia Eagle. Before, nobody took it very seriously. He came in and took us from a 1-9 team to winning seven games and being conference runners up or senior year. It’s been a big change, but it’s meant a lot.”
Wimberly said he had a few different offers, but Arkansas Tech is where he wanted to go.
“I had a few different offers, but Tech was the place for me,” he said. “I felt more at home there, it felt like a better school and a better education. I really felt like I could do something there to make an impact.”
Smith also talked about the culture change.
“It was more of having the role of accountability and having somebody that actually cared and wanted you to be successful,” he said. “He wants to coach us and make us a better person.”
Smith, who is heading to Henderson State, said it felt like a second home.
“The coaches are very transparent. They don’t make you feel like just a recruit but an actual person. They talk to you regularly. I like the atmosphere there.”
Schwulst said the program has meant a lot to him.
“It’s meant a lot to be here,” he said. “We saw the program turn around from being 1-9 my sophomore to being 4-6 in coach Langrell’s first year here and making the playoffs and hosting a playoff game. It’s meant a lot to be a Vilonia Eagle.”
Schwulst will head to St. Joseph, Missouri, to become a part of the Missouri Western State University program.
He said he chose that program because of the culture.
“The coaching atmosphere, the player atmosphere,” he said. “The facilities are nice and it’s a nice, cold place. They have a good football program and a good winning culture up there. I really like it up there.”
Those three signed with full scholarships, while Moran signed as a preferred walk-on at UCA.
“It really just felt like home,” he said of choosing UCA. “It was close to home and I could still see my family. Really, the location of it helped and I have a really good relationship with the coaches.”
Moran took a year off during his sophomore season, so he wasn’t a part of that 1-9 Eagle team, but he could see the change when Langrell came in.
“Even though I didn’t play my sophomore year, I could still tell the motto in the weight room was different,” he said. “When he came here, he really focused on changing the culture. We just really bought into his offense and his schemes and it really paid off in the long run because we made the playoffs.”