Whitehall-Coplay Press

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Jake Meyers Jake Meyers
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Jake Buskirk Jake Buskirk

Zephyrs to continue careers at college

Thursday, March 12, 2015 by STEVE ANDRES Special to the Press in Sports

Editor's Note: This is part one of a series of Whitehall student-athletes who will continue their careers at college.

Prospective employers often want to know where applicants see themselves in the next four or five years.

For 10 student-athletes at Whitehall High School, the question about their futures was officially answered at National Signing Day last monthwhen they announced plans to continue their athletic careers in college.

This important decision about their futures culminated in a ceremony where each student-athlete spoke about what led them to choose their respective schools.

For Saquon Barkley, one of the nation's most sought-after running backs, the decision to attend Penn State was made after an initial flirting with Rutgers University. After some reevaluation, Barkley decided he wanted to play in his home state, something head coach James Franklin emphasized with his Dominate, Educate, Graduate mantra.

Barkley said he loved the energy he felt when he visited the campus, and that helped convince him that the Nittany Lions were the right fit.

"It felt like home," he said.

The senior was flanked by his parents as he made the announcement official. The decision to attend Penn State before his senior season allowed him to concentrate on helping the Zephs have another successful season.

"That was a big part of it," said Barkley. "I wanted to decide on the school I wanted to play for real early, so I could just focus on my senior year."

Without that commitment, Barkley would have been inundated with offers, distracting him from his goals this year.

Barkley has been a part of two teams that shared a league championship, and has been a productive player since his sophomore season. In his final season, Barkley was an All-Area and All-State running back after rushing for 1,851 yards and 24 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound back also became the Zephyrs' all-time leading rusher, finishing his career with 3,642 rushing yards and 61 total touchdowns, including special teams, showcasing his versatility.

Now Coach Franklin gets to see the many ways Barkley can demoralize opposing teams. Barkley said that meeting Franklin was an important factor in swaying him to Happy Valley.

"Coach Franklin is an amazing recruiter," said Barkley. "The class he brought in this year speaks volumes on his recruiting.

"The way he got me was on the phone right away, and even when I went over there on my visits, he sold me and my family. He's just a great guy with great energy, and you just want to play for him."

Last season Penn State finished 7-6, their final win coming on Dec. 27 in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Barkley said it was a great day having his family and friends witness his signature making it official. He said his plans are to major in business and minor in communications.

As for what he would like to accomplish during his career, Barkley has firm ideas about that as well.

"I want to make a name for myself," said Barkley. "I don't want to go up and there and just be some guy who's just a nobody. I want to be a great back and be the best player I can be. And hopefully make a name for the Lehigh Valley and Whitehall."

Jake Meyers' decision also came early. The senior chose St. Joseph's University, a Division I school, having verbally committed last September. He made it official with his signature, completing a goal to play baseball at the next level. The school offered a lot of amenities, and the proximity to the Lehigh Valley was a main selling point.

"The big thing for me that it was only an hour away," said Meyers who will pitch and play middle infield for the Hawks. "My family can still come up and watch me play.

"Going into the recruiting process I wanted more of an urban environment, so St. Joe's being right outside Philadelphia was pretty much what I was looking for. You have the comfort of home being so close, but still a comfortable distance away."

Meyers has been a starter on both the basketball and baseball teams for his entire high school career. Last season Meyers hit .309 with 11 runs and 14 RBIs. He also was one of the Zephyrs' top pitchers, going 4-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. He's been part of a staff that won a league championship, and knows that it will be a challenge breaking into the Hawks' line-up

"They obviously have very talented players at both positions, so I'm going to have to go out and compete hard to play," said Meyers. "I'm going to try and do both for as long as I can."

Meyers said he be studying business, but hasn't declared a major at this time. He'll make that decision after his sophomore year.

Meyers will be joining a team that went 35-16 overall and 18-8 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, losing in the Conference Championships to St. Louis University last May. They're coached by Fritz Hamburg who's entering his seventh season as the Hawks' skipper.

Meyers said one of his goals is to win an A-10 Championship during his stay on Hawk Hill. Moreover, though, he just wants to contribute.

"I just want to go down and compete and be the best player I can," he said.

Jacob Buskirk was another Zephyr who decided where his future was going to be before the official ceremony. The linebacker/fullback chose Lehigh University as the place he's going to continue his playing career.

The rugged two-way all-star will join quarterback Nick Shafnisky, giving the Mountain Hawks two former Zephyrs at critical positions.

Buskirk verbally committed last July, and for him that decision became apparent early in the recruiting process.

"I knew from the beginning, [Lehigh] is where I wanted to be," said Buskirk. "They recruited me the hardest."

Buskirk said he attended a lot of games, and felt an affinity for the team even before his standout career at Whitehall High School. That was further cemented once he witnessed spring practices, getting to know the coaches and the players.

"I like [Defensive Coordinator] Coach Bottiglieri," said Buskirk, noting that the DC also serves as the team's inside linebacker's coach.

Buskirk will now become part of an institution that has a rich academic and athletic tradition, another aspect that helped form his decision. The senior also likes that the school is close to home, affording him the chance to watch his younger siblings play sports at Whitehall.

Buskirk was a fierce competitor during his gridiron career. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder led his team with 64 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced and recovered fumble, and also returned an interception for a touchdown. That aggressiveness on defense carried over to offense, finishing with four touchdowns as a fullback.

Buskirk said that head coach Brian Gilbert and assistant coach Mike Yadush, a former Lehigh grad, helped mold him into the player he became, paving the way for the next stop on his journey.

Buskirk will enter Lehigh as a business major. As for his personal goals, he said he would like to "see a lot of playing time" this season. He also wants to help Lehigh win a Patriot League championship. The Mountain Hawks finished 3-8 last season, and will look to climb up the Patriot League ladder with the addition of Buskirk and the 2015 recruiting class.

He also knows that Lehigh will demand a lot from him in the classroom. He also wants to excel there as well.

"I want to be the best academically I can be," said Buskirk.