There is rarely a high school signing day that isn't bittersweet. It is the first actual step that student-athlete takes toward the collegiate level, away from friends and family at home and a program that has often become a second family.
Seven Midlothian High student-athletes just did that Tuesday morning. Three of those did so in the midst of a baseball playoff run, while three others will soon embark on solo soccer journeys for the first time in their lives.
Arron Young, Christian Naizer and Nathan Gravley all began playing recreational and club league soccer together around the age of five. They've played together ever since, meaning this fall will be the first for the trio to take to different pitches.
Young, who will attend Division-I Grand Canyon University, can even still recall the first match, or at least one of the firsts, that the three played together.
"I remember the first time that I played with them was on an indoor team, and we were called the Panthers, of course, and in one of our first games, we beat a team 32-0," Young said. "We scored a goal in every single minute of that game and that is my first memory of getting to play together as a unit."
He added, "It's special and not many people get that chance. We have been playing together for as long as I can remember. We were on our first indoor team together. Just working together every single year and being best friends throughout it all, the chemistry is different compared to a lot of people."
Just after Naizer, who will play for Dallas Baptist University, confirmed that his first memories of soccer were with Young and Bethany College-bound Gravely, the latter noted, "If I look back at all of the teams that I was one, they were on them. If I look back at all of the team pictures that I have, they are on there."
The threesome helped the Panthers to a 15-4-4 record this past season, which ended in the 5A Region II area championship against Lufkin.
Young scored 12 goals and assisted on 11 more for 35 points during the campaign, while Naizer scored twice and assisted on 16 goals and Gravley added four assists.
"We all got to push each other and watch each other grow," Naizer said. "It's been great to watch each other get to where we are now."
Gravely added, "This year was great. It really brought us together and now we are all going off to play in college. It made us all realize what we have. It was great."
Just before signing their NLIs, Midlothian head soccer coach Adam Guest took time to describe each player.
Guest first noted Young as being a tough offensive weapon to stop on the field and is confident that the senior's talents will translate to the collegiate level.
He then described Naizer as a "great leader and a very, very competitive player," adding that Dallas Baptist University-bound student-athlete is a "beautiful soccer player" that worked hard to be better at the "ugly things" this season.
Guest then brought a few laughs with his recollection of Gravley's first varsity action.
"Nathan is tough as nails and very, very versatile," Guest said of the future Bethany College business major. "He can play a lot of different roles." He then recalled Gravley's first touch at the varsity level when he was thrown "about 40 yards" by an older player who outweighed him by about 60 pounds. "He got up, dusted himself off and got back in there. And that's the kind of player he is."
"I think just spending every day together and practice every morning," Young said. "We wake up at 5:30 to get to the weight room. Everyone is doing great. Nathan is going to Kansas. Christian is going to DBU and both are great programs. I can't really say it's bitter, it'll just be hard not being with them all of the time."
Three Midlothian baseball players inked their national letters of intent just a little over 48 hours from game one of the Panthers 5A regional quarterfinal series against Cleburne.
Anthony Ferrante was the first to ink his NLI, as the slugger is headed Hill College, a Division-I junior college in Hillsboro.
Ferrante currently leads the Panthers with five home runs, 11 doubles, 40 hits, a .377/.468/.623 slash and an OPS over 1.090 in 106 at-bats. He is also tied with Ryan McCaskill for the team-lead in RBIs (28).
Midlothian head baseball coach Ray Hydes pointed to Ferrante's grand slam against Forney as just one of the many moments that has stood out this season.
He noted Ferrante is a person of high character and exceptional work ethic, which will result in a successful collegiate career.
Starting pitcher and staff ace Caden Hawkins is also headed to the junior college ranks after inking his NLI with Weatherford College.
Hawkins is currently tied for the team-lead with seven wins on the bump. He has struck out 108 batters, walked 16 and allowed just 15 earned runs (32 total runs) in a team-high 81 innings pitched for minuscule 1.30 ERA.
Hawkins pointed to the coaching staff and the overall successes of the program as his deciding factor to sign. He also said his favorite moment from this season was winning five of the Panthers final six games, which included a sweep of Red Oak, to make the postseason.
"He wants to win and he likes to go out and compete," Hydes said.
Josh Tankersley then signed his letter of intent with Tabor College, a four-year Christian-based college located in Hillsboro, Kansas.
Tankersley currently boasts a 0.323-batting average with 21 runs scored and 32 hits over his 99 at-bats. He also leads the Panthers with 14 stolen bases.
Tankersley said the coaches and the winning culture led him to sign with Tabor.
"He has an uncanny ability, and knows how to play this game with savvy," said Hydes of the three-year starter for the Panthers.
Midlothian wide receiver Wesley Lowe will attend Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma as a preferred walk-on.
Lowe had five catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns during the Panthers 9-3 season in 2018. Midlothian, of course, primarily runs the football, but did make a deep run in the 2018 state 7-on-7 tournament because of skill players like Lowe.
Lowe said he chose the university because "it's known for winning and I liked the atmosphere of the college. I loved the coaches and it felt like a great fit for me."
Lowe also noted he began his football career as a defensive end in junior high in Duncanville. He then transitioned to wide receiver after transferring to Midlothian ahead of his freshman season.
"Wesley has been one of my favorites since he's gotten here and he's really grown up in front of us over his four years here," Midlothian head football coach Doug Wendel said. "[...] His positive attitude and work ethic is going to translate well at the next level."