PRINCETON – Connor Padgett and Autumn Dickerson have worn the same team colors during their entire parallel athletic careers at Princeton Senior High School.
Now it looks like they’ll be wearing the same team colors in college.
Padgett, a senior veteran Tigers football player and Dickerson, a senior veteran Princeton cheerleader were both recognized at the high school in respective signing ceremonies merely a day apart last week.
On Wednesday, Padgett signed to play NCAA Division II football for Bluefield State’s recently revived program under head coach Tony Coaxum. On Thursday, Dickerson signed with the Big Blue as a cheerleader for a squad that is also undergoing a revival.
Princeton is a Class AAA high school (Class AAAA in basketball) but it is one of the state’s smallest in either classification. Most students know many of their classmates, particularly if they’re involved in athletics.
Padgett said he’s known Dickerson since he moved to Princeton as an eighth-grader. She acknowledged that they’ve been friends at school since he arrived and thinks it is “really cool” that they’re both going to be Big Blues.
Padgett, for one, was impressed that they both got signing ceremonies at Princeton.
“I’d never seen a cheerleader sign to cheer like that, so I thought it was pretty interesting,” said Padgett, who agreed that Princeton football players and cheerleaders retain the old-school awareness of being teammates.
“They go to every game that we do and they’re probably some of our biggest supporters. I think they’ve been pretty helpful to our team, ”Padgett said.
Dickerson, who has been a Princeton cheerleader for all four years of her high school career, pointed out that cheerleading is currently a club sport at Bluefield State. But she was impressed that Bluefield State actively recruited her to join their squad before her senior year even began.
“I think this past year is the first time they’ve had [cheerleading] in a long time. Their coach, Carson Cooper, reached out to me, ”said Dickerson, who noted she’ll cheer for both football and basketball at Bluefield State.
“I think [travel] is going to be limited this year because Bluefield’s cheer team hasn’t yet been officially declared a sports team by the NCAA.
“It’s still a club until they get more certification. But we’ll still be able to go to all the home games, ”said Dickerson, who plans to study elementary education at BSC.
Like Dickerson, the fact that Bluefield State took an interest in him early was a major motivator. It also didn’t hurt that it’s located in Bluefield and that his brother di lui, Eli, was among the first players to join the rebooted Big Blue football program.
“I like being close to home, my brother is there and they were one of the first teams that really started showing an interest in me. That’s what really got me interested in playing for them, ”said Padgett, who intends to study Imaging Science at Bluefield State in preparation for a possible career as a medical technician.
Eli Padgett signed with the Big Blue last year as a defensive back. Connor will likely play on the opposite side of the football as a slot receiver.
“He has great hands. During his time here he was behind some pretty good receivers then he came in for us last year and he probably had the best hands I’ve seen since I’ve been here., ”Said Princeton head coach Chris Pedigo, who noted that Padgett made several pivotal catches during his senior season –— including a big-time catch in the end zone against Woodrow Wilson.
“He was always there at the right time and he knew how to break off routes and he and [quarterback Grant Cochran] had really good rapport with each other. He had a really solid senior year, ”Pedigo said.
Connor Padgett hopes to make some great catches for Bluefield State, where the sheer newness of the football program stirs his imagination.
“They’re brand-new. We’ve got new uniforms and everything. I think it’s pretty special to be one of the first people to help start it back up, ”he said.
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