Trio from Skyline sign letters of intent

From left, Skyline's Justin Haggerty (Belmont Abbey, boys soccer), Gerren Butler (JMU, football) and Ronnie Clifton (Lenoir-Rhyne, football) signed letters of intent on Wednesday to play in college. Tommy Keeler/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Gerren Butler is proof that playing multiple sports can pay off.

The Skyline senior was being looked at for football by a number of NCAA Division II schools, but after James Madison University’s football coaching staff saw him wrestle their interest grew immensely.

Butler was one of three Skyline student-athletes to sign their letters of intent with colleges on Wednesday.

Skyline senior Ronnie Clifton signed a football scholarship with D-II Lenoir-Rhyne University. Skyline senior Justin Haggerty signed a soccer scholarship with D-II Belmont Abbey. Butler signed his with JMU.

“JMU came out of nowhere,” Butler said. “They hadn’t seen my film. They just kind of came to watch me wrestle and they said they liked everything about me, because I was an all-around player. Then they checked out my film, and they said they wanted to take me further in the recruiting process.”

Skyline coach Heath Gilbert said that there were three guys ahead of Butler for the 25-percent scholarship, but after watching him wrestle and his film, Butler went to the top of the list to grab the scholarship.

Butler said they told him they want him to play at center. Butler played at tight end for the Hawks on offense, and was used as an extra lineman a lot in their scheme.

“I like learning new things, and I feel like I can dominate at that position,” Butler said.

Gilbert said he thinks Butler will have no problem adjusting to the new position.

“We thought he would be an excellent tackle,” Gilbert said. “To put him at center with his athletic ability and power and punch, and he has the frame to put on weight and size — he’s going to be a monster.”

The Dukes went 9-4 last year, and lost in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Clifton also had the opportunity to go to JMU as a walk-on, but chose Lenior-Rhyne, located in Hickory, North Carolina, instead.

“It’s a very good school,” Clifton said. “A very good program, and I’m very excited to see what I can do.

“The campus was small, but I enjoyed it.”

The Bears went 11-1, with their only loss being to Valdosta State in the second round of the playoffs.

“Ronnie’s going to outwork everyone at Lenoir-Rhyne,” Gilbert said. “They are getting a kid that you can count on in the classroom and in the hallway. He’s not going to do anything to make Lenoir-Rhyne look bad at all. He’s going to do everything they want him to and give 100 percent.

“I can’t wait to see how he develops over the next few years.”

Haggerty said Belmont Abbey was the only school he looked at. He went to an ID college camp that Belmont Abbey held and made an impression.

He said he made his decision about a month ago.

“It’s out of this world to know that I’m still going to be playing my favorite sport the next four years of my life competitively,” Haggerty said. “It’s a great thing to happen.”

Belmont Abbey, located in Belmont, North Carolina, went 4-9-4 last season.

Haggerty said it was nice to have the decision out of the way, and to be one of the first from Skyline to play at the next level in soccer.

“It’s not really something you dream about from the soccer program, and I’m happy to be one of the first to go,” Haggerty said. “I couldn’t do it without the coach, the team, all the hard work we put into it. It feels really good.”

Many football players from Skyline showed up to watch Butler and Clifton sign, and Gilbert said it was a good day for the program.

“All their classmates were there seeing them sign. I think it’s very motivating for them to understand the importance of academics and athletics together and what it can do to help you achieve a next-level goal,” Gilbert said.

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com