Area seniors make college football commitments
     2015-03-05      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photo by Anthony Brathwaite/Gering Citizen - Surrounded by several Gering teammates, Bulldog senior Joey Godinez (front row, second from right) proudly sports his new Concordia University shirt following his signing to play football with the Bulldogs from Seward during a Feb. 17 ceremony at the Gering High School Media Center and Library. With Godinez are (front row from left) Alex Closson, Matt Wolfe and Justin Esparza, (back row) Antonio Murillo, Sonny Salazar, Jacob Pieper and Nolan Nelson. 
Since college football’s National Signing Day opened in early February, six county-area high school seniors have signed National Letters of Intent to play collegiately, including two from Gering and a pair from Scottsbluff.

On Feb. 17 at Gering High School, Joey Godinez put his commitment to Concordia University in Seward in writing, and Bulldog teammate Alex Closson joined a large class of Chadron State College recruits in a ceremony on Feb. 19.
In other recent signings, Stetson Anderson of Scottsbluff put his commitment on paper on the Feb. 4 initial signing day to attend and play for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.

Bearcat teammate Jackson Hinze, one of the most versatile high school athletes at Scottsbluff, on Feb. 18 signed to play at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.
On Feb. 12, Matthew Hessler of Morrill became one of more than 50 signees to Chadron State College.

On Feb. 9, Tristan Hunter of Bayard signed to play at Midland University in Freemont.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Closson was a rock for the Bulldogs up front on both sides of the ball for three years.

Last fall, the young Gering offense averaged 175.5 yards of offense. On defense, Closson made 30 total tackles (15 solo) with one for negative yardage as a senior. He earned second-team All-District B-8 honors for both offense and defense.
As a junior, Closson made the second team on the All-District B-8 team after he helped block the way for 3,166 total offensive yards, an average of 351.77 per game.
“Ever since my freshman year and we went up there for a football camp, I’ve always liked the environment and the campus life of the school,” Closson said.
“Ever since they got Jay Long (as head coach), whatever they do, they do it 100 percent. Once they said they’d like me on the team, I went for it.”

Closson said the Eagles are talking about using him on defense, but that if the coaches preferred him on offense, he would oblige.
“They’re talking about defense. “I’ve always liked defense more,” said Closson who plans to major in physical education with an emphasis in coaching. “Coach Long has always been an offensive guy. He played O-line, so he’s wanted me on the O-line. It might happen, it might not.”

Closson pointed to the Bulldogs’ 27-26 overtime victory at Chadron in 2013 as his most memorable high school moment. “The excitement on everybody’s faces in the locker room after the game, that’s what I always remember football as being,” he added.
Jimmie Rhodes, Closson’s head coach the past three years, complemented Closson on his team-first attitude and humility he brought to the Bulldogs in practice and for games.

“I think the part he forgot about the Chadron game in overtime is that we ran behind him,” Rhodes said. “So Gage Smith dives over the top and scores, it was over his big butt.

“His hard work ethic always have rubbed off on the younger kids. He became a starter as a sophomore and played left tackle for me for three years. Not a lot of kids will be able to look back and say, ‘Hey, I was a cornerstone over there.’ I never had a doubt what he was doing over there.”

That Godinez, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder, overcame an injury-riddled senior season to sign with Concordia is a credit to his performance at defensive end as a junior in drawing the attention of college coaches.
“I’ve had a bunch of injuries, so it’s nice to go in there, knowing I get to play again,” said Godinez, who is a prospect at defensive back and long snapper at Concordia.

“They were 5-6 last year, so I’m looking to help them improve that record help them win the GPAC (Great Plains Athletic Conference). I hope to go down and play right away.”
“I know how hard he had to work,” Rhodes said of Godinez. “When I got to talk to some of the people who called about Joe, I made sure that I told them that he was going to have a chip on his shoulder.

“He has a lot to prove, and he has a lot of expectations for himself and his family. He’s just starting, and he’s going to be a great fit wherever he wanted to go. He’s going to be a Bulldog again.”
Godinez had 17 total tackles, 14 solo, and one fumble recovery during his injury-shortened senior season. As a junior, he made all-District B-8 defensive second team and recorded 54 total tackles (30 solo) with one sack for nine yards, one interception and one pass break-up.

“I really like the campus down there; it’s really nice,” said Godinez of Concordia, where he plans to double major in psychology and criminal justice. “It seemed like it would be a really great fit. Coach (Vance) Winter and Coach Halvorsen (Wade, defensive backs coach) are good guys.”
Two members of Scottsbluff’s 10-2 District B-8 championship and Class B state semifinalist team also have signed letters to play at the next level.
Hinze has been the punter, place kicker and quarterback for the Bearcats the last two seasons. He said in a story on KNEB.com that kicking and punting will be his primary positions at Wesleyan.

As a senior, Hinze made the All-District B-8 team as the first team quarterback and placekicker and the second team at punter.
As the Bearcats’ kicking specialist, the 5-9, 165-pound Hinze made 48 of 49 extra-point attempts (98 percent) and hit 9 of 11 field-goal attempts with a long kick of 52 yards. Hinze also averaged 33.5 yards on 33 punts and 49.6 yards on 63 kickoffs.
Hinze quarterbacked Scottsbluff’s offense with 52.2 percent pass completions (36 of 69) for 791 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions, and he also rushed for 611 yards on 103 carries with nine TDs.

As a junior, Hinze was a two-time All-District selection as the first-team punter and second-team placekicker. Hinze made 8 of 9 field goals and 35 of 36 extra-point kicks during the Bearcats’ 7-3 season in 2013.
Hinze, who also plays Legion baseball for the Westco Zephyrs, may also have an opportunity to join the Prairie Wolves baseball team.

Hinze has also been an integral part of Scottsbluff’s basketball success as the starting point guard the past three seasons. He was a member of the Bearcats’ state championship team as a freshman in 2012 and started in the 2013 title game.
Hinze, who wants to be a coach, will pursue a degree in math education at Wesleyan.
Anderson, a 5-foot-11, 205-pounder, was Scottsbluff’s leading tackler from his linebacker spot during the Bearcats’ 10-2 season that included their fourth District B-8 title in five years and making the Class B state playoff semifinals.

For Scottsbluff during the Bearcats’ 10-2 season, Anderson had 71 total tackles (44 solo) with four tackles for lost yardage and two fumble recoveries. Offensively, Anderson had 45 rushing yards and one touchdown on 10 carries and three receptions for 32 yards.

Anderson earned All-District B-8 first defensive team honors and was named an All-Western Conference honorable mention.
A pair of state wrestlers in Morrill’s Hessler and Bayard’s Hunter will focus their versatile athletic talents on football.
Hessler, a 6-foot, 265-pound nose guard, will join Closson on the defensive line at Chadron State.

“I am very excited for Matt to play football at the next level,” said Morrill coach and athletic director Tom Peacock, who has coached Hessler the past two years at the eight-man level.
Morrill, 1-7 last season, changed to eight-man after struggling at the 11-man level during Hessler’s freshman and sophomore years.
“Matt has worked very hard on and off the field to get to where he is now,” Peacock said. “I look to see Matt having success in the years to come at Chadron. We will miss him and we wish him the very best.”

As a senior, Hessler earned first-team selections to the District D1-10 team, Western Trails Conference team and Panhandle Athletic Conference team. He made 37 solo tackles, 26 assisted tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, two quarterback sacks, one blocked extra-point kick and scored a defensive touchdown.
Hessler has also been a wrestling standout for Morrill, competing at the 285-pound/heavyweight level and making state three years.

After he won his second straight District D-4 championship on Feb. 14, Hessler went on to finish 27-8 and in sixth place at state after he claimed a fourth-place Class D state medal last year.
The 6-foot-4 Hunter, a 220-pound linebacker, had 66 total tackles (20 solo) and also had one interception during Bayard’s 2-7 campaign and earned honorable mention to the All-Minuteman Activities Conference team.

Hunter also led the Tigers in rushing with 419 yards and three touchdowns on 94 carries and added four rushing 2-point conversions. He also had 27 receptions for 190 yards and one TD, earning MAC honorable mention.
“I think they’re looking at playing him on defense, and I think that’s a good fit for him,” Bayard football and wrestling coach Randy McKibbin said of Midland’s recruiting of Hunter. “Kudos for him for wanting to take that next step at the next level.”
Hunter also qualified for state wrestling for the third time by winning the 220-pound district title on Feb. 14.

Hunter was district runner-up as a junior and went on to place fourth at state, but his quest for another state placement was cut short by injury in his second consolation match after he won his opener and finished 31-4.

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