Brownell, Semau, Simpson, Whitney and Sawyers all sign letters of intent

The senior class was a talented one at Camdenton.

Turns out, various college coaches across the Midwest took notice as five Camdenton football players took a pen on Wednesday afternoon and signed to play collegiately on National Signing Day. The quintet, which includes four linemen and a linebacker, joined December signee and University of Minnesota offensive lineman commit Grant Norton at the next level and the Lakers could have two more players who go on to play collegiately as well.

Not such a bad class after all.

Harrison Brownell signed as an offensive lineman with Division II Lincoln University out of Jefferson City, Connor Whitney joined Division II Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., as a defensive end and long snapper, Todd Simpson signed as a linebacker with Division II McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill., Chazz Sawyers put his name on the line as an offensive lineman for Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kan., and Josh Semau joined his teammate Whitney as an offensive lineman for the Lions of Lindenwood.

“That is great and we have not had that many in a long time so that is a testament to those guys,” Camdenton coach Jeff Shore said of the players who signed on Wednesday. “They are wanting to play at the next level and a good high school career has allowed them to do that.”

And a good high school career was the result of much more than what was accomplished on the field when the spotlight was on during Friday nights. It was the result of the effort and dedication each player put forward day in and day out over the course of four years. Shore said this quintet has what it takes to succeed at their new schools.

“I think from a Camdenton Laker standpoint, our practices are probably as hard as any they are going through in college,” the coach said. “College has time restraints and high school does too, but we do a full 3-hour practice on the hard days. I think that might be even easier for them in a way at college because they’ll be used to that grind.

“I think the hard part for them will be the offseason stuff, which is more year-round than high school, but I think they’ll represent us well. We play a hard-nosed brand of football and all of these guys that are going played a hard-nosed brand of football. They’ll be tough, well-prepared and I think each one of these colleges are getting a guy that has gone through the battles, has done a good job and will compete.”

HARRISON BROWNELL, LINCOLN UNIVERSITY

Brownell is committed to the game of football.

He has been committed ever since his early days on the gridiron playing flag football, but there was something missing for him. Brownell, who went on to become one of Camdenton’s “Hogs” among the offensive and defensive lines, naturally loved pushing people around, but he did not get to enjoy that privilege just yet. When he later strapped on a helmet and shoulder pads a couple of years later, everything changed.

“As a bigger kid I was not very good at flag football,” Brownell recalled with a smile. “It was for receivers and running backs, so in fifth grade once we put on the football pads and started hitting guys, I realized my love for football playing tackle football. That is when I realized this was it.”

The love and dedication for the game continued. As a sophomore he did not get very many varsity minutes, but earned a starting spot at right tackle as a junior. He went on to face a number of tough injuries, but that love and dedication never went away as he became a captain this past fall and went on to earn All-Conference and All-District honors as a senior.

Now, he is ready to bring that same commitment as a Blue Tiger for Lincoln University.

“It is a big commitment and I am ready for it. I am ready to put in the work and continue at the collegiate level,” Brownell said. “I am excited that my education will continue and I can be part of turning the program around at Lincoln. Jefferson City is a great place and I am just excited.”

Having continually worked his way up the proverbial ladder himself, it is the challenge of reviving the program that may excite Brownell the most as he looks to do his part to make his new team a force in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

“They’ve had some down years, but they have a whole new coaching staff and they are bringing a whole new culture in. It is awesome and I want to be a part of that,” he noted.

And during his time as Laker, he may have learned a thing or two about how to do just that.

“Sell out and be part of the team,” the senior said of the hard work that will be required. “Football is the greatest sport invented and to be a part of that at any level with any team is amazing. Just put the work in and you’ll be good to go.”

Of course, Brownell will miss his relationships at Camdenton among his friends, teammates and coaches and noted that the memories that were created will last a lifetime, as well as his friendships. When it comes to the returning Lakers who will take the field next fall, Brownell said it is their time to take the reigns and for those who wish to also play collegiately, the time to get to work is now.

“Young guys, it is your time to shine,” he said. “I told the underclassmen at the last game of the season, ‘Hey, it is your time now. Make the most of it and every opportunity you have, take it.’ If you want to play at the collegiate level, just be prepared for work.”

Brownell intends to study education and intends to become a history teacher.

TODD SIMPSON, McKENDREE UNIVERSITY

Playing football is a privilege to Simpson.

So when it comes to having the opportunity to play the game four more years after high school, he will certainly not be taking it for granted as a Bearcat linebacker at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.

“Not very many kids get the opportunity and I feel I am really blessed, considering how few high school football players get to continue to play after high school,” the senior said.

Simpson began his days on the gridiron playing flag football as a kindergartner and he has loved the game ever since. However, this opportunity did not simply happen by chance.

“Definitely lots of hard work,” Simpson said of what it took. “A lot of time in the weight room and a lot of time on the football field to get to this level.

“I’ll definitely bring the hard work that was taught here (Camdenton), the work ethic and the brotherhood as well.”

Simpson said he was impressed with a number of programs he came across, but he

was looking for a school that felt like home and McKendree University was that place. Simpson plans to study accounting at the school.

“I visited a lot of places and everywhere you go is going to have great coaches and great football, but at the end of the day it is just where you feel like home,” he pointed out.

McKendree University is a member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference and with one of his Laker teammates joining Lincoln University, it is quite possible that the linebacker will run into a familiar offensive lineman in Brownell on the gridiron.

“There will be some battles,” Simpson said with a smile of the potential future meeting.

While he is looking forward to future battles, he will certainly not forget the ones that came on Friday nights.

“There are not very many better places to play on a Friday night than Bob Shore Stadium so I’ll miss that for sure,” he remarked.

He won’t forget his Camdenton teammates either. For those who will return for the Lakers next fall, Simpson also emphasized hard work.

“Football is hard and everyone else is working hard so you just have to work harder than they do,” he noted.

CONNOR WHITNEY, LINDENWOOD UNIVERSITY

Once upon a time, Whitney was just another kid playing catch in the back of the end zone during Camdenton football games.

But he stuck with the game of football, learned a thing or two about hard work and now finds himself as one of the newest members of the Lindenwood football program. It has been a fun journey for Whitney and one he is excited to continue as a defensive end and long snapper for the Lions.

“I am looking forward to every minute of it,” he said of the next four years.

“I feel like hard work and dedication to this sport really helped me get to this point in time… Just through all of our training and stuff, we became tough players and I feel like that is a good way to play.”

The school, located in St. Charles just outside of St. Louis, is a member of the MIAA Conference and Whitney liked what he saw during his visit as well as the idea of getting to play in front of a few familiar faces.

“I really love the campus, I have some family in the area and it is just a great school to go to,” the senior said of the institution where he will study biology and pre-med.

The concept of brotherhood is also important to Whitney and a value he treasured during his time growing up as a Laker. While he is looking forward to joining a new brotherhood and making the most of his time at the collegiate level, he offered that same advice to his younger Camdenton teammates.

“Enjoy every minute of it. It goes by fast,” he said.

JOSH SEMAU, LINDENWOOD UNIVERSITY

When Semau and his family moved to Camdenton, he heard that football was kind of a big deal.

In eighth grade he decided to give the game a try and it was a decision he was glad to have made as he joined the Laker family.

“I was immediately accepted by everyone and loved the family and everything we had. The coaching staff brought me in and I decided I kind of liked this sport and as I got better and better, I grew into a love for it,” Semau recalled.

Turns out, Lindenwood thought he was a big deal as Semau confirmed his commitment to the Lions on Wednesday.

“It is fantastic and it has been a dream of mine,” he said of playing collegiate football. “I am glad I can carry on the legacy of my family and the Laker tradition onto the next level.”

And while he was willing to put in all the time and effort, Semau quickly pointed out that it was supporting cast that made signing day possible.

“Family and friends, I would not be able to do it without them. Just being accepted the way I was when I first moved here and being coached and taught how to do things really brought me where I am today,” he noted.

Semau will also have a familiar face around at Lindenwood as he joins his teammate Whitney as a force to be reckoned with on the line of scrimmage. He also liked what he saw from his new supporting cast of coaches.

“The coaching staff immediately,” Semau said of what he liked upon his visit to the school. “They were awesome there. They have a great vibe and they want to build character as well so I was looking for a good college like that and Lindenwood had everything I wanted.”

As he embarks on his new adventure, Semau said he will not forget the people of Camdenton and noted that the aggressiveness of Laker football will be a big help when it comes to playing at the next level. Semau also offered some words of advice about the mindset his younger Laker teammates need to have.

“Just keep working as hard as you can in the weight room, for sure, but also keep your grades up and keep your head forward,” he stated.

Semau plans to study biology at Lindenwood.

CHAZZ SAWYERS, FORT SCOTT COMMUNITY COLLEGE

Sawyers has never been afraid to take a chance.

His football journey began as a third grader in Tennessee where he was playing tackle football with fifth and sixth graders, but he welcomed the challenge and took it head on, despite any bumps or bruises.

“It was kind of rough, but it helped out a lot because it toughened me up,” Sawyers recalled.

After growing up in the “Volunteer State” and playing his first two years of high school football at Gibson County in Dyer, Tenn., Sawyers was ready to take another chance. This time, he would leave behind everything he knew and move 326 miles and nearly six hours away to play football for Camdenton after his father took a job in Versailles.

Sawyers had a chance to talk to Coach Shore and learn a little bit more about the Laker tradition. It was a move he was glad to have made.

“I moved here my junior year and it was worth it. It was worth the move,” Sawyers said.

“It is really just the support and great bonds I’ve built with these teammates and coaches here. That really helped me a lot because when I first moved here, I threw away everything I knew about my friends and coaches back in Tennessee. I had to abandon all that, take a chance and it was worth it because they really helped me throughout this whole thing.”

And now, Sawyer’s efforts on the gridiron as a Laker have given him the opportunity to advance his education at a fraction of the cost as the offensive lineman will suit up for Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kan. While he undoubtedly enjoys playing football, Sawyers maintained that education is vital as he transitions into the next chapter of his life. He is grateful that football provided an avenue for him to study business and communication.

“The ultimate goal is to get a cheap or almost free education and that is the main goal behind this. Education comes first,” the senior said.

Going forward, Sawyers is looking forward to taking his next chance as he hopes his time at Fort Scott will be a stepping stone of getting a scholarship at a 4-year school. Sawyers said he feels like he fell short of the offers he really wanted and the Greyhounds play in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC), which Sawyers notes as one of the toughest junior college leagues in the country.

“They play Independence, the hosts of ‘Last Chance U’ season three,” Sawyers said of the football show on Netflix. “They also play schools like Iowa Western and Hutchison. I think it will help a lot because of the competitiveness of playing Division I and NFL talent every weekend.”

Sawyers is ready to put in the time and effort once again, but he is also looking forward to being a great teammate. He knows from his time at Camdenton that success or triumph is not dependent on any single individual.

“The team is everything because you have to put all your heart and hope into this. It takes everyone to win a game and takes everyone to win a championship and that is what I learned here,” he stated. “Everybody has to be on board, yo have to put in time off the field and give it everything you’ve got.”

One of the things he will miss the most about his time as a Laker is being around the lake itself, noting that his new home is not exactly known for its scenery.

“I’m going to miss the lake because there is not much to do in Kansas, so that is going to be a killer,” he said with a smile.

Sawyers also took the time to offer words of his advice to the Lakers taking the field next fall. Remembering how much he enjoyed his time over the past two years, he stressed how important it was to make the most of the time they have.

“It is going to get hard in the summer with the heat and questioning if you can do it, but it is worth it. There is nothing better than hearing 1,000 screaming fans out of the ‘Hog’ (balloon entrance), putting on the pads and playing on Friday,” he said. “It is one of the best things you’ll ever get to do, no matter if you play college or not.”

As each of these players get ready to join new teams, Shore said he is thankful for the inclusion and leadership they provided in creating a team atmosphere as Lakers. It may very well be one of the reasons why Camdenton finished 8-3 this past fall before bowing out in the district semifinals to the eventual state champion Webb City.

“They took the younger kids under their wing and really tried to promote a sophomore through senior team. I think that is the thing I appreciate about them most and for those younger kids, I think it is the same thing,” the coach said. I hope we can carry that on.”

The coach is also looking forward to hearing about each player at their new schools and the opportunity for them to come back and share what they have learned with the Laker family.

“You get them for a little bit of time, but I sure enjoyed the time I had with them. You wish them all the luck, are excited for them and excited to hear about what they do,” the coach noted. “It is always good for them to come back and tell the other kids a little bit about what to expect for those interested in playing. It is just great for our program to have that many guys going on and getting a taste of the next level.”