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Six Panthers sign to play football in college this fall

POSTED February 1, 2012 10:40 p.m.
Mack McClure Great Bend Tribune/

Great Bend's John Verbeck signed with Dodge Cit...

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The dream that flickered in the minds of six Great Bend High School football players became a reality during national signing day.
Tyler Uselton, John Verbeck, Jacob Graham, Mauricio Uribe, Blake Reif and Spencer Keil all signed letters of intent Wednesday to play at the next level.
Uselton (Butler), Verbeck (Dodge City), Graham (Hutchinson) and Uribe (Hutchinson) signed with Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference schools. Reif and Keil signed with NAIA schools as Reif is headed to Bethany College in Lindsborg and Keil opted for Ottawa University.
“If they really continue to grow, like they did from their junior to senior years and if they can all continue to make progress, they’re all going to be good assets,” Great Bend head football coach Bo Black said.
Uselton was the most-recruited of the six-pack of Panthers. An anchor on the offensive line, Uselton, who will be playing in the Shrine Bowl in July in Emporia, is bound for El Dorado after narrowing his list to Butler and NCAA Division-II Fort Hays State University.
“It’s not hard to replace guys like that,” Black said of Uselton. “It is impossible. It’s not often you have a 6-foot-3, 315-pound kid that can run and understands the game and wants to work very hard. In my 11 years at Great Bend High School, Tyler Uselton is the best offensive lineman I have ever had. He was a three-year starter and actually played a little bit late in his freshman year.
“He has the character makeup to be the best that he can possibly be and who wants to be pushed and wants to be coached. He’s just the total package in what you’re looking for in an offensive lineman, and very seldom came off the field for us and he was our team MVP and was selected to the Shrine Bowl. He was just a very, very good football player for Great Bend High School.”
Uselton waited until Tuesday to make his decision, committing to Butler over Fort Hays before signing on the dotted line to play for the perennial powerhouse Grizzlies. He acknowledged that he wants to play at the NCAA Division-I level, and there’s no better place to hone one’s skills than one of the nation’s premier junior colleges — Butler has played in the NJCAA national championship game in eight of the last 14 years, winning five titles. The Grizzlies won crowns in 1981, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2008.
Butler finished 2011 ranked No. 2 in the final juco poll.
“That was a deciding factor,” Uselton said. “Fort Hays gave me a really good offer, a lot more money than I was offered from the jucos, but myself wanting to play at the next level (D-I) was the reason I chose Butler.
“They are dominating. They win a lot of games, a lot of national championships and that’s what I’m planning on doing, winning a national championship and playing in that new stadium.”
Verbeck, a 6-3, 327-pound nose guard, teamed up with Uselton on the Panthers’ defensive line, forming a huge wall for opposing offenses to try to run against.
“There’s going to be about a 638-pound hole,” Black said. “The one thing those two guys brought was that most teams didn’t run in the “A” gaps and we had a pretty good defense and a big part of it was what those guys did.
“Everyone tried to run off-tackle and outside because it was virtually impossible to run inside with those two playing there.”
Verbeck said he came away impressed with the coaching staff when he made his recruiting visit to Dodge City.
“I think we’re going to go far and all we need is a little bit of help to boost the team up,” Verbeck said. “I’ll play on the defensive line. That’s one of my things.
“My goal since my freshman year was to go D-I. Playing at a juco is a good start to that.”
Graham (6-3, 240), an offensive lineman at GBHS, will be given an opportunity to play either defensive end or tight end at Hutchinson.
“He was our most improved player in one year and really, a young man who worked himself into success,” Black said of Graham. “He just knows how to work and set goals for himself.
“At Hutch, I think they’re going to try him at one of two positions  — tight end or at defensive end — and I think he’s up to the challenge.”
Graham has bulked up 30 pounds in the last year.
“In the summer, myself and a few other guys, after we were working out, we’d go lift weights for another hour and that’s how I did that,” Graham said of his weight gain. “I’ve never played tight end before. I’ve always played offensive guard or tackle. I’d really like to play either side of the ball, tight end or defensive end.
“I think I’d be more comfortable playing tight end since I’ve always played on offense. I’ve been working on my ability to catch the ball and I’ve been working out with the indoor track team, just working on my speed. I’m just trying to get stronger and stronger.”
Graham said Hutch was the first team to recruit him, and it had a lasting effect.
“That’s exactly how it felt,” he said. “They came and talked to me after our second game, against Garden City, and told me that they wanted me to play football for us.
“Ever since, I’ve just wanted to go there to play.”
In Uribe, Hutchinson is getting a raw talent with only three years of football under his belt.
“Here’s a kid that had never been involved in football in his life,” Black said. “He had never played in elementary school or in junior high or as a freshman in high school.
“He came out for the first time and picked a football up as a sophomore and he ended up being our go-to wide receiver during his senior year. He’s still learning the game. He’s going to be really good, if he sticks with it and keeps working hard.”
Uribe (6-2, 153) said football was something that he wanted to play since he was in elementary school.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to play football,” Uribe said. “but I never knew where to sign up and in middle school, I went to a private school.
“My freshman year, I didn’t play football. I ran cross country. My sophomore year, I finally went out for football and fell in love with the sport. I watched college football games on TV and I wanted to get there. Every time they called a pass play or a run play (at GBHS), I tried to give it my all and get the most that I can out of a play.”
Reif, part of the Panthers’ receiving corps, simply didn’t have his fill after Great Bend’s season ended with a 4-5 record.
“I think that’s exactly it,” Black said. “He wants to keep playing and he’s another kid with great work ethic. I think the one thing that all of these kids have in common is that they are great workers.
“They take a lot of pride in what they do, and Blake is a perfect example of that. He was never a superstar, but a workhorse, and it’s a great opportunity for him to keep going.”
Reif said it was a chance for him to keep playing, as well as get a solid education.
“I feel like it gives me a chance to improve and keep playing the game I love,” the 6-0, 176-pound Reif said. “Wherever they need me … I want to play football and get my school paid for.”
Keil, a 5-10, 165-pound outside linebacker, had the misfortune of missing the Panthers’ season opener at St. Thomas Aquinas with mononucleosis. Then he broke his right leg in practice after the Garden City game, ending his season before it had hardly began.
“I was depressed for a while because I built myself up, ready for my senior year, and then I didn’t get to play much,” Keil said. “I got a call from Ottawa and they said they saw me play in the Garden City game I played in and they were interested in me.
“I went up and had for a visit and everything checked out. They wanted to have me, and I was only too glad to accept. It’s kind of a dream-come-true. I’ve always thought about playing college sports, but I never thought I was big enough or tall enough. They offered me a good scholarship and I’m taking it. I’m running with the second chance I’ve got.”
Perhaps Keil’s work ethic caught the attention of Ottawa defensive coordinator Josh Homolka, a 1999 graduate of Clafin High School, who went on to play linebacker at the University of Kansas (1999-2003), and head coach Kent Kessinger, who is the son of legendary Bethany coach Ted Kessinger.
“Jacob Graham and Spencer Keil, working for their senior year, they were here every day,” Black said. “The first ones to come and the last ones to leave.
“You just feel terrible when a kid misses out on his senior season like that. We really, really missed him at outside linebacker this past season. He was a good player for us.”

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