Sports Editor

Mario Kendricks signing 1

Osceola defensive lineman Mario Kendricks signs his National Letter of Intent Wednesday to Virginia Tech, where he verabally committed to in the spring.

It’s a coincidence — probably — but since the Osceola High football program has sent three defensive lineman to Atlantic Coast Conference schools in the last two years, you could say there’s now a pipeline from “D-Line High”.

On Wednesday — the NCAA’s new early National Signing Day — Kowboy Mario Kendricks became a Virginia Tech Hokie when he signed his official Letter of Intent, making permanent an oral commitment he made to the Blacksburg, Va., school in the spring.

He follows fellow defensive linemen Dion Bergan (Wake Forest) and Jordan Redmond (Virginia), who signed with ACC schools a year ago.

If it seems early for players to be backing up their oral commitments to schools with their signatures, it’s because this is the second year the NCAA approved a December signing period for schools to ink athletes to NLIs. The traditional National Signing Day will still occur on Feb. 6, and more county athletes are expected to sign that day. The early period concluded Friday.

At a gathering held with friends, family, coaches and teammates Wednesday, Kendricks said he was catching all the feels.

Mario Kendricks signing 2

Mario Kendricks celebrates his signing with family, friends and coaches at Osceola High School Wednesday

“I’m feeling good, a little excited, a little nervous,” he said as he posed for dozens of photos with his well-wishers.”

Kendricks, playing at 6-2 and nearly 280 pounds as a senior, played defensive tackle, where he led the Kowboys with seven sacks. Both OHS Head Coach Doug Nichols and Defensive Coordinator Scott Spencer said he’s likely to play as an interior lineman — and it could be as a freshman for Coach Justin Fuente’s Hokies team.

“I know it’s a position of need up there,” said Spencer, who coached three of Kendricks’ four varsity seasons. “He’s going to help them. I’d say I’ve been around Mario since he was a pup, but he was never small here.”

Nichols saw him at his smallest — a 6-0, 230-pound freshman.

“He came in that year and got just a few varsity reps. He never hung his head or complained about it,” the coach said. “When they say, ‘Trust the Process,’ this is what it means, because he worked and had a great four year career here, and he’s going to represent Osceola High and Kissimmee in a great way.

“He’s a good player, but he’s also now a great man. They’re expecting him to compete, and told him to be ready this summer. We’re going to get to watch him play on Saturdays, and in four or five years I won’t be shocked if we’re watching him play on Sundays (in the NFL).”

Kendricks, the only junior to start on a defensive line with three other seniors, tallied 8.5 sacks in 2017. Oddly enough, he played running back all through his youth leagues, and didn’t even have college football in mind until his sophomore year when coaches started noticing him.

“I played some D-line eighth grade year,” he said. “When I came to high school workouts and went to work with the running backs, all the coaches said, ‘You don’t belong here.’”

And now as he exits the high school game, Kendricks said he wants to tell future Kowboys that, if they’re willing to work, they’ll belong, too.

“Just stay on the grind, stay coachable and you’ll be on the right path. The coaches here know what they’re doing,” he said. “I know I have guys looking up to me, so I wanted to show them what steps to take on the field and in the classroom.”

Kendricks, Bergan and Redmond continue the trend of Osceola sending players to schools in the same Power 5 conference. Defensive backs Carlos Becker (Florida State) and Devon Clarke (Syracuse), offensive lineman Parker Braun (Georgia Tech) and running back LaDerrien Wilson (originally with Maryland, now in the Big 10) have all signed in the

“It’s exciting to know when you turn on an ACC football game on a Saturday that you might see one of our guys,” Nichols said.