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Grins not just reserved for D-I kids

Published February 8, 2007

[Times photo: Brendan Fitterer]
Gulf High teammates, quarterback Alton Voss, left, and center John Palasky, share a laugh as Voss holds his letter of inent from he University of South Florida. Palasky signed to play with Benedictine College in Kansas.

NEW PORT RICHEY - You know the guy with the black shirt, khaki pants and brown loafers. The black, spiked hair gives him away, even moreso when it's covered by the USF hat he fidgets with.

Alton Voss is headed for the big-time world of Division I football.

The other guy, you don't know as much. He is in jeans, a shirt and tie, a belt buckle you could serve cheese and crackers on provided the confederate flag symbol doesn't bother you too much and snakeskin cowboy boots.

His smile is wide as the Kansas plains.

Which is exactly where center John Palasky will be playing football next year, in some place called Atchison for a college named Benedictine.

While we are told Wednesday's signing day is all about blue chips, for many, it is about the cow chips. In small towns and little outposts everywhere next fall, at schools you've never heard of, new players like Palasky will be welcomed, maybe even praised as the key ingredient to landing another Heart of America Athletic Conference title.

Yes, that's a real conference, and yes, Palasky would kill to make their first-team next year.

For the big fella, all 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds of him, this is all a happy dream in a world where the Floridas and Notre Dames and USCs will fight over who snagged the best players and message boards will overload servers and fans will start counting the days to spring practice.

That would be nice to be a part of, sure, but Palasky knows his college choice will be nice too. He's got to be sure, because he has yet to actually lay eyes on Benedictine. They liked his highlight tape, he liked that they liked his highlight tape, and he accepted an offer to play for the Ravens.

A Catholic school. A leap of faith. Synergy.

"I go to church," Palasky said.

It's a nice story, and one we shouldn't forget. Palasky will get $20,000 worth of free education a year, get to play football, and the school even threw in three hats to wear on signing day - two gray ones and the red one Palasky fancied.

They are sending more for his family and high school coaches.

Voss, it should be noted, had to buy his own hat.

Palasky will dress out in the Amino Center, play in Raven Stadium, which comfortably seats 3,000, play for a coach who has been at the school 28 years.

Atchison is old; Lewis and Clark old. The fellas spent some time in the city years ago. It's most famous product is female flier Amelia Earhart, and yes, the winters are harsh and the cold will make Palasky shiver.

That is, if the ghosts don't first (Atchison is supposedly the "most haunted city" in Kansas).

For schools like Benedictine, kids like Palasky are a big deal.

The Ravens might as well be a Division I program in a major conference the way Palasky was smiling. As cameras clicked away, he joked with his quarterback, delivering a side-splitting punchline no one else could hear.

Another smooth exchange between center and quarterback.

He did a television interview. Explained to reporters how he became a lineman ("I'm big and slow"), how he played tight end for a few games this year ("I caught one pass ...and fumbled it"), how he had an interception as a defensive lineman ("Fumbled that one, too").

Then he laughed. No wonder, then, why he was a lineman, though for all his fumbling he was sure-handed when it came to snapping the ball to Voss.

"I made him look good."

Voss returned the favor Wednesday, providing the spotlight with his signing for Palasky to bask in.

This summer, Voss and Palasky will head for different worlds.

But on this day, they shared the same one, which when you strip away all the hype and recruiting hogwash, boils down to this: two happy kids getting a free education and the chance to play college football next year, where at least for one day, every deal is a good one.

John C. Cotey can be reached at or (727) 869-6261.

[Last modified February 7, 2007, 23:21:41]

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