BLOOMINGTON - Books were everywhere Wednesday afternoon. Yet, this trip to the Bloomington High School library was about writing, not reading, for seniors Ryan Kernes, Brent Holtz and Valshun Powe.
The former BHS football teammates signed national letters of intent with Division I-AA schools before family, friends, coaches and faculty members. A couple of hours later, Normal Community's Michael Cross did the same at NCHS.
Holtz, a defensive back, and Cross, an offensive lineman, signed with Illinois State. Kernes, a tight end/long snapper, opted to join his brother, Andrew, at Southern Illinois. Powe, a running back, gave his signature to Eastern Illinois. Each earned Pantagraph All-Intercity and all-Big 12 Conference honors.
Holtz was considering Eastern Illinois and Illinois Wesleyan before Illinois State began recruiting him heavily in early December. Holtz found ISU coach Denver Johnson and his staff to be "real personable" during a campus visit, and said the players were "real cool and fun to be around."
However, the biggest draw had nothing to do with football. Holtz's brother, Brandon, is a freshman guard on the Redbird basketball team.
"He was like, 'You should definitely come here. It would be a lot of fun if you came here,' " Brent Holtz said. "He did kind of recruit me to go there."
Credit Brandon Holtz with an assist. Johnson welcomed it, calling the 6-foot, 180-pound Brent Holtz "a winner." The ISU coach projects him to be a safety (his position in high school) or outside linebacker.
"I think we've got a real gem there," Johnson said. "He's got the right kind of makeup. He reminds me of Nelson (safety Tom Nelson, who was Gateway Conference Freshman of the Year). He's got some utility to him. He will find his way onto the field. He'll wind up being a great asset for us."
While Holtz had 65 tackles and also played quarterback for 9-2 BHS, the 6-5, 285-pound Cross was emerging as a force up front for NCHS, helping the Ironmen to a 12-2 record and second place in the Class 6A state playoffs.
Cross thrived in his first year as a full-time starter, and ISU got involved shortly after NCHS' 14-9 loss to Morris in the state title game.
"We talked and I said, 'I'd really like to keep playing.' They said, 'We'd like you to keep playing here,' " Cross said. "Over the past two months, it all just came together. They kept telling me they like how I'm still growing (physically) and still growing as a player. Everybody I've talked to said I haven't really peaked yet."
Cross likely will be redshirted next year, enabling him to get stronger.
"He's real big and raw," Johnson said. "I don't think he's shaving yet. It's all in front of him. He'll mature and really benefit from our strength and conditioning program.
"In a couple of years, he'll develop into a player. He has an innate ability to move his feet."
The 6-3, 230-pound Kernes had a scholarship offer from Division I-A Northern Illinois, despite missing the final five games of his senior season with a knee injury. However, the Huskies recruited him as a long snapper and said he could "try tight end."
"I wanted to play tight end. I wanted to be on the field for more than special teams," Kernes said. "Southern said I was one of the top tight ends on their board, and they went after me as a tight end."
He could wind up playing alongside his brother, who started as a sophomore on the Salukis' offensive line this past season. The younger Kernes also will compete at long snapper.
"It's great for my family, and it will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with my brother in college," he said. "(Having Andrew there) is definitely going to help me my first year, adapting and stuff. He helped me through the recruiting process, too.
"It was a combination of academics and athletics. They have a school of engineering, and that's what I want to study."
Powe became a starter midway through the season and racked up 1,479 yards rushing, including a school-record 345 against Decatur MacArthur. The 5-11, 196-pounder did not play as a junior.
He will join former BHS safety Adrian Arrington at Eastern. Arrington sat out this season because of NCAA Proposition 48 academic requirements but will be eligible next year and compete for a starting job. Powe will sit out as a freshman for the same reason.
"I feel that not playing football and concentrating on academics will be the best thing," Powe said. "Everybody says if I get past the first year, I won't have anything to worry about.
"I'll get a feel for things that first year. I'll be able to get stronger and faster. I just felt they were like a family (at Eastern). I felt more comfortable there than anywhere else."
Other Division I signees
Other Pantagraph-area athletes signing Division I or I-AA letters-of-intent included Pontiac's Phil Hanson for track at Northern Iowa; Mahomet-Seymour's Jack Tennant for football at Wyoming; and Dwight's Melissa White for track at Western Illinois.