NEW BOSTON — For Gage Adkins, the road to reach this particular point was sometimes winding — and often times seemed long.
But the two-way Wheelersburg High School standout, stating himself that “it was a long decision” with several small-school offers to play football, made it clear that the University of Pikeville — located in Pikeville, Ky. — “will make me a better athlete and a better man once I graduate from there”.
In a recent rainy-day Sunday signing ceremony, held in front of family and friends and a few Pirates teammates inside the New Boston Community Center, Adkins officially announced his plans to play for UPike — an NAIA institution and a member of the Mid-South Conference.
Adkins, a six-foot one-inch and 195-pound hybrid defensive back and outside linebacker —and often times tight end on offense — initially thanked those individuals, including his parents Jeremy and Jessica, for indeed making that Sunday signing day possible.
He then expressed his UPike plans in an interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times —as Adkins, at the all-Southeast District Division V level, was a two-time Special Mention selection as a junior and senior.
In those same seasons in which he started and amounted the most playing time, the Pirates advanced to the Region 19 semifinals of the state playoffs.
Adkins said schools such as Alderson-Broaddus, Ashland and Kentucky Christian — along with UPike — were his preferred Final Four of sorts, and that the decision to attend UPike “ultimately came down to how well I thought of the coaching staff down there and the environment around it.”
He also expressed his desire for Pikeville’s Nursing program, which includes a “level 2 trauma unit and everything down there”, as part of the Pikeville Medical Center.
“I really think I can advance my career in nursing there,” said Adkins.
As for football, the Bears’ head coach —Allan Holland Jr. —has ties with Wheelersburg, which was especially attractive to Adkins.
“It’s a really good strong connection there. The whole football program at UPike has been amazing throughout the past couple of years since Allan got there. Even before that, they’ve been a powerhouse in their conference (MSC),” said Adkins, of the program. “They’ve been up there in the NAIA rankings for the playoffs, they’ve won multiple championships in their conference, and have had multiple playoff runs.”
Adkins said he has been recruited to the Bears as a defensive back, and plans on playing primarily safety.
Derrick Lucas, the Bears’ defensive coordinator, has talked to Adkins about being an integral piece of the squad’s four-safety sets.
“There is a lot going on at the field at once. A lot of different blitzes, schemes and coverages you can run out of it,” said Adkins.
Of course, naturally, with Wheelersburg’s complex but overly effective defensive packages, Adkins is familiar with their often complicated nature.
“Obviously, we (Wheelersburg) have a very complicated system with our defense,” he said, with a laugh. “We have about 20 million coaches that tell us what to do on the field at once. So it’s really similar. We run the outside linebackers, and we can have a two-safety set that you saw a lot this year when we ran our 3-4 (defense). I feel very comfortable going straight in and learning everything. I already have that knowledge put into my brain from the great coaches that we have here at Wheelersburg. I think it will be a great fit and a comfortable fit as well.”
While Adkins indeed fits into the Bears’ defensive plans, he knows he “still needs to work on all crafts of my game”.
“The biggest ones are obviously your speed and your strength, and adapting to the speed change of the game,” he said. “The speed difference is unreal, the pace is completely different, and it’s played at a 100 different miles per hour.”
Adkins, first hand in fact, found that out in mid-January — as he participated in the annual Blue Grey All-American Bowl (Class of 2021), which took place inside spectacular AT & T Stadium in Dallas, Texas.
He said the majority of participating players had already committed to or received offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs —and from schools in the major conferences, including the BIG 12, the BIG 10 and the PAC 12.
“These kids are already college ready. That’s one thing I noticed right then and there. Just adapting to them and being able to start to play at the pace of some of those players, you pick it up really fast,” said Adkins. “You either have to live by it or die by it. If you choose to live by it, you get through everything and start to figure out how the pace is played.”
Adkins won’t be alone at UPike, though, as fellow Pirate teammate Matthew Miller has verbally committed to playing football for the Bears as well.
Adkins said he and Miller have been planning their future freshman year “for months”.
“Matthew and I have been talking about that for a while. We had this brotherly sense that UPike was the place where we both wanted to go. Not only for each other, but we both think it can better us as human beings and men at the end of the day,” he said. “We’ve already planned out being roommates together and everything. That helps out a lot and it calms down the nerves of going away from home. It’s not too far being two hours away, but it calms the nerves knowing that you have a brother-like figure like that playing for four years together now. He’s been by my side ever since I’ve moved to Wheelersburg, so that helps out a lot.”
And indeed, the road from Wheelersburg to Pikeville is an estimated two hours — but now that Adkins has made his decision, the trek southward won’t seem quite as winding, or even long.
“With this, I plan to play football for four years there and I’m very excited about the opportunity ahead, but I’m also creating memories and friendships for the rest of my life,” said Adkins. “Not only that, but getting a degree in nursing. It’s been a dream since I started playing Pee Wee football. Now I have the opportunity that not a lot of people get every day, or ever get that experience.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved