South Carolina athlete takes game to Idaho

From the South Carolina "Pee Dee" region Idaho received an LOI from star athlete DENZELL WEDGEWORTH (5-11, 195). The Hemingway dual-threat quarterback and starting DB was a multiple All State pick prior to missing his senior season with an injury. Said coach Clayton Owens, "On the playing field, he is the best that I have ever coached. He does things that I have never seen in a kid his age."

Last August, in a preseason scrimmage leading up to the 2008 season opener, Hemingway (South Carolina) High School two-way star athlete Denzell Wedgeworth (5-11, 195) suffered a season ending lower leg injury, ending what was expected to be a crowning senior season and the culmination of a phenomenal high school career.

How good was his high school career leading up to that moment?

Exceptional. As a ninth grader Wedgeworth earned a starting role on the Hemingway varsity team and never looked back, beginning his playing career as a freshman wide receiver before settling in at quarterback, plus working double-duty at defensive back throughout his career. A team leader, for three consecutive years he was named the team's Most Valuable Player (2005, 2006, and 2007). He was a three-time All State selection, a three-time All-Pee Dee honoree, and a three time All-Region selection.

With all of the above honors under his belt, his senior year accolades began before the season started as he earned the second-most votes for Pee Dee "preseason" Player of the Year going into 2008. Then, the High School Sports Report (HSSR) released its preseason Top-100 list, and Wedgeworth was listed as the No. 37 senior prospect overall in the state of South Carolina. Clearly the stage was set for a tremendous senior season before his high school career was cut short.

"I did kinda everything," Wedgeworth told in a recent interview. "I played quarterback, I played free safety, I played a little bit of corner, I played wide receiver - everything."

Despite missing his entire senior season, he ended his career as a quarterback with 3,072 yards passing and 26 total touchdowns. As a junior in 2007 he threw for 1,719 yards, 17 touchdowns and just 4 picks, while adding 916 yards rushing and nine additional touchdowns that year. For his career as a receiver he added 557 receiving yards, and defensively he intercepted seven opponents passes, returning three for touchdowns.

The high school chapter of his career closed unexpectedly, but his move to the next level was just beginning.

To get the story behind the stats, spoke to Hemingway assistant coach Clayton Owens. Who better to talk to than the coach who worked with him every day? Coach Owens had the following to say:

"Denzell is a very focused young man who is very goal oriented and hard working," coach Owen's told "On the playing field, he is the best that I have ever coached. He does things that I have never seen in a kid his age. He plays fast and fearless, he is agile and moves laterally as fast as he does north and south, with moves that will make your eyes second guess themselves. He can take a big hit and jump up and he heals very quickly (you can see that from his broken leg injury). He is a quick learner and a leader who leads not only by words but by example.

We will miss him, but Idaho is getting the biggest steal in this year's recruiting class!"
A quick survey of the media shows that a lot of people agree with Coach Owens's assessment.

So how did the Vandals – a member of the Western Athletic Conference – connect with a player from the "Pee Dee" region of South Carolina, located in the northeastern corner of the coastal state? Fortunately for Idaho, a member of the Vandals staff hails from that region of the United States.

"Idaho hooked up because one of the coaches, coach (David) Brunner (offensive administrative assistant), is from South Carolina and he knows me," Wedgeworth said. "I was supposed to make the Shrine Bowl my senior year (the South Carolina versus North Carolina senior all-star game), and he heard about it; so he sent word over to Idaho and they came over here. That's how we got that hookup in Idaho."

With the introductions complete, Wedgeworth tripped to Idaho in January and was hosted on his visit to the Idaho campus by Quin Ashley, and the two likely had plenty to talk about. Ashley, who picked Idaho over TCU and Colorado State two years ago and has played quarterback, safety, and wide receiver for the Vandals, will be focusing on wide receiver in 2009. Like Ashley (also a high school quarterback), Wedgeworth is being recruited as an athlete who will get his first look at wide receiver with the Vandals.

"I visited at the beginning of [last] month," Wedgeworth told of his trip to Idaho. "It was very fun. It was a nice atmosphere - a very diverse school. I think I will fit in really well with them. It was just…you know, the thing about me is just to think of facilities and everything -- the coaching staff, the people. They've got diverse people up there. Everybody. It feels like a family. I mean it wasn't a decision of me coming to Idaho. It was just the distance thing for me, coming all the way from South Carolina."

Wedgeworth made his final decision the day before signing day. "I called the coaches…called coach Akey up there," Wedgeworth told "He told me that I made his day."

With what Denzell brings to the field, it's highly likely there were some relieved coaches on the other end of that phone call.

"They are looking at me for wide receiver, punt returner, and trying to get me on kick returns," Wedgeworth said as the conversation turned towards next fall. "So I'm trying to be the standout - the X-factor on the team. I'm trying to come in early, do what I'm supposed to do and maybe I'll get a start."

Crucial to those plans is the recovery process from the injury that stunted his senior season in August, and his ongoing rehab that is already yielding good results. He made the decision to sit out this basketball season, and is focusing on his rehab routine to be ready to go this fall.

"My doctor said I could play (this basketball season), but he wouldn't advise me to play basketball," Wedgeworth said. "Right now I'm just strengthening and conditioning. I'm moving, I'm running, jogging, taking it slow, strengthening and conditioning. In March I get a rod and two screws pulled out. After that it should be four weeks until I'm back in action. Right now I'm just going through the process of getting my leg stronger - lifting, strength and conditioning, and then go from there."

With the recovery process going well and with what he brings to the field, Wedgeworth will likely get his shot to make an immediate impact on the Idaho program.

Fully qualified and a solid student, Denzell will be reporting to Idaho with high expectations for his education at the University of Idaho. "I think I'm going into sports medicine...probably sports medicine, or I'm thinking about mechanical engineering. I'm not really sure yet but I've got it down to two categories."

Denzell Wedgeworth on Signing Day
Teammates Antonio Mitchum (left) signed with Georgia Military Junior College, and Tashan Fredrick signed with Tennessee State.

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