FLEMING ISLAND - Four athletes from Fleming Island High School signed off on athletic scholarships on National Early Signing Day last week with all four going to national championship level programs.
Eric Dobson, a lacrosse standout for the Golden Eagles, signed to play Notre Dame lacrosse.
"Notre Dame lacrosse, plus the Notre Dame academic standards, makes Eric signing one of the toughest scholarships to come from Fleming Island High School," said Fleming Island High coach John Hawley, a U.S. Naval Academy standout in his day. "He has worked hard on both ends to accomplish today."
Notre Dame is an annual NCAA Division I tournament and Final Four team for the last 10 years under coach Kevin Corrigan with runnerup finishes in 2010 and Final Four finishes in 2012 and 2015.
"I started playing lacrosse at two years old with the Screaming Eagles program," said Dobson, who also played basketball, football and swam. "It's been a dream of mine to sign to Notre Dame one day. Notre Dame has won four of the last six Atlantic Coast Conference championships. This has always been my choice school."
Dobson sees his skill set at the Notre Dame level to be tested with a jump in the speed of the game.
"It's faster, but the guys who can see the game slower are the best players," said Dobson, who cited a win over Bolles as the top highlight of his career as a Golden Eagle. "I scored like eight goals and we dominated all aspects of the game."
Dobson joins a handful of Fleming Island players; Patrick Schreiber (at University of Florida), Hayden LaVangie (at Jacksonville University) and Korbin Hamilton (at Limestone College) who have helped to put the Golden Eagles program on the same competitive level as nearby St. Johns County where Ponte Vedra; 2A champs and Final Four in 2018, has been the perennial target.
"Coach John Hawley has shown all the players the level that we would see at the college level," said Dobson. "Coach Hawley wants each year for the program to get better and more competitive. The program used be known as a bunch of goons years ago and coach Hawley changed all that."
Also signing from Fleming Island, two soccer standouts that are part of the Clay County Soccer Developmental Academy and numerous national age-group teams over the past four years, Lia Godfrey, a forward, signed to play at Virginia, and Alia Skinner, a goalie, signed to play at Virginia Tech University.
"It's a really exciting day because of all the years of just playing soccer with these girls that are here," said Godfrey, who was joined by nine other Clay County Developmental Academy team (United Soccer Alliance) players from teams such as Ponte Vedra, Providence, Bartram Trail, Nease, Mandarin and Bluffton (SC) at a ceremony at the Holiday Inn Express in Fleming Island. "We recently returned from a camp in California where we played a team from Japan. My highlight playing with this team was making the Final Four of the D.A. League this year."
Godfrey was the U.S. Soccer, Girls Development Academy East Region player of the year after scoring 19 goals with 16 assists in 21 games. Godfrey also was called up to the US Under-20 National team in late August.
Godfrey was a 14 year old sensation on the 2016 FIFA Under-17 World Cup team that played in Amman, Jordan. At 14, Godfrey became the youngest ever soccer player on the Under-17 team replacing U.S. Olympian Morgan Brian, who played as a 15 year old in 2010.
"That was scary because all those girls were older than me," said Godfrey. "My speed on the field has always been a plus and I just played my soccer when I got in."
Virginia, a perennial soccer power program presently the top regional seed in the San Jose region of the NCAA tournament, has 32 appearances in the NCAA Womens championship tournament. Virginia was Atlantic Coast Conference champion in 2004 and 2012, plus runnerup to Florida State in 2014 (also NCAA runnerup to FSU) and 2015. Last year, Virginia was NCAA runnerup to North Carolina. Virginia won the ACC title in 2012 over Maryland with U.S. Olympian and a Clay County Soccer Club and Florida SOL former player Morgan Brian.
Last year, Virginia was second seeded and lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament to Baylor.
Virginia Tech, who lost in the San Jose 2019 regions to Xavier in their opening game, has, in the last 10 or so years, made some improvement to being ACC contenders as well as NCAA tournament invitees with an NCAA Sweet 16 finish last year where they lost to North Carolina. FSU beat North Carolina for the NCAA title.
"The coaching we get from coaches Luis Torres and Wale Leyumi at Clay County is what makes us able to slide right into college play," said Skinner, who played with Godfrey at Lakeside Junior High School. "We have both played at Clay County Soccer since we were four or five and it was a natural progression to stay with the program."
Skinner, who played in Italy in 2018 for the United States in an international tournament, noted that a U.S. Olympic team shot is in the back of both player's ambitions. Skinner has played on the U.S. Under-16 and Under-18 teams in her career.
"That (Olympics) is always the goal," said Skinner. "That's a lot of hard work. It's sometime in the future and I would love that to happen. I think that's a dream for both of us."
For Durden, a standout at volleyball (230 kills in 2018) and basketball where she has been instrumental in deep region runs for both sports, volleyball at University of Tampa; the 2018,2014 and 2006 NCAA Division II champions, will be the next stop afte missing most of 2019 with a rehabilitating knee injury. Durden made some late season appearances for Fleming Island coach Amy Walker, but saw mainly limited playing time.