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It’s been a long, winding road for Valwood wide receiver Tajh Sanders.
After being one of five Valdosta players ruled ineligible after findings of recruiting violations following the 2020 season, Sanders eventually found a new home with the Valiants.
On National Signing Day, Sanders found his college home – signing a letter of intent with Western Illinois on Wednesday.
“It feels real good because going into the signing day, it was kind of a late commitment and I was kind of scared that I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere,” Sanders said. “I’ve picked up a home at Western Illinois. The campus, it’s all about family there.”
Sanders led the Valiants with 35 catches for 490 yards with five touchdowns last season.
Though the Valiants went 3-9 last season, they not only managed to earn a GISA Class 3A state playoff berth, but they knocked off Southland 35-21 in their first-round playoff game. Sanders caught a 44-yard touchdown pass in the win.
“What a story of perseverance,” Valwood head football coach Justin Henderson said. “Not a lot went his way recently in the recruiting process, leading up to his time coming to Valwood even and you wouldn’t know it by talking to the young man. I was talking to some of these recruiters and they’d ask, ‘Coach, what offers does he have?’ and some of them were backing off for whatever reason.
“Western Illinois popped up kind of last minute and I was filling out a survey for him and I asked him why Western Illinois and he said, ‘It fit me the best.’ It’s good to be wanted and he found a good home there and I’m super proud of him.”
Sanders wasn’t the only Valwood athlete to sign on Wednesday as senior wrestler Tony Del Vecchio signed with Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida.
According to Tony’s father and Valwood head wrestling coach Antonio Del Vecchio was recruited last year by Keiser head wrestling coach Nick Soto and committed to the school over the summer before finally making it official on Wednesday.
A wrestler since the age of 6, Tony began his journey to becoming a college wrestler in the sixth grade at Pine Grove Middle School in Valdosta before coming to Valwood for his high school career.
Last year, Tony was a region runner-up and a state champion in his weight class and is looking to repeat that success this season.
“I did a lot of visits and exchanged messages with other coaches, but I’ve spent two summers with Coach Soto and Coach (Nick) Marcus at Keiser and it truly feels like home,” Tony said. “There wasn’t any other college coach or program that made me feel cared for and wanted as they did at Keiser.”
Shane Thomas is the sports editor at the Valdosta Daily Times.