HARROGATE, Tenn. — Wednesday was a day to celebrate at Cumberland Gap High School as seniors Rusty Provins and Cody Cornelius made history by becoming the first two athletes from the CGHS to sign scholarships with Division I schools.
Provins, the two-time defending Class 2A state champion in both the discus and shot put, will be attending Wake Forrest on a track scholarship. Cornelius, an all-Conference tackle, signed to play football at East Tennessee State.
“It’s very special to tell you the truth. It’s just an honor to have a school backing you the way they are right now,” Provins said following a joint signing ceremony at the school. “The fact that we’re also best friends at the same time going D-I just makes it special. It’s all kind of surreal.”
“I think it’s really cool and fitting, I mean we’re like brothers,” Cornelius added.
Panther head football coach Corey Russell worked with both Cornelius and Provins on the football team last fall and over the previous two years as an assistant.
“It’s a great day and everybody is super proud of Cody and Rusty and excited about their futures,” he said. “Both of them are kids that I wish we could have 30 or 40 of on every team. They’re the hardest working guys out there, great leaders and great players. Whatever they do in life, they’re going to be successful and today is just kind of the first step for them.”
Provins said his first love as far as sports go was basketball. But that changed when he was in sixth grade and his father, Paul, introduced him to the throwing events. Paul Provins attended the University of Tennessee on a track scholarship and asked middle schooler Rusty if he wanted to try out track.
“I said, Sure, what do I run. He said, ‘No, no, no we don’t run. We’re going to throw,’” Rusty Provins said. “I had no idea that he had went to UT on a throwing scholarship. He keeps these things to himself. But it’s kind of enthralling and fun to see a different side of your dad come out. He’s the kind of coach that pushes you when you need pushing and he’s always there for help and encouragement.”
The younger Provins took after his dad immediately and was drawing attention from big schools across the country as a freshman. The first letter he remembers came from UCLA.
“I was super excited about that and I thought the rest of the world could just go away if I had UCLA sending me letters about track,” he said.
Wake Forrest was soon also sending letters and they kept Rusty’s attention by staying in contact with is parents.
“The coach tried to keep up with my parents and the first time he could talk to me he did. He kept trying to see what was going on in my world and that’s what really stuck with me,” Provins said.
He is hoping to study exercise kinesiology and physiology at Wake and become “a gym junkie for life.”
Cornelius is a four-year member of the Cumberland Gap football team and a two-year starter at left tackle. Listed a 6-6, 250, he’s blessed with the long arms college coaches like to see on their tackles and has the frame to add weight as he matures.
“I decided I wanted to play college ball back at the beginning of the season. My coaches always asked if I was interested and I finally gave them the answer,” he said. “We put together a highlight film of my first four games an they sent it off. (ETSU) called back, we exchanged contact information and that’s how it came about.”
The Buccaneers dropped football back in 2003, but ETSU is gearing up for a return to the gridiron in 2015. Head coach Carl Torbush and his staff put together a 46-man recruiting class that included 34 players from Tennessee.
“I just think it’s really cool to be able to be a part of that first class, build tradition and be a part of that foundation,” Cornelius said.
Cody plans to study digital media at ETSU. “I’ll be working with computers as they apply to broadcasting, television and movies. Things like that,” he said.
“Cody is somebody you definitely want representing your football program. For him to go on to ETSU and continue his football career is an extreme blessing that he’s proud to have,” Russell added. “It’s good for him, it’s good for Cumberland Gap and it’s good for ETSU. They’re getting a heck of a kid.”