Palmer Ridge football players face strange prospect of playing against each other next season

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Photo - Cory McLellan, left, a commit to CSU Pueblo and Zach Hester, a commit to Colorado School of Mines, listen as Palmer Ridge head football coach Tom Pulford shares some final departing words as the two football players were in a group of nine high school students from Palmer Ridge signed and committed to their college of choice to play college sports during National Signing Dayat Palmer Ridge High School on Wednesday February 7, 2018 in Monument.
Cory McLellan, left, a commit to CSU Pueblo and Zach Hester, a commit to Colorado School of Mines, listen as Palmer Ridge head football coach Tom Pulford shares some final departing words as the two football players were in a group of nine high school students from Palmer Ridge signed and committed to their college of choice to play college sports during National Signing Dayat Palmer Ridge High School on Wednesday February 7, 2018 in Monument.

Since he was 6 years old, Cory McLellan has played on football teams with Zach Hester. As little guys, they sprinted in the secondary to catch passes from Ty Evans at Monument’s Dirty Woman Park.

“I’ve been playing football with Zach since I can remember,” McLellan said Wednesday morning. “When I think about football, I think of Zach Hester.”

Next football season will deliver a jolt to McLellan, and Hester.

They will look across the field at each other. McLellan will be playing for CSU-Pueblo, and Hester will be playing for Colorado School of Mines.

"I'm excited,” McLellan said. “I’m excited to be playing against him for once."

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Wednesday morning, McLellan and Hester sat next to each other on the stage at Palmer Ridge High School and simultaneously signed letters of intent. It was a morning to look at the past and celebrate Palmer Ridge’s 3A state football championship.

It was a morning of endings, and a morning of beginnings.

Emily Nguyen signed to play soccer for Belmont, a Division I school in Nashville. She remembered her start in the game when she was 3 years old. And she remembered thinking in the 9th grade that she had a chance to play in college.

“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s another challenge, and I’m really excited.”

Nguyen has another year to play for Palmer Ridge, and her coach, Nick Odil, is excited about the finale. The first time Odil saw Nguyen practice for Palmer Ridge, he knew she was destined for the college game.

“You’re going to be awesome in college,” Odil told Nguyen, “You’re going to be so good.”

Signing days are always times of high sentiment. Coaches and players look back on good times and laugh and wish more good times were ahead.

Signing days are celebrations. Signing days are also a time to say goodbye.

Swimming coach Alan Arata talked emotionally about his admiration for Faith McAllister, who signed to compete for Biola University in Southern California.

“You can live without hope,” Arata said. “I’m just wondering if you can live without Faith.”