FAIRBANKS — Cousins who helped anchor the offensive and defensive lines for the West Valley High School football team the past few seasons, are headed off to play college football in Virginia.
Ray Garris-Shoemaker and Leonard McMullen have decided to play at Hampton Roads Community College, where the program is structured to help players maintain good grades, work on maturity skills and promote players to coaches at the highest levels of college football.
“It’s going to be a big jump, an eye-opener,” Garris-Shoemaker said earlier this week. “It’s going to be a new environment, but I think I can do well in it.”
“I haven’t been to the East Coast before so this should be something new and fun,” McMullen said. “I know it’s going to be sunny and hot, so it’s not going to be easy.”
Garris-Shoemaker is a 6-foot-2, 285-pound center and long snapper for the Wolfpack and he hopes to step right in and play for Hampton Roads.
McMullen is a 5-11 265-pound defensive lineman, who also played offensive tackle alongside his cousin at West Valley.
Daniel Esparza, who was the head football coach at West Valley the past two years and now coaches at Bartlett in Anchorage, said both players have the ability to play at the next level.
“They definitely have the athletic talent,” Esparza said. “If they can stay committed and it’s something they really want to do, they can be very successful.”
Both players played a key role in helping the Wolfpack make the state playoffs last year.
“They were both very good linemen,” Esparza said. “Ray brought a lot of leadership to the offensive line. Leonard helped us plug up the middle against the run.”
Garris-Shoemaker said playing at West Valley helped him prepare to step up to the next level of college football.
“It built me mentally and physically,” he said. “I made a big jump from my junior to senior year
In addition to playing football, Garris-Shoemaker wrestled for West Valley and threw the shot put and discus. He also participated in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics last summer.
Garris-Shoemaker, who ranked the 25th best offensive lineman on the West Coast after attending a Nike Camp in the Lower 48 before his senior season, was All-Railbelt Conference first-team center the past three years and second team All-State during the same time period.
He finished third at the state wrestling championships in February and earned several medals at WEIO in the four-man carry, stick pulls and neck pull.
McMullen, who is working as a landscaper on Eielson Air Force Base this summer, said he’s looking forward to playing football in the Lower 48.
“I like being out of town and on my own,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll get a little home sick, but that will pass by.
Garris-Shoemaker echoed those same sentiments, saying “At least I will know someone down there,” referring to McMullen.
Before the two cousins head to Virginia, they’ll be participating in a Young Life camp in Antelope, Ore.
Pat Garris-Shoemaker said Hampton Roads is the perfect place for both to continue their football success.
“It was very attractive because they mold these guys into being good role models, good students and good football players,” she said. “And, they will promote them on to Division I schools.”