Small roster, big signing day class for Holy Trinity football

Holy Trinity's signing day class included Ja'Lon Hudgins (top) and (from l-r) Tayshawn Peppers, Jonathan Bowden, Carlos Estronza, James BlackStrain and Rico Frazier.

They began the season with only 20 players on the roster, and there were times when the number of healthy bodies was limited to just 12.

So, what does it say that six of those Holy Trinity Tigers are heading off to play college football?

That was the scene Wednesday morning at the school where James BlackStrain (Georgia Tech); Carlos Estronza (Wingate University); Jonathan Bowden (Gannon University); Rico Frazier (St. Thomas University); Tayshawn Peppers (St. Thomas University) and Ja’Lon Hudgins (St. Thomas University) were all honored on national signing day.

“That’s extremely impressive,” Holy Trinity coach Nate Hooks Jr. said. “This class has gone to three second-round playoffs in a row and no one (else in school history) had before. To have a percentage of six out of 20, sometimes, six out of 12, sign scholarships … unbelievable.”

BlackStrain, who will leave as the program’s all-time leader in career receptions (120) and yards gained (2,268), signed his national letter of intent during the early signing period in December. But senior wide receiver was happy to be able to share the stage with the rest of this year’s signing class.

“It means a lot to me because I get to enjoy my senior year with my teammates and I get to see where their endeavors lead them,” BlackStrain said. “I just want them to be great people on and off the field. … I’m glad I got to finish with this group of guys.”

BlackStrain said he and his fellow Georgia Tech recruits have been talking about having an immediate impact once they hit campus.

“The talk is, ‘Win ’21.’ That’s the motto,” BlackStrain said. “That’s all we’re focused on – Winning. Winning is everything.”

Of all the players who spoke at Wednesday’s ceremony, Bowden came the closest to choking up.

“I didn’t expect to get emotional, but it happened,” he said.

Signing to play college football is a dream Bowden carried with him from an early age. Although he was a quarterback at Heritage High School, he found himself looking for a new position at Holy Trinity in order to get regular playing time.

“I figured, you know what, I still love the sport of football,” Bowden said. “I love playing it. I was like, ‘I’ll contribute any way I can. I’ll just get on the field, go make plays and see what happens.’

Throughout the season, he found himself lining up at defensive tackle, defensive end, safety and even wide receiver. Gannon recruited him as a tight end. He plans to major in business.

“They have a great business program,” Bowden said. “I’m really interested in finance and sports marketing. They do a good job of getting students internships and jobs after they graduate.

“They’re a high level of football, too. Their conference (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference) put five teams in the Division II college football playoff, which is way more than any other conference.”

When Estronza arrived on campus as a freshman, he had two things in mind – getting a good education, and getting a scholarship to play football.

In fact, he was so focused, some people weren’t quite sure how to take it.

“I really didn’t speak, just did my work and kept my head down,” he said.

Well, it all paid off on Wednesday when Estronza signed with Wingate. Although he started out as a linebacker at Holy Trinity, he also saw time at receiver where he owns the record for most receptions in a single season (55). He was recruited as a slot receiver and wants to become an anesthesiologist.

Everything about Wingate appealed to him.

“It just felt like home,” Estronza said. “The facilities, the area, the education … everything was the right fit for my future.”

St. Thomas University, meanwhile, is about to become the home for three Holy Trinity players.

“It’s going to be pretty nice having players down there that I’ve played with before,” Hudgins said.

Another player who saw time at multiple positions for the Tigers, Hudgins was Holy Trinity’s quarterback his junior year. As a senior, he switched back to wide receiver, but sustained a foot injury in his first game. He came back for the team’s Class 3A, regional semifinal, but there was a concern that all the time he missed would hurt his ability to get a scholarship.

Obviously, it didn’t.

“It means a lot, because I didn’t play a lot,” Hudgins said of signing day. “I got injured. And I was still blessed to receive a scholarship.”

Peppers, meanwhile, transferred to Holy Trinity from Cocoa for his senior season for two main reasons. Getting a scholarship to play football was just one of them.

“It was also to better my education,” he said. “Holy Trinity is one of the most top schools in Brevard, so I decided this was the best place to be.”

Recruited as a defensive tackle, Peppers said he plans to major in business management.

“I was waiting for this, really, since youth league,” he said of signing day. “I just thank God for giving me this opportunity.”

Of all the players who signed Wednesday, no one has been a Tiger as long as Frazier.

The senior began his playing career at Holy Trinity as an eighth grader and while he saw time on both sides of the line, he was recruited as a defensive end.

“I’ve been thinking about going to college since I came here,” Frazier said. “That’s the reason I came here, so I’d have a better chance to go to college. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I was a freshman, going from eighth grade playing varsity football.

“That was a challenge. I had to adapt. Good thing I had good teammates to help me adapt. It was good for me.”

Frazier, who plans to major in computer science, said he chose St. Thomas in part because of its South Florida location.

“I liked the area that it’s in,” he said. “And the campus, it’s not too big and it’s not too small. It feels like where I’m supposed to be.”