Wood's Ashby signs with D1 Southern Utah for football; Davis to play golf for Shepherd


On Dec. 14, NCAA Division I Southern Utah University announced that it had hired Fitzgerald to turn around another struggling program. Fitzgerald didn’t waste any time deciding that he wanted one of the main factors in James Wood’s turnaround to be part of the foundation in his latest rebuilding project.

In a ceremony in front of about 70 people, Colonels senior wide receiver Jaden Ashby signed with Southern Utah on Wednesday on the first day of the regular signing period for football. Colonels senior golfer Luke Davis also participated in the ceremony. He will compete on a partial scholarship for NCAA Division II Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., next year.
Ashby will receive a full scholarship but will not report to Cedar City, Utah, until January of 2023 so he can continue to rehabilitate the right torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus that he suffered in James Wood’s Region 4C first round playoff game against Heritage in November.
Fitzgerald offered Ashby a scholarship to attend Frostburg State on Sept. 1. Ashby considered Frostburg State, but with a scholarship offer from Virginia Military Institute and interest from other Division I schools like James Madison and Coastal Carolina, Ashby had plenty of options to consider.
But during the entire recruiting process, no coach showed as much care for him and interest than Fitzgerald. So when Fitzgerald moved up to a higher-level program at Southern Utah, Ashby knew he had to make the school a serious option.
“He’s a great coach and great guy in general,” said Ashby after Wednesday’s ceremony. “He knew I could make a big impact.
“After I tore my ACL, he still was interested in me. Other colleges seemed to back off of me a little bit. But he stuck with me through it all. [When he went to Southern Utah], I knew I had to be on his team. He believed in me, and I had to stick with him.”
Ashby said Fitzgerald offered him a full scholarship the day after he was hired. Ashby announced his verbal commitment to Southern Utah on Dec. 25, 11 days after Fitzgerald was hired to coach the Thunderbirds. Southern Utah won the Big Sky Conference and advanced to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2017, but the Thunderbirds have gone 6-34 overall since.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Ashby was a record-setting swiss army knife for James Wood.
As a senior, Ashby was a First Team All-Region 4C selection who had 1,273 total yards of offense, recording 39 receptions for 667 yards (a 17.1 average) and nine touchdowns and carrying the ball 63 times for 606 yards (a 9.6 average) and 10 TDs. Ashby also returned six kickoffs for 250 yards (a 41.7 average) and two TDs and returned two punts for 117 yards (a 58.5 average) and two TDs.
James Wood football coach Ryan Morgan said in Wednesday’s ceremony that Ashby’s records include career marks for points (248) and touchdowns (41, including a record 19 receiving). Ashby also set a school record by averaging 9.95 yards per rushing attempt in his career.
As a sophomore, Ashby set single-single school records for catches (48), receiving yards (777) and TD receptions (10). He helped James Wood to a 6-4 record, its first winning season since 2010. A 2-0 spring 2021 season that included the Colonels’ first sweep of Sherando and Millbrook since 2008 followed (Ashby had 252 yards and four TDs rushing, and 68 yards receiving), and this year Ashby led James Wood to its first playoff berth since 2014 in a 7-4 season.
After lifting James Wood, Ashby is looking forward to doing something similar with Southern Utah. Fitzgerald certainly has proven he knows what it takes to turn a program around.
Frostburg State had eight straight losing seasons before Fitzgerald took over in 2014. In eight years with the Bobcats, Fitzgerald went 62-19 with three conference titles, two NCAA Division III playoff berths and seven straight winning seasons to close. The last three years came in NCAA Division II, with Frostburg State recording a 10-1 mark and earning the Mountain East Conference title in 2021.
“His plan is to change the program, get winning seasons, and get far into the playoffs,” said Ashby, also a standout cornerback for Wood and someone who played baseball and basketball in high school.
Southern Utah — which went 1-10 overall and 0-8 in the Big Sky in 2021 — is moving to the Western Athletic Conference. The WAC is currently a FCS conference after serving as an FBS conference from 1962-2012.
Ashby visited the Southern Utah campus two weeks ago, and it couldn’t have gone better.
“It’s beautiful there,” Ashby said. “Parents came up to me and talked to me. Coaches talked to me and showed me a lot of love.”
Ashby said he’ll likely study business or exercise science.
Ashby said his rehab is going well after some initial difficulties. Ashby plans on getting a job and continuing his training next fall in Frederick County so he can be as strong as possible when he does report to Southern Utah.
“I want to be better than what I was,” said Ashby, the first Wood D-I football signee since Chris Alaniz with Norfolk State in 2013. “I’m going to try and get bigger, faster and stronger.”
Ashby has a history of working hard under less than ideal circumstances. From the end of his sophomore year of football to the beginning of his junior year — which was delayed until March of 2021 — Ashby put on 35 pounds. He’s also developed into someone with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash.
“The time that we saw a monumental change for Jaden was during COVID,” Morgan told the audience. “We had a hard time getting workouts in, but he just really dedicated himself during that time to getting his nutrition right and working out, and he helped his teammates work together. He came back a different person and a different athlete.
“He’s really improved every year he’s been with us, both physically and as a leader.”
At the end of the ceremony. Ashby made sure to thank the audience for the support they had shown him over the years, and for what they had done to help him get where he is today.
As people lined up for photographs, it was clear a lot of people have enjoyed the journey with him. It’s not just the James Wood community that appreciates Ashby — Handley football rivals Stephen Daley and Emerson Fusco showed up to support Ashby as well on Wednesday.
“Since I was little, it’s been my biggest dream to play college football,” Ashby said. “I’ve had constant support throughout this entire process. My family, friends, coaches, teammates, they all push me to be the best I can be every single day.”
Davis is a four-year varsity member for James Wood and one of the area’s best golfers the last three years. As a senior, Davis posted a stroke average of 83 (18 holes), shot an 81 at the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament to tie for sixth, and had a season-best 79 at the Region 4C tournament.
After the golf season ended in October, Davis decided he wanted to continue his career in college, and Shepherd was one of the schools he contacted. The Rams are led by fourth-year head coach Chuck Ingram, who guided the Rams to third in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and a berth in the NCAA super regionals last year.
“I was drawn to Shepherd after I had my first visit with them in December,” Davis said. “I talked with coach Chuck Ingram, and I just knew instantly that’s who I wanted to play golf for. I could tell he was a really good coach.”
Davis also likes how close Shepherd is to home, which will allow him to visit family and perhaps play with his former Colonel teammates.
“It means a lot to me [to be playing in college],” said Davis, who will study cyber security. “I started playing golf a lot my ninth-grade year, and it means a lot I was able to improve my game so much that I can do this. My handicap was a 22 my freshman year but now I’m down to about a 7.”
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