Rhodes highlights Truman signing class

By Cody Thorn
The Examiner
Truman defensive back Chris Rhodes celebrates with his family after signing to play football for South Dakota State University Thursday during a ceremony at the high school.

This has been a whirlwind week for Chris Rhodes.

The Truman senior was in Dallas on Monday playing in a football game, became a Division I athlete on Wednesday and on Thursday morning his signing with South Dakota State’s FCS football program became official.

Rhodes was one of five Patriots to sign a letter of intent as softball players Myel White, Kennedy Rucker and Tayler Hastings and soccer player Jaritza Reynaga also were part of the ceremony.

Rhodes is the only one of the group to head to a Division I program and makes it two years in a row Charlie Pugh’s squad achieved that feat. Last year, offensive lineman Aaron Porter signed to play for Ball State.

“From the day he came on campus he wanted to be the best he can be and he wanted to know what steps to take to get to where he is at now,” Pugh said. “We talk about controlling what you can control: energy, effort, attitude and focus. Chris has been focused since day one to be the best he can be.”

Rhodes was one of 30 signees for the Jackrabbits announced on Wednesday and one of two from Missouri – Chaminade’s Amar Johnson also joined the program.

Rhodes was a first-team all-conference pick as a wide receiver/cornerback and an all-district selection at cornerback, where he will play at South Dakota State.

“This is making people believe they can come out of here,” Rhodes said of playing at Truman. “People just think Truman is all bad and you can’t get anything out of here. If you work your butt off you can go anywhere you want.”

Truman defensive back Chris Rhodes poses for a photo with his family after signing a letter of intent to play football for South Dakota State, an Division I FCS school.

Rhodes didn’t allow a single completion in conference games this year, finishing with 20 tackles, two pass breakups, one sack in league play and overall had six pass breakups, one interceptions, 39 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and allowed a completion percentage of only 18 percent.

On Monday, Rhodes played in the Blue-Grey All-American game in Arlington, Texas. He drove down to Texas on Saturday – his first time in the state – and went through workouts under guidance of West coach Tony Banks, the former St. Louis Rams quarterback.

“It was fun to go against a bunch of competition,” said Rhodes, a member of the National Honor Society at Truman. “My mom pushed me to go and I’m glad I went. It was surreal. The stadium is nice. I was like ‘no way’ and then we got to play on the field. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime moment right there.”

Seven other Missouri players were on the roster for the game, including Caleb Berry from St. Michael the Archangel. The East won the game, 36-17.

Rhodes was a three-year team captain and was also a standout in track and field, where he owns the school record in the triple jump. It was on a bleacher during a track meet that he made an impression on Pugh.

Rhodes apologized to his coach for his grades.

“He said you always preach about the importance of grades,” Pugh recalled. “I asked him what his grades were. From everything I saw, he had been As or Bs. He told me he has a C in Algebra but it's a 78. He said ‘I can get it back up.’”

Rhodes finished the class with a B.

“He embodies everything it means to be a student-athlete,” Pugh said of Rhodes, who will graduate later this month. “I’m so proud of where he is going and this is just a stop along the way.”

South Dakota State first showed interest in Rhodes his sophomore year and that stuck with him throughout the recruiting process the two years that followed. He had six offers and considered South Dakota State, along with St. Thomas (Minn.), Central Missouri and Northwest Missouri State.

But the draw to the Jackrabbits was a big one – it felt like home in both of his visits, he said.

“They’ve had been my No. 1 since the beginning when they offered me and took the chance,” said Rhodes, who will major in business economics at the Brookings, S.D., school that competes in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Softball trio moves on

The first three of the five signings came from Dan Harper’s softball squad.

Myel White and Kennedy Rucker are headed to the Division II level and Tayler Hastings will play junior college softball at nearby Metropolitan Community College.

Truman all-state pitcher Myel White celebrates with her parents after signing a letter of intent to play softball at Missouri Western Thursday.

White will head to St. Joseph to play for Missouri Western, joining former teammate Chloe Armstrong, who is a sophomore for the Griffons.

A standout hurler for the Patriots and a four-year starter, White earned second-team all-state honors this year. She had an ERA of 0.44, while striking out 246 in 141 innings.

However, Harper pointed out that White is a lot more than a softball player. She does debate, plays the guitar and he spotted her singing Christmas carols the other day in choir.

Truman all-state pitcher Myel White poses for a photo with her family after signing a letter of intent to play softball for Missouri Western Thursday.

“Not too many people outside of the Truman community realize how multidimensional she is,” Harper said. “You can’t help but cheer for her.”

She wants to major in either psychology or biology and will double major in theatre. After her playing days are over, she said she wants to write songs, pursue a career in acting and, if that doesn’t work out, become a doctor.

Coach Jennifer Bagley-Trotter brought White to campus in March and gave her a scholarship offer. White ultimately chose the Griffons over Missouri State, Tulsa, West Texas A&M and Wichita State

“I trust my intuition and I’m going there for four years to pursue the dream,” said White, who plays for KC Elite Gold in the summer.

Truman senior Kennedy Rucker poses for a photo with her parents after signing a letter of intent to play softball for Rockhurst University Thursday at the high school.

Rucker is a well-rounded athlete but chose softball over track and field. She signed Thursday with Division II Rockhurst.

She will play outfielder for the Hawks after handling the center field duties for the Patriots.

“I had a few schools interested in track and I thought I wanted to do track in college, but as the softball season went along I knew I wanted to play college softball,” Rucker said. “I have been playing softball since I was 5 years old and I knew I would be more comfortable in college playing softball.”

She was a four-time all-district and all-conference as an outfielder and was an all-region pick twice.

She came out for the basketball team this year and made varsity – after not playing since fifth grade – and is excited for her senior year in track and field.

Truman senior Tayler Hastings signs to play softball at Metropolitan Community College Thursday.

Hastings was a utility player for the Patriots but will likely be an infielder for the Wolves. She picked MCC over NAIA Central Methodist.

The chance to go to a junior college with hopes of transferring to UMKC and applying for the dentistry program.

“I got this offer and I couldn’t pass it up,” said Hastings, who played catcher and outfield for Truman. “If you asked me my sophomore year I would probably tell you I wasn’t good enough to play in college. I still don’t think I can believe that I will go to play in college. It is huge for my softball career. I was really happy to stay close to home and be close to my family. That was a big thing.”

Hastings, who plays traveling ball for the Flames 18B, was a three-year starter for the Patriots and could’ve been a four-year starter but Harper needed her to fill a spot on the JV team. She was an all-district pick at catcher and all-conference this year as an outfielder.

“Was she happy about that? Absolutely not. Did she do it? Yes, she did,” Harper said. “She is a hard worker and does everything she is asked to do. She is a blue-collar player. She is the epitome of that. You won’t find a more blue-collar player than her. If you ask her to catch, she can catch. If you ask her to play outfield, she will play outfield.”

Still playing

In her first varsity game, Jaritza Reynaga scored a pair of goals for Truman.

She has been a solid contributor for the Patriots and coach Manny Tovar and signed with Metropolitan Community College.

First up, though, will be her senior season this spring – looking to make up for last season, which was canceled because of the pandemic.

Truman senior Jaritza Reynaga poses with a Metropolitan Community College jersey and Patriots soccer coach Manny Tovar after signing to play soccer for the Wolves Thursday.

Reynaga has played forward and defender for Truman and expects to play one of those positions for the Wolves.

“She is coachable and as a leader for the team, she is always pushing people,” Tovar said. “She is soft-spoken but we got an athlete that can turn it on at any time. She has continued to improve in her career at Truman.”

During her time at Truman she has done a little bit of everything by playing basketball, cross country, volleyball, track and field and even played a little futsol when soccer wasn’t going on.

She spent much of this summer playing for her comp team, the Jaguars. That is where MCC first noticed her and she picked the Wolves over Kansas City Kansas Community College.

“I believe they have a good program and I can improve as a player and a person,” said Reynaga, who has goals of being a surgeon after college.