SIGNING DAY: Central York's Sturgis overcomes doubts, challenges to land at FCS program

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports

Isaiah Sturgis understands why some people doubted that he could achieve his dreams.

He doesn’t agree with them, but he isn’t oblivious to the fact that his goals are ambitious and don’t seem possible to some.

The Central York High School senior running back stands 5-feet, 9-inches and weighs 195 pounds. The five-star recruiting rankings and Power Five offers are reserved for players who boast more size or posses elite speed. Sturgis doesn’t have those attributes, but what he brings is a work ethic developed and tested during years of challenges, on and off the field.

Another thing he has now is a spot on an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision roster after he signed with Saint Francis University on Wednesday, proving those who didn’t have faith in him wrong.

St. Joseph's Prep's Zavier Atkins, right, moves in to take down Central York's Isaiah Sturgis during PIAA Class 6-A Football Championship action at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. St. Joseph's Prep would win the title game 62-13. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“It was just a couple people that didn’t believe in me the way I believed in myself,” Sturgis said. “I’m OK with that. Some people will look at me and tell me I can’t do something. Instead of agreeing with them and hurting myself by getting in my own mind, I just prove them wrong by my actions. I don’t have to speak, I just work. There’s no hate or nothing, it’s all love.”

Sturgis moved to the York area in second grade after a prior move from Baltimore. His love for football was born by watching the Baltimore Ravens with Ray Lewis show their physicality on the field.

Overcoming struggles: Once his own football career began, Sturgis had to develop a different kind of strength to overcome struggles.

During middle school, his uncle died, which was a major loss for him.

Injuries during his freshman and sophomore years left him unable to walk at times and under a lot of stress that he wouldn’t achieve his dream of playing in college and eventually the NFL.

During his junior season, when Sturgis was named a York-Adams League Division I first-team all-star, his grandmother was in the hospital and died in March 2020.

Bond with teammates a key: As he battled through physical and mental challenges, Sturgis built a bond with his Panthers’ teammates during training sessions that allowed him to relieve the stress.

Central York's Isaiah Sturgis runs the ball for a touchdown during York-Adams League District 3, Class 6-A championship football action against York High at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Central York would win the game 48-21. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“The weight room was almost therapy itself,” Sturgis said. “It was unspoken therapy. I became real close with a lot of my teammates and coaches through these hard times. I even broke down and cried in (the) weight room just cause life was so hard, but I was able to get away from everything by working and proving myself.”

Sturgis followed up his junior year with another strong season as a senior. He recorded 737 rushing yards, scored six touchdowns and again was named a Y-A D-I all-star.

Offers slow to come: Despite the individual success he had, and the Panthers’ run to the state title game, no college offers came during the year.

As a result, Sturgis developed a mentality each time he walked on the field that this would his opportunity to show a program he deserved a shot.

“I had to prove I was worth giving that spot to throughout my senior year, so it left a chip on (his shoulder),” Sturgis said. "Every game I was like, ‘Is this the game I’m going to go off?’ Every time I got on the field my heart was pumping, because this is that chance.”

Getting his opportunity: The opportunity he had worked so hard for finally came shortly after Central’s season ended.

Sturgis was in Maryland visiting family when a coach at from Saint Francis asked to get on the phone. While his father, William, got gas at a Rutter’s, Sturgis had a life-changing conversation. He was offered a preferred walk-on spot at the school, but it didn’t set in until he got home.

Sturgis was in the office at the family’s home with his mother, Katrina, when it set in that he had received an offer to play at the NCAA D-I FCS level. He dropped his phone and started jumping up and down with his mom in excitement.

"I’m sitting there shaking, ready to cry,” Sturgis said. “It really didn’t click to me, but once it hit, so much left my chest. I was speechless for almost a day. All I could do was smile.”

The right fit: The Panthers’ senior added another pair of preferred walk-on spots from NCAA D-I FCS schools: Sacred Heart University and Wagner College, but after his visit to Saint Francis the decision was made.

The campus was the right size Sturgis was looking for and offered him the ability to attend Bible study and church on campus, which are important. Religion is a vital part of his life.

Sturgis met with a professor, who teaches his intended of major criminal justice, and before his visit the man watched Sturgis’ highlight film. Sturgis was blown away by the level of interest he and the school showed, especially when the professor mentioned seeing his blocking skills.

“I put the blocking at the end of my film, so he watched the whole thing,” Sturgis said. “They got me there. It was such a vibe for me. It felt like my personality as a school. I was like, ‘This ain't even a debate.’ I could tell when they said they were a family they were for real.”

Will join familiar faces: Adding to the close atmosphere of the college is the familiar faces Sturgis will see on the field.

Fellow Central York senior Judah Tomb signed with Saint Francis and Central York graduate Nick Basile and York High graduate Tobee Stokes are already members of the Red Flash squad.

Central York's Isaiah Sturgis runs the ball while St. Joseph's Prep defends during PIAA Class 6-A Football Championship action at Hersheypark Stadium in Hershey, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. St. Joseph's Prep would win the title game 62-13. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After years of facing doubt around his abilities and challenges on and off the field, Sturgis shook as he typed out his Twitter commitment announcement. The undersized running back that coaches said couldn’t play D-I football had been proven wrong. More importantly, Sturgis proved himself right.

NFL dreams: With one of his goals completed, now he can focus on the next one — the NFL.

That dream may seem too lofty, but Sturgis is ready to take on that challenge, too, and let his work do the talking to those who don’t believe in him.

“It honestly feels like peace,” Sturgis said. “I remind myself not to get too comfortable, but it’s one of those things where you check something off your bucket list. Instead of sitting and being happy with it, which don’t get me wrong I am, it kind of gave me a feeling to keep grinding and being better because after everything that happened I don’t know any different. I’m not happy with just I made it to college, now I’m going to shoot for those goals I set out for as a kid. I got a chance, that’s really my mindset now. I’m at peace because I got more time to do what I love.”

Tomb joins Sturgis: Tomb joined Sturgis in signing with Saint Francis on Wednesday.

He led the Y-A League with 844 receiving yards and scored 12 touchdowns, but his impact was felt all over the field.

Tomb averaged 53 yards on kickoff returns, 32 yards on punt returns and was named to the Pennsylvania Football News Coaches Select First Team as a wide receiver and returner. He was also named to the Pennsylvania Football Writers 6-A All-State Team and was named a Y-A D-I first-team all-star as a wide receiver, safety and kick returner.

Lee joins Cal of Pa.: Earlier on Wednesday a player Tomb spent time trying to defend signed with his future school.

York High wide receiver Rashim Lee officially joined NCAA D-II California University of Pennsylvania.

Lee earned a Y-A D-I first-team all-star spot after he recorded 394 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2020 and is a threat in red zone at 6-4.

York High wideout arrived late to football, but now he has opportunity to play in college

Hulslander to Edinboro: Another Y-A standout headed to the NCAA D-II level is Kennard-Dale senior Gabe Hulslander.

The Rams’ lineman signed with Edinboro University on Wednesday. Hulslander was the Y-A D-II Defensive Player of the Year in 2020 and also a first-team all-star on the offensive line. He had five sacks in 2020.

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com