By Justin Jarrett and Carus Epps
For a Class 1A program, Whale Branch Early College High School churns out far more than its fair share of college football players. Add two more to the list.
Rock-solid center Aaron Rhode signed Tuesday to play at North Greenville University next season, while multi-sport star Jaylen Reeves signed to continue his education and football career at Bluefield State College.
Rhode was the anchor of a dominant offensive line that paved the way for the Warriors to roll up over 2,000 rushing yards in nine games this season, including the first undefeated regular season in program history.
A four-year starter for the Warriors, Rhode was a slam-dunk pick for the first team offensive line on the 2020 All-Lowco Football Team presented by Local Pie after piling up 28 pancakes as a senior.
“All the years I’ve played football and all the experiences I’ve been through, this has probably been the best four years of my life,” said Rhode, who plans to major in cybersecurity. “So many teammates and friends who pushed me to my limits. I’m grateful to be here and be a part of Warrior Nation.”
Reeves was LowcoSports’ first-ever recipient of the Iron Lowco Award as part of the All-Lowco squad, a new honor designed to recognize the area’s best three-way standout. Reeves certainly fit the mold — and helped inspire the new award — as a dynamic run-first quarterback, lockdown defensive back, and game-changing return man. He also starred at point guard for the Warriors’ basketball team, helping Whale Branch reach the state finals as a junior.
When the Warriors needed a play this season, Reeves delivered — on the ground (607 yards, 13 TDs), through the air (167 yards, 4 TDs), and on defense (20 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 PBUs, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovery). He didn’t get many offers during the recruiting process, likely held back by playing at a small school and his diminutive frame, but he has the raw skills and work ethic to develop into any one of numerous possible roles at Bluefield State, an HBCU in West Virginia that is relaunching its NCAA Division II football program that has been dormant since 1980.
“I really just took it day-by-day and tried to still work hard and make sure my teammates were good,” said Reeves, who plans to major in criminal justice. “I knew sooner or later a school would call me and come my way.”
Like former Whale Branch standouts Dee Delaney (The Citadel/Miami) and Nyles Pinckney (Clemson/Minnesota) before him, Reeves wants to pass along advice to the players who will come behind him.
“Just keep going and never give up,” Reeves said. “Never let anybody tell you you’re too small to play football anywhere.”