PENN LAIRD — For three years, Abrey Atwell was known in the halls of Spotswood High School as a standout player for a Trailblazers soccer program that was among the best in the state.
But after a couple of lengthy conversations with SHS wide receiver Connell Ischinger, a close friend of Atwell’s, and some recruiting from Spotswood football coach Dale Shifflett, he opted to add football to his repertoire as a senior.
The decision paid off.
“I decided to go the football route because it was so new to me,” Atwell said. “I’m a guy that likes change and trying something new. I had so much fun last season playing football with my boys and the sport is just so new to me.”
Atwell’s first, and only, season playing football resulted in him being named the team’s starting punter and rotating as the field-goal kicker and kickoff specialist with Ben Griffith.
It also resulted in a scholarship offer from Shippensburg University — a Division II school in Shippensburg, Pa. — where Atwell will now continue his football career and study health science.
“I have only been playing for one year now and I have only just scratched the surface of what I can do in this sport,” Atwell said. “Over this past season, I have learned so much about the game already and can’t wait to learn more in the future.”
When Shifflett first accepted the Trailblazers coaching job three years, he said he immediately started recruiting athletes from around the school who hadn’t previously played the sport and convinced many to come out.
Rob Smith, a standout on the basketball court for Spotswood, emerged as one of the big names among the first-year players, becoming an All-Region 3C wide receiver. But Atwell was just as important.
“He is one of the fastest and most athletic guys in our school,” Shifflett said.
Even though Atwell started off the season rotating with Griffith, who Shifflett also said was a strong performer for the Trailblazers, he eventually earned the starting job in all three kicking roles as he slowly improved throughout the year.
“It was great having competition in the kicking game between Ben and Abrey,” Shifflett said. “Both players did an outstanding job for us and worked hard last season to be the best that they could be. The old saying of iron sharpens iron was definitely true in our kicking game last season.”
The biggest key to his improvement was getting as many reps as possible each day, Atwell said, and also growing more comfortable with the environment.
He said the more he practiced, the better prepared he felt for game situations.
“It took a lot to just get used to the environment, how to kick the ball and just repetition,” Atwell said. “My biggest thing for me to help better myself was just to keep working.”
Atwell chose a perfect time to join the Spotswood football program, which won its first Valley District championship since 2013.
The SHS alum called the Trailblazers’ 28-13 win over Harrisonburg on Oct. 26 to clinch the district title his favorite memory from his one-year stint with the team.
“Winning the district title this year was amazing and something I’ll never forget,” Atwell said. “I’m glad I was able to help my team out getting there and bringing home the title.
“Bringing home titles is what we like to do at Spotswood. Us as a team, our success came from everyone contributing. We played together every single game with everything we had and like it was our last game. That’s how we were so successful.”
While Atwell’s individual numbers may not have been staggering, his impact on the game was evident when watching the Trailblazers, and Shifflett said the luxury of having a solid kicker at the high-school level is one that is greatly appreciated by coaches.
“A good kicker in high school means so much with changing field position, not worrying as much about another team’s kickoff returners when you know your guy has the ability to put it in the end zone,” Shifflett said. “We knew that if you get the ball to the red zone, you have a chance to put points on the board, which is always important at any level.”
Atwell called himself a “normal kid” when describing his interests off the field, but noted the respect he earned from his teammates in both football and soccer during his time at Spotswood.
He was a captain for the Trailblazers soccer team this past season as it reached the Virginia High School League Class 3 state tournament for a third straight year and Shifflett said the work he puts in on a day-to-day basis is why he believes he’ll be successful in college.
“Football is a great game and you want it to last as long as possible, but at the end of the day, you want your athletes to become successful in life,” Shifflett said. “Abrey is a great person and a hard worker and will be successful at whatever he puts his mind to. He learns quickly and is more than willing to put in the work that is needed.”
Atwell said he always knew he wanted to play a sport in college, but never imagined it would be football until his coaches started explaining to him how much interest he was getting during the recruiting process.
He said he ultimately chose the Raiders, who play in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, over Glenville State, Emory & Henry, Ferrum and Shenandoah.
“I want to come out strong and make my name known,” Atwell said. “I want to make a special place for myself when I leave Shippensburg. I am just thankful for my coaches and my family for supporting me and what I do. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”
Shifflett and Atwell both said he’s hoping to compete for the starting kicking job as soon as he arrives on campus and that he has a legitimate chance at earning it.
After being known for years as the school’s standout on the soccer field, Atwell may be ready to earn a new reputation for himself in a sport he just recently picked up.
“I really do feel like I have quite a bit of potential going into this next season,” Atwell said. “With me doing so well this past season and only just starting this process, if I continue to push myself and get better, I could do some really big things.”