As National Signing Day swept the country Wednesday, local schools had athletes joining the fun. The Golden Eagles were no exception with three of their own – Miles Clark, Katie Neisler and Dominique Thomas – signing athletic scholarships. Although all three already had sent their National Letters of Intent to their respective schools, the trio was recognized in front of their fellow students.
“It’s more than I could have hoped for,” Neisler said. “We’ve never done anything this big, and Mr. (Rick) Carter is really nice to let us do something like that.”
Clark signed to play football at NCAA Division II Florida Tech, and Thomas signed to play football at Central Arkansas, an FCS school. Neisler followed in footsteps of her sisters, Elizabeth and Caroline, and will play volleyball at Samford.
Clark, a tight end, and Thomas, a tailback, had different recruiting experiences.
Clark decided Jan. 18 he wanted sign with Florida Tech, and in turn wanted to keep his decision a secret. Thomas committed to Tennessee State the same weekend Clark was in Florida, before changing his commitment the following week while on an official visit to Central Arkansas.
Clark chose Florida Tech over Faulkner, Birmingham Southern and others. Thomas chose Central Arkansas over Alabama A&M, Tennessee State, Middle Tennessee State, Chattanooga and others.
“I just really liked it up there. It was more of a college town,” Thomas said. “It’s a little bigger than here, but it was easy to maneuver around and I just fit in well up there.”
Clark played a pivotal role in the blocking scheme in Jacksonville’s run-heavy offense that helped Thomas rush for 1,859 yards and 24 touchdowns. Thomas averaged 7.4 yards a carry.
Clark said his favorite thing about Florida Tech, based in Melbourne, Fla., is the educational side of the of the school. He added he likes the players who soon will be his teammates.
“It’s just too good of a game to give up after playing two years of varsity,” he said. “It’s just exciting. This is a surreal moment. God has blessed me so much to have this opportunity. I’m just so happy to have it.”
Thomas said he is most happy about being “one of the ones that made it” to college football and added he likes Central Arkansas’ purple and gray field.
Thomas and Saks athlete Tre Smith both signed with the Bears on Wednesday. Thomas said they’ve talked “for the past week or so” and are both “really excited about it.”
Neisler, who has been around the Samford volleyball program since Elizabeth played for the Bulldogs several years ago, said she loves “everything” about the school.
“The campus is beautiful. The coach is amazing. The players are great – I know most of them from when my sisters were playing,” she said. “It’s just everything about it. I’m excited to just get there and start everything, start playing with the girls, and getting the hang of everything. I’m going to be nervous at first.”
Racean Thomas had to hasten his steps.
The former Oxford High running back and new Auburn signee had stood at midcourt in Oxford High School’s gymnasium for a special recognition Wednesday, marking his postseason honors, including Alabama Mr. Football and Parade All-American.
He had just made it back to a corner to join three other teammates who would march out with him to a table, where the four players would mark college football’s national signing day. The players were called out, and Thomas got a late start.
He made quick, choppy steps to catch up with nose tackle Kenyn Richey, tight end/fullback Desmon Owens and safety Tae Davis and settled into his spot in line.
That was the only drama in Oxford’s latest signing-day ceremony as Thomas (Auburn), Richey and Owens (Tuskegee) and Davis (Chattanooga) already had faxed their signed National Letters of Intent to the universities where they will play their college football.
They had announced their choices previously, and there were no signing-day surprises.
Thomas, the most decorated football player in Oxford history, was the highest-profile signee among the four. Major recruiting services rate him among the top running-back prospects in the country.
He had announced his commitment to Auburn on Aug. 2, 2013, but signing day meant that he was officially done with recruiting.
“This humbles me a lot,” he said. “It’s an honor. It shows that all my hard work is paying off.”
The same can be said for Richey, Owens and Davis. All are getting the chance to continue their football careers in college.
“It was simple,” Richey said of his choice of Tuskegee. “I only had two schools to offer me. I went down to Miles and looked at their campus and didn’t really like it. Then when I went to Tuskegee, I fell in love.”
He and Owens were recruited by Tuskegee assistant coach Montressa Kirby, who starred at Anniston High and Jacksonville State.
Owens said his intention to major in chemical engineering made Tuskegee the best of his choices.
As for Davis, he considered Chattanooga, JSU, Southeast Missouri State, Tennessee State and Tuskegee.
“I got a late start in recruiting, but Chattanooga was one of the first to give me a chance and offer,” Davis said. “Once I took my official visit, I just felt like at home.”
DeAndre Wills knows Lincoln, Neb., is a long way from Clay County, but he braved icy roads and delayed flights to embark on a new adventure.
The Clay Central High defensive end looked beyond the traditional borders of the Southeastern Conference to sign with the Cornhuskers this morning.
There was high mutual interest from Alabama, but considerations for playing time had him looking elsewhere. He had offers from Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Clemson, and just returned from a visit to Central Arkansas, but the appeal of a far-off land proved the difference.
“It really isn’t that far for me to come home,” he said. “’I’m trying to get partially out of Alabama, start all over again. That’s what I plan on doing.
“When you basically see kids don’t go far away, it kind of tells you it’s going to take them a long time to grow up. I can picture myself going away. It helps me get ready for the real world. It’s going to be great. I’m just ready to go.”
The Huskers had been interested in him for a while but only came through with an official visit late last week – as local residents were digging out of or stymied by the early week ice storm. Luckily, Wills flew out of Montgomery, but he still faced weather-related delays getting there and getting out.
Once he got there, he was hooked.
“Seeing everything was great,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking hard about it until later on Sunday morning and that’s when I finally made my commitment. I thought that was the best place for me.”
Wills, who is 6-foot-3 and 251 pounds, played tight end and defensive end for the Volunteers. He scored nine touchdowns on offense and had nine sacks on defense. He is expected to be a specialty-down rush end for the Huskers.
Quarterback Monteo Garrett said he has dreamed about playing college football since junior high school. On Wednesday, he achieved that goal, signing with Jones County (Miss.) Junior College.
Two Munford teammates joined Garrett at the center of the school’s celebration – safety Tavon Lawson (Chattanooga) and defensive end Earl Moss (Miles).
“I always remember my parents telling me they wanted to see me signing on National Signing Day,” Garrett said. “Further down the road I want to achieve more dreams, but for now I want to take a moment and take this in.”
Garrett chose Jones over Alabama State, Western Kentucky, Murray State and others. He said he always has been a big fan of Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who also took the junior college route before transferring to Auburn. Garrett threw and rushed for more than 1,000 yards each in each of the last two seasons.
As for Lawson, he said he didn’t make his decision until Monday night.
“I talked to my parents and I told them the way I felt in my heart,” he said. “They said they weren’t going to try to influence my decision and told me to go wherever I want to go.
“With Chattanooga, it’s just the relationships I built. I went up there for my official visit, and I was blown away by the fan base and even the town itself.”
Lawson chose the Mocs over Jacksonville State, Minnesota and others. He also joined Oxford safety Tae Davis in Chattanooga’s signing class.
“Once I found out he committed and I told him I committed, he went on his official visit the week after mine, and we’ve been conversing since then,” Lawson said. “He’s excited. I’m excited.”
Moss recorded 39 tackles as a senior, including a stop at the goal line to clinch a state quarterfinal win against J.O. Johnson.
Despite not having played offense since his freshman year, he said he will play tight end at Miles. He chose the Golden Bears over Huntingdon.
Goalkeeper Sydney Nordan has known since sixth grade that she wanted to play the sport she loved, soccer, in sixth grade and wanted to attend the school she loved, UAB.
On Wednesday, she got her wish twice over, as she signed to play for the Blazers’ women’s soccer team. This makes her the first NCAA Division I signee from Faith Christian.
“It’s awesome. I’ve been so excited all day, kind of anxious and nervous, but also excited,” Nordan said. “I’ve worked so hard for this goal since the sixth grade, which is when I decided I really wanted to play. It’s so awesome to realize that I’ve gotten that goal and am going to play.”
Nordan has honed her skills by playing for the Faith Christian boys soccer team, because the school doesn’t have a girls squad. She chose the Blazers over Mercer, Belmont Abbey, Covenant College and others.
“When I went to UAB I just knew. I had gone to so many other colleges and thought they were OK, but I doubted them,” Nordan said. “I wasn’t 100 percent there, but when I went to UAB I knew. That was also the first soccer camp I went to. Since then, it’s always been a consideration.”
Nordan, a second-team selection for the Anniston Star All-Calhoun County girls soccer squad, committed to UAB in September. She said she has gotten to know the current UAB players well from her unofficial and official visits to the school. She already was friends with UAB freshman Sharon Osterbind, who is a former Jacksonville High standout.
“It’s going to be an awesome experience,” she said. “And, also, I just love soccer. I’ve always loved soccer. I mean, basketball is about to end and I know this is the end for it, but soccer is going on. There’s just such a love for the sport.”
Saks football standout Tre Smith dyed the bottom half of his dreads Wildcat red before his senior season, and on Wednesday morning, he debuted a new color -- purple. Smith signed with Central Arkansas, which plays its home games on a purple-and-gray turf.
“The football field is amazing. It was the first thing I wanted to see,” Smith said. “My mama told me I needed to go look at the classrooms and all, but I told her the only thing I needed to see is the football field.
“It really played a role in my decision. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
Although Smith signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, the school will have its reception in his honor Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Smith, who played safety, wide receiver and quarterback at Saks, said he will play safety in college.