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Signing day busy for local senior standouts

POSTED: February 2, 2011 8:29 p.m.

College football rivalries among local athletes will probably crank up a notch or two with eight area high school players signing a national letter of intent Wednesday with Football Championship Subdivision programs, and none with the same school.

Three of these former high school standouts signed with SEC schools, including Gainesville’s A.J. Johnson to the University of Tennessee, East Hall’s Sterling Bailey with Georgia, and White County’s Ashely Lowery to Kentucky.

Meanwhile, East Hall’s Chaz Cheeks signed with Georgia Tech and will play against Flowery Branch kicker Will Monday, who signed with Duke University, in the ACC.

Gainesville defensive lineman Thomas Niles signed with Central Florida in Conference USA, along with Flowery Branch quarterback Austin Brown, who signed with Alabama-Birmingham. North Hall’s D.J. Miolen is headed to Air Force as a defensive end.

“I talk with Ashely quite a bit and we know we’ll be playing against each other every year,” Johnson said. “I think with all the talent we have here, it shows we play pretty good football.”

In all, 39 local athletes were on hand at the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ signing event at the Longstreet Cafe. They all got the chance to be interviewed by media, which is new to some, but old hat to others. Athletes from Hall and White County were there to share their experiences and why they chose where they did in football, baseball, soccer, track and field, golf and cross country.

“I’m not too used to getting interviewed like this, but today’s our day,” said Flowery Branch’s Brandon Keller, who signed a football scholarship with Division III’s College of Mount Saint Joseph (Ohio). Keller and his teammate Deron Lear signed with the same school in Cincinnati.

Before committing to the Volunteers during his senior season, Johnson was probably the most feverishly recruited football player in Hall County history. His first offer came from Tennessee during his sophomore season and before he was through, he ended up with approximately 40 offers.

However, the one school Johnson liked most growing up most, Georgia, never offered him a scholarship. That’s something he says he’ll remember when he steps on the field against the Bulldogs in the future.

“Georgia was the school I always wanted to go to growing up, but I’m happy to be headed to Tennessee now,” Johnson said.

Cheeks said signing his scholarship with the Yellow Jackets was larger than life. He always thought his future was going to be playing college basketball, until he moved to East Hall from Douglasville in the ninth grade. For the Yellow Jackets, Cheeks will either play outside linebacker of defensive end.

As for Bailey, a defensive end, he knew the Bulldogs were the right fit from the time defensive coordinator Todd Grantham arrived and started heavily recruiting him. Bailey, a US Army All-American, was all smiles during his bevy of interviews: partly because Georgia rounded out its recruiting class so strong, and partly because he’s that much closer to heading to Athens.

“This feels amazing,” Bailey said. “It feels great to know I’m part of the Bulldog Nation.”

As for Miolen, his decision to go with Air Force had just as much to do about life after college as it did football.

“I know I’m guaranteed a job when I get out of school,” Miolen said.

Gainesville High led the local ranks with 11 football signees. Along with Johnson, Kendrick Millsap will attend Tennessee as a preferred walk-on. Tim Rucker (Lane College), Mantevius Rucker (Valdosta State), Rashad Lawrence (Chattahoochee Tech), Kevin Hall, Markece Robertson and Antwan Thomas (Faulkner University), and Tyrone Hendrix and Mike Norman to Mars Hill College all signed from the Red Elephants.

Flowery Branch wasn’t far behind with Brown, Keller, Lear, Monday and Chris Rhodes (Valdosta State) all signing.
“I’m glad to be able to represent Flowery Branch well,” Brown said. “My goal was to be able to sign to play quarterback in college and I was able to make that happen.”

Buford is sending four off to college with running backs Dominique Swope and Seon Jones both headed to Georgia Southern, quarterback Alex Ross going to Coastal Carolina and Eric Barr headed to Tennessee Tech.


Despite Pfeiffer University not being a household name among local fans, the Falcons signed a few local soccer players on signing day.

The connection with Pfeiffer lies in the fact that Flowery Branch senior Michael Smith, who was one of the school’s signees, is the son of Falcons coach Jason Smith. West Hall’s Chandler Ligas and East Hall’s Nicholas Andrade also signed to go to the school in Misenheimer, N.C.

Gainesville High girls goalie Hong Tran signed a letter of intent with Valdosta State University, joining the program’s first signing class.

Other signees include, White County’s Kaitlyn Hooper (Asbury College) and Samantha Ballinger (Piedmont College), and North Hall’s Tess Patton (Auburn).


Many area baseball players have already signed scholarships for next season, but that doesn’t take away from their decision for the future. White County pitchers David Sosebee and Luke Crumley have both already signed with the University of Georgia. Meanwhile, Gainesville’s Will Maddox is headed to Tennessee, either to play second base or in the outfield.

“I signed my scholarship back in the fall,” Maddox said. “Now, I just want to focus on trying to help our team win a state championship this year.”

Lakeview Academy’s Taylor Simpson signed with Furman University, while North Hall’s Whit Bowen signed with Brevard College and Hamilton Harper with Belhaven University. Johnson’s Logan Pethel signed with Darton College.


Flowery Branch’s Erika Rucker has always dreamed of running in the SEC. She’ll have that opportunity once the signing of her track and field scholarship with the University of South Carolina is completed next week. Last year’s Class AAA state champion in the 400 meter, Rucker was discovered by the Lady Gamecocks coaches last summer at a meet. In college, she’ll stay true to her favorite race and continue to focus on the 400.

“I’m really excited to sign with South Carolina and be able to be out on my own,” Rucker said.

Also from Flowery Branch, Maurice Riden has signed with Mars Hill College to run cross country and track and field.


Chestatee’s Peyton Robertson and Rachel Kelly have both signed with Division II Young Harris College.


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