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Area athletes make commitments official Wednesday
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East Hall High senior Jamond Witt signed a scholarship to play at Dean College Wednesday at the high school. Pictured back row from left, East Hall athletic director George Morgan and Vikings coach Bryan Gray, and Witt front row center. - photo by For The Times

Local signees

Football

Buford

Vadal Alexander, LSU

Dequan Clark, Georgia Southern

Ryan Dillard, Yale

Reid Ferguson, LSU

Paris Head, Vanderbilt

Andre Johnson, Coastal Carolina

Dillon Lee, Alabama

Kurt Freitag, Alabama

Nathan Staub, North Carolina

Rick Legrant, UNC-Charlotte

Robert Hill, UT-Chattanooga

CJ Moore, Virginia

East Hall

Jamond Witt, Dean College

Flowery Branch

Kanler Coker, North Carolina

C.J. Curry, Oklahoma State

Casey Osborne, Delta State

Gainesville

Royal Freeman, Dean College

Joseph Haley, Faulkner University

JJ Johnson, Fort Valley State

Jeremiah Ledbetter, Hutchington CC

Johnson

Blake Forrester, University of the Cumberlands

Habersham Central

Austin Allen, Presbyterian

Kevin Ellison, Georgia Southern

Lumpkin County

Logan Moye, Mercer

North Hall

Imani Cross, Nebraska

Baseball

Flowery Branch

Breck Davidson, Piedmont

Gant Davis, Abraham-Baldwin

Gainesville

Ryan Griffith, Furman

David Gonzalez, Georgia

Stephen Mason, Georgia Perimeter

Johnson

A.J. Benefield, Abraham-Baldwin

Trae Wilson, Middle Georgia

White County

Dylan Lee, Chattahoochee Valley

Basketball

East Hall

Morgan Jackson, Georgia State

Jasmine Jenkins, Vanderbilt

Gainesville

Rebecca Webster, Samford

North Hall

McKenna Rushton, Georgia College

Taylor Swoszowski, Piedmont

Cross country

West Hall

Jimmy Gault, Truett-McConnell

White County

Jessie Dotson, Charleston Southern

Levi Fangmann, Truett-McConnell

Soccer

Flowery Branch

Cassidy Elrod, Georgia Southern

Gainesville

Liza Carpenter, Young Harris

Aiden Riesing, Georgia Southern

West Hall

Brooke Reed, Truett-McConnell

Tania Perez, Truett-McConnell

Softball

East Hall

Harlee Grogan, Truett-McConnell

Holly Strickland, Truett-McConnell

Brittany Gee, Truett-McConnell

Flowery Branch

Caitlin Fowler, Kennesaw State

Volleyball

Gainesville

Katelyn Whelchel, Reinhardt

From the Atlantic Coastal Conference to the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference and everywhere in between, 26 local football players signed letters of intent with colleges big and small Wednesday on National Signing Day. It was the first day that football recruits could officially commit to a college.

Seven players from Buford High, state runner-ups in Class AA last season, committed to BCS schools, including Dillon Lee (Alabama), Vadal Alexander (LSU), Reid Ferguson (LSU), Paris Head (Vanderbilt), CJ Moore (Virginia), Kurt Freitag (Alabama) and Nathan Staub (North Carolina). A total of 12 Wolves seniors committed Wednesday morning.

"This is my 38th year teaching and coaching, and I've never seen a class like this," Buford athletic director Dexter Wood said. "We're not talking about anything normal at a high school. We were blessed to have that number."

Wood added that it wasn't just the quantity of players that signed letters of intent, but the quality, both athletically and academically, of the schools that they committed to. Every player also qualified academically for the college he had chosen to attend.

"It says a lot about the quality of the school system," Wood said. "The ‘07 class was pretty exceptional, but I don't think we had the number of high-level signees."

Buford seniors Rick Legrant (UNC-Charlotte), Dequan Clark (Georgia Southern), Ryan Dillard (Yale), Andre Johnson (Coastal Carolina) and Robert Hill (Tennessee-Chattanooga) also signed.

"Talent level runs in cycles and we've never hit a cycle like this, 31 seniors," Wood said. "Just a truly unusual exceptional year for the talent level on our football team.

"I think any program has its traditions that we lean on, and certainly the ability of our players, whether athletic or academic, is part of the tradition."

A school that is still building that tradition after the first 10 years of the school, Flowery Branch, sent three players to the next level on Wednesday. All three, Kanler Coker (North Carolina), C.J. Curry (Oklahoma State) and Casey Osborne (Delta State), were part of the Falcons' explosive offense that took them to the third round of the state playoffs last season.

It didn't surprise former quarterback Coker that his top two receiving threats would continue their football careers.

"I'm not surprised at all," Coker said while attending the annual Fellowship of Christian Athletes' signing celebration at Longstreet Tavern in Gainesville. "It was just awesome to give them the ball."

Curry, who said that the Cowboys could give him a lot of reps right away as a freshman, liked seeing his and his teammates' hard work pay off.

"We put in the work," Curry said. "And it definitely shows."

Like Curry, Osborne could be a factor very soon for Delta State.

"They said that if I come in and work hard learning the offense, I should be starting," Osborne said. "This has always been a dream of mine to play college football.

"I'm living the dream right now."

The end of the signing process is generally a relief for the signees, even if it was an enjoyable experience.

"It was exciting and this was my dream school," Coker said. "It's nice to be done with it though."

Coker had a number of tough decisions to make before signing with the Tar Heels, as did fellow Hall County star and North Hall running back Imani Cross, who committed to Nebraska on Wednesday after receiving attention from a number of major schools, including Tennessee, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

For every player, signing day was the realization of hard work paying off.

And for Gainesville senior Jason Johnson, who committed to Fort Valley State, being present for signing day was the realization of a dream that he had thought he'd lost earlier in his high school career.

The inside linebacker and younger brother of Red Elephants star and now Tennessee freshman A.J. Johnson, the younger Johnson tore his ACL on the second day of spring practice prior to his junior season. He would not play at all in one of the most crucial years for players to get noticed by college scouts.

"That day after practice I was in the locker room crying, worrying if I would be able to play again," Johnson said. "But the next day I got going, and I basically killed myself in that training room to get back."

Johnson rehabilitated quickly, however, and returned for his senior season as one of the pieces in a Red Elephants run to the semifinals. Wednesday he was one of five players to commit, along with Victor Alacorn and Royal Freeman (Dean Junior College), Joseph Haley (Faulkner University) and Jeremiah Ledbetter (Hutchinson Community College).

Ledbetter, who transferred from Olympia College in Orlando, Fla., to Gainesville prior to his senior year, is intent on getting to Oklahoma, the school his dad attended, after his time at the two-year Kansas school.

He hasn't even been in Gainesville a year, and even though it was just one season, Ledbetter enjoyed his time playing on the defensive line for the Red Elephants.

"It was a great experience," said Ledbetter, who hadn't started much until arriving in Northeast Georgia.

The senior, who said he enjoys traveling a lot, is excited to get the chance to see another place, although he won't forget Gainesville.

"I like to travel a lot," Ledbetter said. "But I'm a little worried about being homesick."

Ledbetter certainly was one of a number of players to commit to a school outside the region, including East Hall star running back Jamond Witt, who will join the two Gainesville players at Dean in Franklin, Mass.

That didn't mean closer schools weren't a target as well.

Habersham Central is sending two players to nearby schools. Lineman Austin Allen is headed to Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., and star quarterback Kevin Ellison is headed down to Statesboro to play at Football Championship Subdivision power Georgia Southern.

Ellison chose the Eagles over Air Force and other smaller schools.

"I really liked the people down there, the coaching staff and the players," Ellison said.

Lumpkin County senior Logan Moye will also stay in state as he heads down to play at Mercer.

It wasn't only the most successful schools that were able to get players noticed by colleges. Johnson offensive lineman Blake Forrester committed Wednesday to play at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. The Knights were 0-10 last season, but boasted a running game that included two rushers who combined for over 2,000 yards on the ground.

"Our running game is what got me up there," Forrester said. "It's a really hard-nosed, in-your-face running team, and that's what I've always played in."

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