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National Signing Day: Trio of Johnson seniors, friends sign to play football at Ohio school together
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Wednesday's football signings
Buford
Dontravious Wilson Central Florida
Mikey Bart    North Carolina
Shawn Reynolds    Eastern Kentucky

Flowery Branch
Darius Curry    Oklahoma State
Chandler Bridges    Louisville
Kristopher Smith    Indiana
Noel Padmore    Indiana
Jacob Allen    Northeast Oklahoma
Kevin Tarr    Chowan University

Gainesville
Fred Payne    Western Carolina
Caleb Hayman    South Alabama
Conner Calvert    West Georgia
Tray Harrison    West Georgia Tech
Lahius Leverette    West Georgia Tech
Damien Grayson    West Georgia Tech
T.K. Mize    West Georgia Tech
Michael Pittman    West Georgia Tech
Quamon Peoples    West Georgia Tech

Johnson
Cedric Harris    Lenoir-Rhyne
Paul Barker    Defiance College
Mason Borders    Defiance College
A.J. Millwood    Defiance College

North Hall
Avery Easton    Liberty University

West Hall
Blake Manning    Stetson University

Soccer
Flowery Branch
Alex Lee     Alabama-Birmingham

National signing day for high school athletes is usually the marker for the end of one chapter in life and the launching point for the next four years. For three of Johnson High’s football players, it just signified the next step in a close-knit friendship that dates back six years.

Certainly Mason Borders, Paul Barker and A.J. Millwood had the most unique signing day story in Hall County as these three Knights seniors signed Wednesday with Defiance College, a Division-III school located in the Northwest Ohio city of about 16,000 residents with the same name as the institution.

“Honestly, I wanted to go off to school away from home to play football,” said Barker, a quarterback. “It makes me so comfortable that I’ll be going to school with my best friends.

“I love those guys.”

In all, 50 high school athletes from Hall County dropped in at the Longsteet Cafe on Wednesday afternoon in Gainesville to join in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes signing day celebration, even though it was almost exclusively football players signing National Letters of Intent on this day.

Athletes from most other sports signed early scholarships, while some are still debating between which school is the best fit. Others are not required to sign a letter of intent.

“This is an exciting day and like a dream to know I’ll have the opportunity to play football at a Division-I school,” said West Hall offensive lineman Blake Manning, who signed to play football at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.

Others also signed with schools well away from their Northeast Georgia homes. Flowery Branch’s Darius Curry signed to play football at Oklahoma State, and will play alongside his older brother C.J., while his teammate Jacob Allen signed with Northeast Oklahoma.

Falcons seniors Kris Smith and Noel Padmore both inked letters of intent with Indiana, and Flowery Branch lineman Chandler Bridges committed to Louisville.

For the group of signees from Johnson, it wasn’t a package deal. Borders says they were content with the fact that they might have to part ways for awhile to chase their individual college football dreams, but would always remain the best of friends.

But when the opportunity came to play together, even though it was in a town that’s an 11-hour drive from home in South Hall, they jumped at it after a weekend campus visit last month.

Barker, Borders and Millwood each enjoyed a campus tour and visit with players away from one another. Then, after a night in separate quarters, they got together to compare notes on how they felt about Defiance College.

It was a resounding yes on all three fronts when they weighed in on the issue together, while on the snowy campus on a Saturday last month in Northern Ohio.

“I’m really excited to go up there to play college football,” said Millwood, a slot back on offense. “I know I’m much more confident in going up there to play with my two friends with me.”

Barker said that coaches from Defiance originally contacted Knights coach Jason Roquemore inquiring about tape on the three players, not knowing they were best friends. Millwood says the connection with Defiance College and Johnson High was his offensive coordinator, Caleb Carmean, who played with a current Defiance College coach while in school at Shorter University in Rome.

All three credit Roquemore for his proactive approach to getting his players attention from college scouts.

Now that all three are signed to attend Defiance in the fall, they intend on rooming together. Borders said that the small class size is one of the biggest perks to going to a Division-III college.

“The thing I liked most is talking with the other players on campus and the fact they are all sold on winning championships,” Millwood added.

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