Across northeast Georgia and the rest of the country Wednesday morning, fax machines whirred and buzzed and transmitted the pledges of high school athletes from gyms and media centers where the letters of intent were signed, to the college athletic departments that will soon be like a second home to the former prep stars.
It was national signing day, an event that’s grown meteorically in popularity and fan fervor in recent years, and is often fraught with the drama of last-second commitment switches and elaborate announcement ceremonies.
The Hall County area was spared any of those theatrics as the 28 local athletes signed with the colleges they said they would — despite early morning rumors that Buford’s Omar Hunter would be switching from Florida to Georgia.
Fittingly for a state champion team as dominant as the Wolves were in 2007, Buford boasted the most signees Wednesday. A school-wide ceremony was held for the Wolves that included the presentation of the Class AA trophy and the signing of the nine Buford recruits.
The group was headlined by Florida-bound Hunter, who originally committed to Notre Dame and T.J. Pridemore, who flipped from Georgia Tech to the Gators after Jackets coach Chan Gailey was fired.
Hunter (6-1, 310), rated as the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com, racked up more than 100 tackles in 2007 and saw his already high profile skyrocket after a head-turning performance last month at the Under Armor All-American game in Orlando.
"A lot of folks already knew about Omar, but when he went down to that game in Orlando and dominated all those five-star linemen, people really started to take notice," Buford coach Jess Simpson said, adding that Florida coach Urban Meyer mentioned that Hunter may compete for a starting job as early as this fall. "That’s what exciting for us, seeing that and realizing that he could have what it takes to succeed on the next level."
Pridemore (6-2, 235) starred at linebacker for the Wolves, but Simpson said his opportunity in college could come on the other side of the ball, as a fullback/H-back in the Gators’ spread option offense.
"(Florida) really needed that body that can be a lead blocker in their offense for Tim Tebow," Simpson said.
Other Buford signees included: Demetris Murray (RB, South Florida); Alex Hunt (RB, Indiana); Melvin Harris (WR, Ole Miss); JayTee Swanson (LB, Miami-Ohio); J.J. Miller (OL, Wofford); Kody Case (DB, Valdosta State) and Andy Kellogg (DL, Shorter). Offensive lineman Billy Johnson and defensive back Cody Vining also accepted preferred walk-on positions at Georiga and Valdosta State, respectively.
Gainesville High had four athletes sign letters of intent Wednesday, including Keith Wells (DE/LB, Ohio State), Tyler Adetona (WR, Indiana), Gerald Ford (WR, Valdosta State) and Anthony Young (CB, Savannah State).
Wells’ recruiting process included an early pledge to Florida State, before a late turn to the Buckeyes earlier this week. His 6-foot-5 frame now carries 235 pounds, and he says he’s already looking forward to his days in Columbus.
"I want to step on the field at 245 (pounds)," Wells said. "I know I’ll lose a little bit of that through fall camp, but at the same time I feel like I can play. All I have to do keep working and get acclimated to their system."
Gainesville’s pass-happy offense helped Adetona and Ford produce big numbers for the Red Elephants this season and the sizable duo has parlayed their fall performance into a chance at careers beyond high school.
"I feel like my size and my speed gives me the ability to play inside and outside, and that’s an advantage for me," said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Adetona, who chose the Hoosiers after a previous verbal commitment to Troy. "It’s wide open for me (at Indiana). They’ve lost two of their receivers from last year and they’re bringing in four freshmen, so I’ll have the chance to compete."
Ford (6-4, 210), a native of New Orleans, said he thought about accepting offers closer to his old home, but chose Valdosta State for the opportunity to play early in a spread offense similar to Gainesville’s, which he called "a receiver’s dream."
Young said he chose Savannah State recently after an in-home visit from new coach Robby Wells.
"I’ve got family in Florida and Georgia and that was a factor," Young said.
"And I know that Savannah State has struggled the last couple of years, but they’ve got athletes, they just haven’t had the right coaching. I think coach Wells is going to get it turned around.
Falcons quarterback Jaybo Shaw is headed to Georgia Tech after a high school career in which he totaled 127 touchdowns and 9,350 yards of total offense.
"It really couldn’t have worked out much better for me," said Shaw, who originally committed to Middle Tennessee State. "I loved Middle Tennessee State, but when coach (Paul) Johnson came in, I really couldn’t see anything wrong with Tech. It’s close to home, in Atlanta, in the ACC, and I like the offense."
Shaw said he’s been told that Johnson plans to use the "straight triple-option" schemes that brought him success at Georgia Southern and Navy.
"It’s the ACC and it’s a lot faster, so he might have to open it up a little, but he’s won with that system everywhere," Shaw said. "We’ve run the spread (at Flowery Branch) the last couple of years, but during my freshman and sophomore years I was under center and I’ve been doing it since I was five years old, so I’m looking forward to it."
Fellow Falcon Tavious Banks also signed a letter of intent, accepting a late offer from Mars Hill College in North Carolina.
Banks said he almost slipped through the cracks due to an error in his contact information, but Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw helped get him in touch with the staff at Mars Hill and he committed Sunday after a visit to the school.
"It was a big thrill knowing that I’m going to get a chance to play college football," Banks said. "They’re planning to play me at cornerback and putting me in the mix very early."
Trojans fullback Bobby Epps said choosing Virginia Military Institute "really wasn’t a decision at all.
"I loved everything about it — the school, the coaches, the players, the mindset they have there."
After rushing for more than 1,000 yards and helping lead North Hall to the Class AAA semifinals in 2007, he’s also excited about the opportunity to play in VMI’s triple-option offense.
"I’m ready to get there and be a part of the team," said Epps, adding he plans to leave in June.
Riverside’s Tersoo Uhaa committed to Furman University after an "awesome" visit to the campus in Greenville and signed his letter of intent Wednesday.
"I’m very happy," Uhaa said. "It’s kind of a weight-lifted-off-the-shoulders feeling."
Uhaa, who cited Furman’s close proximity to home as big factor in his decision, said the Paladins are planning to use him as a "hybrid halfback-fullback."
He led Riverside with 1,296 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns last fall.
After a senior season in which he tallied more that 100 tackes and five interceptions, White County safety Brandon Vaught accepted a scholarship offer to Western Carolina on Wednesday.
"Western Carolina was actually one of my first choices," Vaught said.
"I’ve had family that’s gone there, so it’s kind of a tradition. Then it all started to come together in the last month when they got the new coaching staff in."
The Raiders are sending six members of their 2008 senior class to play college football, including one who has already begun the next phase of his football career.
Times 2007 Player of the Year Tavarres King, who set state records last fall for catches in a season (100) and receiving yards in a season (1,641) has already enrolled at the University of Georgia after earning his high school diploma in December.
Other members of the Raiders signing class include Daniel Franklin (LB, Oklahoma); Gabe Irby (OL, Wake Forest); Erik Sheker (OL, West Georgia); Bo Hatchett (QB, Presbyterian) and Josh Anderson (DB, Presbyterian).
Quarterback Reuben Haynes signed with Lenoir Rhyne on Wednesday.
As the Tigers dual threat in the backfield, Haynes has been one of the most potent weapons in Region 8-A and helped lead Commerce to a state semifinal appearance in 2006.
He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 27 touchdowns, while throwing for 1,300 yards and eight TDs.