Big day for Callaway signees

Published 11:18 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – He was a proud coach.

As Callaway head football coach Pete Wiggins introduced the five seniors who were signing their letters of intent on Wednesday, he rattled off their numerous athletic accomplishments while also talking about the outstanding men they’ve become.

“A lot of time, a lot of thought, a lot of effort has gone into this decision, and I’m very honored, proud for these young men,” Wiggins said. “I’m proud of how they represent Callaway High School, how they represent Callaway football, and how they represent their families. These kids are what you want with the jersey on.”

There were nine senior football players last season, and five of the have signed letters of intent to join college programs.

Braylon Sanders, a wide receiver, had two hats in front of him on the table on Wednesday morning.

When Sanders was introduced, he put on an Ole Miss cap.

Dominic Copeland, a defensive back, is heading to California to join the College of the Siskiyous football team.

Fullback Jibrell Jackson is heading to East Tennessee State, offensive lineman Dominic Carter signed with Campell University in North Carolina, and linebacker Michael Freeman signed with Mercer University.

The other four seniors, Keegan Woods, Khaliq Swift, Thomas Hodge and Dylan Johnson, aren’t planning on playing college football.

Johnson will likely sign a baseball scholarship at some point, though.

“All those guys decided to do other things in their life that doesn’t involve football,” said Matt Neighbors, Callaway’s recruiting coordinator. “I know they’ll do great things.”

When Wiggins talked about the seniors, he included Kavon Zelaya, who died when he was an eighth grader at Callaway Middle School.

Zelaya would have been a senior on last season’s team.

“I’m including Zelaya in that 10 seniors, and what an inspiration that young man was for us, and how we rallied around him and how you could feel him in the locker room with us,” Wiggins said. “The nine seniors that were there every day in practice, the leadership they had, the commitment to their teammates, that’s what it’s about.”

The seniors were anchors on a team that enjoyed the best season in school history last fall.

The Cavaliers went 13-1 and reached the state semifinals .

Callaway also made it to the final four in 2012.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever had a team with the chemistry and the continuity that we had with this group of young men,” Wiggins said. “A lot of that has to do with these young men sitting up at the table along with the other seniors that are a part of the team.”

Among Wednesday’s signees was Jibrell Jackson, a bruising fullback who helped pave the way for so many of the Cavaliers’ big plays last season.

Jackson was also an effective runner, and he scored numerous touchdowns.

Jackson said East Tennessee felt like the right fit.

“When I walked on the campus, it felt like I belonged,” Jackson said. “I just loved it.”

Jackson said being able to sign a football scholarship “means a lot to me.”

“To me, to my younger siblings, it shows that hard work will get you somewhere,” Jackson said. “I can’t wait. I’m ready to play. I just want another challenge.”

While most of Callaway’s seniors have known each other for years, well before high school even, Dominic “Tex” Carter is a relative newcomer.

Carter’s family moved to this area from Texas, and his senior season was his only one at Callaway.

He stepped in and was a foundation on the offensive line, and he had multiple college offers.

Carter strongly considered signing with Morgan State, but he eventually decided that Campbell University in North Carolina was the place for him.

“I went to Morgan at first, and I made a commitment,” Carter said. “And then Campbell came back in. I talked to them early in the recruiting process, and they kind of faded away. And then they came back, and I went on a visit, and I just absolutely loved it. It was home. The people were genuine, and it’s not a big city where there are a lot of distractions.

“I feel like I’ll have more success there.”

Carter called Wednesday’s signing ceremony a “humbling experience.”

“I wish every athlete could have this experience,” Carter said. “Leading up to this day was pretty nerve-wracking, deciding which school, and the traveling, and missing school and trying to catch up on work. But it’s all worth it. This day means everything to me, especially to have the coaches and other players here. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. So I’m just enjoying this moment with them.”

Carter said he’s ready to make the transition to college.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “Right now, I wish today was graduation as well so I could go. You have to finish up strong here, and finish with as high a GPA as I can. I still have some work to do.”

Dominic Copeland was a lock-down cornerback for the Cavaliers.

In a playoff win over Brooks County, Copeland had two interceptions.

Copeland will be making the longest journey of any of Callaway’s signees, and he’s looking forward to heading to California.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m very excited.”

Copeland said he enjoyed getting to know the coaches.

“It’s a very good school,” Copeland said. “I talked to the coaches, and they showed me a lot of love. They were more interested in me than any other coaches.”

Copeland believes going the junior-college route will allow him to make a smoother transition to the college game.

“I know I’m kind of under-sized,” Copeland said. “I’ll get to build up, and get a feel for it.”

Copeland said he appreciated everyone who came out Wednesday morning to be a part of the signing-day celebration.

“It’s a very special day,” Copeland said. “There are a lot of people giving a lot of love. I just feel it from everybody.”

Michael Freeman will be joining his brother KeShun Freeman as a college-football player.

While Michael Freeman will be a freshman at Mercer next season, KeShun Freeman will be a senior defensive lineman at Georgia Tech.

Freeman was Callaway’s leading tackler last season, and he was also a play-making tight end.

Callaway’s most high-profile signee is Braylon Sanders, who has been busy over the past month making recruiting trips.

He narrowed it down to Colorado State and Ole Miss, and he opted for the SEC school.

Sanders said having such a large turnout for signing day “means a lot.”

“It just shows how many people support you,” Sanders said. “A lot of people came out to see us five seniors sign. It means a lot to us.”

OF NOTE: For more photos from Wednesday’s signing ceremony, check out