Recruiting season for Cavaliers
By Kevin Eckleberry
HOGANSVILLE – With recruiting season in full swing, Callaway High has been a popular place.
Coaches from across the country, including some of the biggest names in the business, have been stopping by Callaway to visit with the team’s players.
Last week, among the men who visited the school were Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyers, and that was just the tip of the iceberg according to recruiting coordinator Matt Neighbors.
“It was packed last week,” Neighbors said. “Clemson came through, and we had Urban Meyer, and coach Saban come through. And countless others, Georgia, Michigan, most of the SEC schools. It was nuts.”
Neighbors and head coach Pete Wiggins served as tour guides for the coaches.
“At one point, there were so many coming through that I was entertaining in the indoor (facility), and coach Wiggins had two or three down in the school,” Neighbors said. “We’re trying to multi-task and get all of them taken care of.”
Saban and Meyer are the two most successful college coaches in recent history with nearly 400 wins and eight national championships between them, and they took time to meet with folks at the school during their visits.
“It’s a fun time, especially for everybody in the school,” Neighbors said. “It’s a cool experience for them.”
Neighbors said the recruiting process has changed this season because of the early signing period.
Beginning on Dec. 20, players will have three days to sign their national letter of intent.
There will still be a traditional national signing day on Feb. 7.
“It’s been nuts compared to previous years,” Neighbors said. “In previous years, it was kind of lax, and in January it would pick up. This whole month of December, it’s different from previous years. We’re ready to get those three guys signed next week, and possibly a fourth one, and we’ll go into January and grind and get the rest of these guys ready.”
Considering Callaway has 14 seniors who will likely be signing college scholarships, and that there are some underclassmen who are among the state’s most recruited players, it’s no surprise that coaches are spending so much time at the school.
Neighbors said it also helps that Callaway players tend to do well, both on the field and off, when they make the transition to college.
“That’s what makes it so easy being the recruiting coordinator here,” Neighbors said. “It’s easy to sell kids from Callaway to colleges. They know what they’re getting. They know they’re getting a guy that’s going to be a good character kid, and a kid that’s going to shine for them on the football field. You see these guys that are producing, the Terry Godwins, the KeShun Freemans, the Mike Freemans, and Braylon Sanders, and it goes on and on.”
Some of Callaway’s most heavily recruited players are underclassmen.
That group includes junior offensive lineman Keiondre Jones, sophomore running back Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby, and sophomore wide receiver Jacob Freeman.
Jones, a three-year starter, received an offer from the University of Alabama while he is still in the eighth grade, and his recruitment has heated up even more as he approaches his senior season.
“He does a good job with it,” Neighbors said. “Florida came to see him today, and Clemson, and Alabama, and all of them came last week. It’s a cool experience, and he handles it the best you can. He’s humble.”
Neighbors also said some of the team’s freshmen have already received interest from some major programs.
“Obviously a lot of them are coming to see Keiondre, and Cartavious, and Jacob,” Neighbors said. “And they’re getting familiar with some of these freshmen we’ve got like Demetrius Coleman, Charlie Dixon, and Keshawn Suggs. Those guys are 14-years-old and already have SEC offers.”
While none of the seniors are likely to land at an SEC school, most of them will be playing college football somewhere.
“I think the Callaway record is like 9 or 10 (signees), or something like that,” Neighbors said. “We’ll easily break that this year. We should have 14 sign. I’m jacked about that to make a little history for Callaway High School, for Callaway football. We’re waiting to see what we get going on this month. It’s a cool thing. I’m excited about it.
“We’ll keep grinding the next month and a half and see what we come up with.”
Neighbors said some of the seniors will take advantage of the early signing period.
Neighbors said Lichon Terrell (Western Kentucky), DQ Wilkerson (Mercer) and DJ Atkins (Western Carolina) will definitely sign next week, and that Courtney Williams could possibly sign.
“They’re all three excited about it,” Neighbors said. “We’re waiting to see what happens this week with Courtney. There’s a good opportunity he could sign, too.”
The other Callaway seniors will wait to sign their letters of intent on national signing day on Feb. 7.
All of those players, regardless of when they sign, will be a part of Callaway’s signing-day ceremony in February.
Neighbors, a Callaway High graduate who is in his second season on the team’s coaching staff, is committed to finding the best place for every player who wants to play college football.
“A lot of them, it is about the fit,” Neighbors said. “I’ve had recruiting visits with kids and parents the last week and a half, and the first thing I tell the parents and the kids is, my goal is to not only find the right spot academically, but also from a football standpoint. Like coach Wiggins says, you’re just trying to find the right fit for them.”
Neighbors said it helps that there are so many different options in Georgia.
Over the past 15 years, numerous colleges in Georgia have started football programs, including LaGrange College.
“It’s good that there are so many quality schools in the state of Georgia,” Neighbors said. “With Georgia offering the Hope Scholarship, and you’re able to get Pell Grant money. It gives them a lot of options, all the way from Division I down to NAIA and Division III-type schools.
“They’ve got options on all levels. They don’t even have to leave the state of Georgia.”