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Callaway seniors ready for next step

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

The Callaway Cavaliers are coming off the best four-year stretch in the history of the program, and a group of talented and committed seniors had a lot to do with that success.

Seven of those seniors are getting an opportunity to play college football, and four of them participated in a signing-day ceremony on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday’s group of signees included Antinez Blount (Valdosta State), Anthony Elliott (Georgia Military College), Zach Neighbors (LaGrange College) and Jabari Smith (Faulkner), while Luke Swann signed a baseball scholarship with Coastal Alabama Community College.

Three other Callaway football players, Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby (Auburn), Tate Johnson (Auburn) and Jacob Freeman (Georgia State), took advantage of the early signing period in December.

Those seniors were a part of a program that went 47-8 over the past four seasons while making four appearances in the state semifinals.

“It’s a very special day,” said Pete Wiggins, Callaway’s head coach since 2005. “It’s all about our family, our football team, and how these guys support one another, and work so hard in the weight room and on the field.”

Wiggins added that “early signing day was really special with Tate, and Jacob, and Tank, and today it’s a very special day for Nez Blount, and Jabari, Zach, and Anthony Elliott. The payoff is high when the sacrifice is great, and these guys have made great sacrifices to get to this point as far as the work ethic in the weight room, and on the field, and all the camps they’ve been to, the practices. They’ve worked at a high level, and it’s paid off for them.”

Antinez Blount was part of a high-powered wide receiver corps that put up monster numbers last season with quarterback Demetrius Coleman delivering the ball. Blount averaged nearly 25 yards per catch last season with seven touchdowns, and he had a scoring reception in a semifinal loss to Brooks County.

Blount joins a Valdosta State program known for its pass-happy offense, so Blount should have a chance to thrive with his new team.

“It matches me,” Blount said. “I always wanted to go somewhere that looks like Valdosta State looks. And they’ve got a good tradition down there, a good winning tradition, and I’ll try to continue that.”

Blount has been a part of a lot of special moments over the years in football, basketball and track and field.

During the 2018-2019 school year, Blount went to the semifinals in football, the quarterfinals in basketball, and he won multiple medals at the state track and field meet.

“It’s been a lot of great experiences,” Blount said. “I got to see everything, from basketball, football, and track.”

Jabari Smith is also a multi-sport standout for the Cavaliers.

Smith has been a linebacker and defensive lineman in football, and an outfielder and pitcher in baseball.

Smith has been to the state semifinals three times in football, and twice in baseball.

“He’s a solid, solid guy,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator and head baseball coach. “He does everything you ask of him. He keeps his nose to the grind stone and doesn’t say a whole lot, which is sometimes refreshing. He likes to compete.”

As a senior in football, Smith made the transition from linebacker to defensive line, and he had an outstanding season.

“What he was able to do from a defensive standpoint for us this year was big,” Hubbard said. “To move from linebacker to defensive line, he was a force.”

Smith will be heading to Montgomery, Ala. to join the Faulkner University football program.

“I like it a lot,” Smith said of Faulkner. “I connected with the coaches real well. A lot of guys don’t get a chance to do this.”

Anthony Elliott, like Smith a standout on the defensive line last season, is remaining in the state to go to Georgia Military College.

It’s a two-year school, so Elliott will have the opportunity to transfer to a four-year program.

“They’re going to pay 100 percent of my school, and they’ve got a really good football program,” Elliott said. “I plan on going there and balling out.”

As for making the transition to college, Elliott said “it’s really just getting used to the speed of the game, and I’ll continue to grind.”

Elliott is also a wrestler at Callaway, and he placed at state last year and will try to duplicate that feat this season.

Elliott and seven of his teammates will compete in the state sectional on Friday and Saturday at Bremen.

Zach Neighbors will get an opportunity to play college football in his home county.

Neighbors, an offensive lineman, will join the LaGrange College football program led by head coach Earl Chambers.

“I’m very excited,” Neighbors said. “It’s a great environment. When I went over to visit, I felt like I was at home.”

Neighbors is also a baseball player, and like Smith, he has been a part of five state semifinal teams between the two sports.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Neighbors said. “Coach Wiggins, I felt like he was a father away from home. Everything was great. My teammates felt like brothers. We were all close together, and played multiple sports together. It was a great feeling.”

Hubbard, who has watched Neighbors develop into an elite player on the baseball field, said “Zach’s come a long way. I would have never thought he’d be a starter for football or baseball. He’s just grown up a lot, and really matured. I’m happy for his opportunities as well.”