Big day for local football players
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It was a day for goals to be achieved, and dreams to be realized.
Wednesday was national signing day, and in Troup County, 23 student-athletes signed their letters of intent to play college football.
Nine seniors who helped the Callaway Cavaliers win the Class AA state championship last season have signed their letters of intent, and those decisions were celebrated during a ceremony in the school’s gymnasium.
At Troup High, during a ceremony in the Bubba Jeter indoor practice facility, seven smiling players announced their decisions, giving the team eight total signees since Royce White took advantage of the early signing period in December.
LaGrange High also had seven signees, and they shared the spotlight during the signing celebration in the Steve Pardue indoor practice facility.
At Callaway, nine members of a celebrated senior class are getting an opportunity to play in college.
Those seniors were part of a 2020 team that went 11-1 and beat Fitzgerald 22-17 to win the Class AA state title.
“Often around these parts we have guys come back, our senior classes come back, and they get into a debate about which senior class was the best class,” said Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s defensive coordinator. “Guys, hands down, you’ve got the hardware. When they come back and ask, you guys got it. What a great group of guys.”
The seniors, Hubbard stressed, were the driving force behind the Cavaliers’ quest for their first state title.
“The biggest reason why I think these guys are champions is the leadership of these individuals up here,” Hubbard said. “It’s our whole senior class. Their willingness not to care about self, but to care about team was unbelievable.”
Among Callaway’s signees was quarterback Demetrius Coleman, who is headed to Tennessee to join the Chattanooga football program.
Running back Charlie Dixon signed with North Carolina AT&T, and defensive back and wide receiver Jalin Shephard signed with West Georgia.
Eli Freeman and defensive back Osiris Rivas both signed with Blinn Community College in Texas, and defensive lineman Keshawn Suggs signed with Reinhardt University.
Linebacker Austin Thomas and wide receiver Taylor Smith are staying at home and will attend LaGrange College, and linebacker LaQuize Gilbert signed with Georgia Military College.
At LaGrange, the seniors helped the team enjoy a dramatic turnaround season.
After the Grangers won a combined four games from 2017 to 2019, they broke through and went 8-4 last season and reached the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
“The trust that they gave me and the coaching staff was tremendous,” said Matt Napier, who had a successful first season as LaGrange’s head coach. “They bought into our process, our way of going about things. They started working immediately, and really were hungry to succeed.”
One of the signees was running back Kale Gibbs, who will head to Colorado to join attend the Air Force Academy.
AJ Traylor, a wide receiver and defensive back, signed with The Citadel (S.C.), and running back Caleb Ross signed with Presbyterian College (S.C.).
Defensive lineman Lataurus Swindle will stay in Troup County after signing with Point University, and linebacker Jarno Huzzie signed with New Mexico Military Institute.
Linebacker Jacquez Smith will make his college home at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa, and defensive lineman Rashad Walker will head to California after signing with El Camino College.
“For this group to be able to sign seven guys to the next level says a lot about them and the growth they’ve made in a short period of time,” Napier said. “I’m really proud of them, proud of their success, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do next.”
At Troup, seven seniors who enjoyed plenty of success during their time in high school announced their college destinations.
The seniors helped the Tigers make the state playoffs for four straight years, and that included a trip to the semifinals in 2018.
Glisson and the other Troup coaches worked diligently to find the right college home for the players, a task that was more challenging than in previous years since college players didn’t lose a year of eligibility in 2020.
“The NCAA says you can come back for an extra year, but we’re not giving institutions any extra scholarships. So that posed a problem,” Glisson said. “Couple that with the transfer portal, and this year was a real trying year, and our staff worked their tails off to try to place kids in the right situation for them, and we feel like we’ve done a really good job with that.
“The players feel that way, and there are places where they can go and be successful.”
One of Troup’s signees is offensive lineman Will Cooley, who will join a Valdosta State University program that’s one of the best in NCAA Division II.
Defensive lineman Jordan Adams has signed with West Virginia State University, and linebacker Zy Varner signed with Georgia Military College.
PJ Jones, who was an offensive lineman at Troup, has signed with the University of the Cumberlands where he’ll be a fullback.
Marquavious Kelley, a big-play wide receiver, signed with Georgia Military College, defensive lineman Xavier Clarke signed with Tennessee Valley Prep, and defensive lineman Christopher Hilton signed with West Georgia Prep.
Although they’re not going to play college football, two other Troup seniors participated in Wednesday’s ceremony.
Navontae Moss is joining the United States Marine Corps, and Zack Smith is heading to Mississippi State University where he’ll study to become an Environmental Scientist.
In December, offensive lineman Royce White signed with Memphis, and Christian Morris signed a scholarship to become an equipment manager at Reinhardt University.
Austin Thomas – LaGrange College
Eli Freeman – Blinn Community College
Osiris Rivas – Blinn Community College
Keshawn Suggs – Reinhardt University
LaQuize Gilbert – Georgia Military College
Taylor Smith – LaGrange College
Jalin Shephard – West Georgia
Charlie Dixon – North Carolina AT&T
Demetrius Coleman – Chattanooga
Marquavious Kelley (Georgia Military College)
Zy Varner (Georgia Military College)
Will Cooley (Valdostate State)
PJ Jones (University of the Cumberlands)
Xavier Clarke (Tennessee Valley Prep)
Christopher Hilton (West Georgia Prep)
Jordan Adams (West Virginia State University)
Royce White (Memphis)
Christian Morris (Reinhardt)
Kale Gibbs – Air Force Academy
AJ Traylor – The Citadel
Caleb Ross – Presbyterian College
Jarno Huzzie – New Mexico Military Institute
Jacquez Smith – Ellsworth Community College
Rashad Walker – El Camino Community College
Lataurus Swindle – Point University
OF NOTE: For much more on each of the signees, see Friday’s sports section.