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Big day for Troup football family

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

They made him feel right at home.

When PJ Jones transferred from Lanett to Troup High for his senior season, he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was welcomed with open arms by his new teammates and coaches.

One of the coaches who was particularly welcoming and encouraging was J.C. Copeland, a Troup High graduate and the running-backs coach.

While Jones was an offensive lineman, he developed a close relationship with Copeland, who served as a mentor.

How much that meant to Jones was obvious on Wednesday during a signing ceremony for Troup’s football players who will be playing the sport in college.

Jones, who signed with the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, honored Copeland by choosing the uniform number he wore in high school.

“I’ll be wearing the number 44 for a specific purpose. I’ll be wearing it for JC Copeland,” Jones said. “He has made a big impact on my life. Coming to a new school I knew it was going to be a hard transition, but he made things easier for me. I’ll be wearing 44 to show that I put in the work for it, and I’m going to make you proud. Thank you J.C.”

Jones and six of his teammates signed their letters of intent during Wednesday’s ceremony, while two other players were recognized for the decisions they’ve made that don’t include football.

Troup’s football signees are Jones (University of the Cumberlands), Marquavious Kelley (Georgia Military College), Zy Varner (Georgia Military College), Will Cooley (Valdosta State), Xavier Clarke (Tennessee Valley Prep), Christopher Hilton (West Georgia Prep) and Jordan Adams (West Virginia State University).

Also, Navontae Moss was honored for his decision to join the United States Marine Corps, and Zack Smith is heading to Mississippi State to become an Environmental Scientist.

Offensive lineman Royce White took advantage of the early signing period in December and signed with Memphis, and he’s an early enrollee at the school.

Christian Morris, meanwhile, signed with Reinhardt University to become an equipment manager.

Three other Troup players, Jace Godwin, Anthony Ferguson and Sirr Morgan, will sign football scholarships at a later date.

Jones has been an offensive lineman in high school, but he will be a fullback at the University of the Cumberlands.

That’s the same position Copeland played in college, and he did it successfully at LSU.

“There’s no better role model than J.C. Copeland having played fullback at LSU,” said Troup head coach Tanner Glisson. “He was able to tell him what it took and push him in that direction.”

Glisson figures that physically Jones is more suited to be a fullback than an offensive lineman.

“Once we started looking at some of these linemen being 6-4, 300 pounds, PJ was like, maybe I want to try fullback,” Glisson said. “I think he’ll excel at that. Number one he’s smart so he can pick up on any kind of schemes, and he’ll do a great job and I’m really proud of him.”

Will Cooley, a multi-year starter and Troup’s starting center the past few seasons, is joining one of the country’s elite NCAA Division II programs.

“I’m excited to get my career started at Valdosta State,” Cooley said. “I’m going to pursue a career in secondary coaching, and hopefully come back to Troup to coach. This coaching staff has had such an impact on my life.”

As for his supportive family, Cooley said “they’ve been a rock to lean on throughout this whole process. It’s been difficult for sure, and without them, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Cooley, a team captain last season, had plenty of options, and he chose a program that has won multiple national championships in Division II.

“He had several opportunities to go play football at a lot of different places, probably 10 or 11 places,” Glisson said. “He found the right fit at Valdosta State. Valdosta State has a rich tradition, winning national championships, playing for national championships. It’s in his home state so momma and daddy can go watch him play.”

Jordan Adams, who was an anchor on the defensive from his defensive line position, will head north to become a member of the West Virginia State University football program.

“I want to thank God, my family, my coaches, my friends, my brother,” Adams said. “I’ll keep pushing, see where I can go. Hopefully the NFL, but if not, I’ll get into coaching. I’ll see how my life turns out.”

Glisson said the effort West Virginia State put into the recruiting process paid off.

“He felt like he was really wanted at West Virginia State,” Glisson said. “Their coaching staff has been in touch with me all day today, and there are extremely excited to have Jordan. Jordan is one of the most athletic players we’ve had.”

Xavier Clarke, who played on the defensive line along with Adams, will spend a season at the Tennessee Valley Prep Sports Academy before transferring.

“I want to thank God, my mom, and all the coaches for pushing us hard,” Clarke said. “I’d like to thank God again for this whole season. I’m glad we were able to do it.”

Clarke was an effective player as a senior, despite playing with an injury that wasn’t diagnosed until after the final game had been played.

“The thing about Xavier Clarke, if you watched him play this year, we found out last week that he played all year long on a torn ACL,” Glisson said. “So, that’ll be a story that we’ll tell 20 years from now.”

Another Troup defensive lineman getting a chance to play in college is Christopher Hilton, who will play for West Georgia Prep.

Like Clarke, Hilton will still have four years of eligibility remaining following a season at a preparatory school.

“I’m very proud of him,” Glisson said. “He’s a guy that went from being a non-starter as a junior, just in a backup role, to jumping in and getting a scholarship to attend West Georgia Prep.”

Two of Troup’s signees will be teammates at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville.

One of those signees is linebacker Zy Varner, who had an exceptional senior season while making tackles and providing critical leadership.

“I’d like to thank God for giving me the ability to do all the things I did,” Varner said. “And I’d like to thank my coaches, and most importantly, I’d like to thank my mom.”

Varner had multiple offers, and he chose to attend a two-year school, and he’ll be eligible to transfer to a four-year school for his sophomore season.

“Zy is a full qualifier,” Glisson said. “He can go to GMC for only six months, and then he can parlay that into a Division I scholarship or somewhere else he’d like to go. That is really good, and congratulations on getting your academics done Zy.”

Kelley, a big-play wide receiver who was a key member of a high-powered offense last season, is also a full qualifier, so he can also transfer to another school for his sophomore year.

Kelley calls Georgia Military “a wonderful school. It felt like home.”

Glisson is glad that Varner and Kelley will be attending the same school where they can encourage one another.

“(Kelley is) a great athlete, and an even greater human being, and we’re going to really miss him in our program,” Glisson said. “Georgia Military is a good fit for him, and he and Zy going as teammates, I think that’s really good, and they can kind of lean on each other. They’ve been through a lot of battles, a lot of wars together. They know what right or wrong looks like, so they can help each other with good positive peer pressure. I’m excited for those two guys.”

While Navontae Moss and Zack Smith won’t be playing college football, Glisson wanted to recognize them for the choices they’ve made.

Smith, an offensive lineman, will attend Mississippi State, and he plans on pursuing a career as an environmental scientist.

“I’d like to thank my family first,” Smith said. “My mom, she never missed a game my whole high-school career, my dad didn’t either. I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity to be here today, and I’m excited to start the next step of my life.”

Moss, a running back for the Tigers, will be joining the Marines after graduation, and he’s grateful for those who have helped him prepare for the physical and mental challenges to come.

“I just want to thank my coaching staff for pushing me to be better in life, a better man,” Moss said. “I especially want to thank coach JC (Copeland) for pushing me as well.”

Moss could have played football in college, but Glisson said he chose to “serve our country.”

“He could have signed an athletic scholarship,” Glisson added. “He had opportunities to play running back, linebacker at a couple of places. But he’s always had the dream of being a Marine, and he’s going to serve our country. I can not think of too many things that are a higher calling than that, and for that we are grateful. I know you’ll make the Troup family extremely proud.”

TROUP SIGNEES

Marquavious Kelley (Georgia Military College)

Zy Varner (Georgia Military College)

Will Cooley (Valdosta 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)

OTHERS

Navontae Moss is joining the US Marine Corps

Zack Smith is heading to Mississippi State to become an Environmental Scientist