Wednesday was an emotional day for teenagers and their families all across the country, as they sealed their college futures on National Signing Day.
Jerry Howard’s Signing Day carried a little extra weight. The 6-foot, 215-pound Northwestern running back inked a scholarship to Georgia Tech barely a day after learning that Rock Hill police had charged a suspect, a man Howard knew, with the murder of his father, Jerry Sr., on Dec. 2.
“What made it even better is he’s signing with Georgia Tech today, and that’s what his dad wanted,” said Lakisha Howard, Jerry’s mom. “So we’re getting justice for his dad and his dad is also smiling down on his son.”
But any sadness wasn’t clearly evident during Wednesday’s ceremony in the school’s auditorium. Lakisha and numerous other family members sat in the seats watching their boy, and a grandchild was passed around with smiles. When it came time to sign, Jerry’s barely legible signature wasn’t the result of nerves or overwhelming emotion.
“I’ve got chicken scratch,” he said, laughing.
Howard was originally committed to East Carolina but shifted gears in December, partly on the advice of his father. Howard took his final official visit to Georgia Tech three weeks ago.
“My mom and granddad loved it. We all just enjoyed ourselves down there,” he said.
He reports to school June 13 and is already signed up for two college classes.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Howard. “I’m just glad all my hard work has paid off over the last four years.”
Four of Howard’s Trojan teammates also signed on Wednesday:
Gage Moloney soaked up the atmosphere at James Madison during the school’s run to the Football Championship Series national championship this season, a big contributor to his decision to decommit from Ohio and sign with the Dukes on Wednesday. Northwestern’s Shrine Bowl quarterback had an injury-shortened season, but was still proud of his time at the school after transferring in from James Island in 2015.
“It was a great move,” said Moloney. “Me and my mom love it here. She loves it because the community’s amazing, I love it because of the opportunities it’s given me.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound lefty was impressed with James Madison’s campus, facilities, environment and coaches.
“They showed me love throughout the whole process and they were straightforward,” Moloney said. “But the atmosphere was what really changed my mind. When I went to the game and saw how crazy their fans were and how big the stadium is, it’s a great atmosphere to play in.”
Wally Wilmore opted for The Citadel at the last minute, signing with the Bulldogs on Wednesday. His visit to The Citadel two weekends ago sealed his decision to switch his commitment from Army.
“Charleston is so beautiful and the campus, and the opportunity for that type of education, in-state, I just didn’t want to pass it up,” Wilmore said. “My people, they can make the three-hour drive and come watch me play every game, so that definitely was a factor.”
Wilmore, who was a late call-up for the Shrine Bowl, will play defensive back and may get a shot at returning kicks.
“They just came off a great year and were undefeated until they played the UNC Tar Heels,” said Wilmore. “We’ve got some ballers coming in, so we should be pretty good in the secondary.”
Caliph Brice qualified academically for the NCAA eligibility clearinghouse, so his stay at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas could last just one year. Brice, a senior linebacker with great physical attributes, will hope to follow a similar path to former Trojan great Cordarrelle Patterson, who also played at the junior college called “Hutch.”
“Me not being focused will not be a problem,” said Brice, when asked about the difficulty of attending school in Kansas.
Brice was an All-Area defender this season for the Trojans, showing similar ability hitting ball-carriers as covering receivers in the secondary. Dragons coaches told him, “I think you’ve got ACC, SEC talent. Come in here and do what you’re supposed to do, we’re gonna get you out of here and transfer.”
Alan Alford plans to study political science and play football at Catawba. Alford was the Trojans’ defensive line MVP this season and will play outside linebacker for the Division II Indians. He was thrilled to finally put pen-to-paper on Wednesday, realizing a long held dream.
“I wrote it down when I was little. I’ve been really grinding for it and it’s a reality,” said Alford. “I put in the time and the effort into it and I feel like I’ve grabbed out what I put into it.”
- Bret McCormick
Dre Robinson had to sit at the edge of the table with his fellow Rock Hill signees as he was fresh off surgery on his ACL. That didn’t stop the Bearcats quarterback from signing a football scholarship with Johnson C. Smith.
“It’s a family environment up there, it’s real close to home and I like the program, it’s real nice,” said Robinson.
Asked to give some advice to the many students watching in a crowded conference room, Robinson said “work hard and hit them books.”
Nick Truesdale played in the North-South all-star game after a strong season in the Bearcats’ secondary. He signed Wednesday to play college football at Newberry, which is emerging into a regional Division II powerhouse. Truesdale is interested in practicing law and will study political science in college.
“I didn’t feel out of place there and it’s a successful program,” he said.
Sierra Bell isn’t sure what she’ll major in, but at least she’ll be in pleasant surroundings while she figures that out. The Rock Hill girls’ soccer standout signed with Warren Wilson College, nestled in the North Carolina mountains near Asheville.
“It was the one campus I walked onto and was like, ‘wow. I can really see myself living here, even if soccer wasn’t a thing,’” she said.
Kendrick Hicks will study computer science and math at Wingate, where he’ll also play college football. Hicks was a Shrine Bowl selection and a team captain during the game back in December. He led the Bearcats in tackles this season. The stoutly built senior thanked his Rock Hill football coaches, including defensive coordinator Mike Biddix, who was always yelling at him. In a good way.
Paige Love is headed to Pfeiffer to pursue college softball. She’ll play shortstop for the Falcons and will study either nursing or education.
“They’ve all pushed me really hard to play softball and have all been really supportive of what I want to do,” Love said, looking at her parents, grandparents and younger brother, who was filming on his iPhone.
Zhenya Deller has had quite the journey after being adopted from Ukraine and it got even more interesting on Wednesday when he signed to play college soccer at USC Lancaster. Deller played under Lancers coach Alex Tarque for several club soccer seasons with Discoveries, so he has a familiarity with his new skipper. He thanked Rock Hill boys’ soccer coach Cesar Robles for turning the Bearcats program around, and also thanked his parents, Mike and Mandy Deller.
“All they’ve done for me is just unbelievable,” he said.
Kirk Rygol will attend North Greenville University, where he joins former Falcon Jordan Helms. Rygol passed for 3,497 yards in 11 games for Nation Ford last season, throwing 36 touchdowns and rushing for another six. The Shrine Bowl call-up picked North Greenville over Jacksonville University, Georgia Southern, and Eastern Kentucky.
“I really liked it,” he said. “I liked the coaches and the football program. They are a good school and it was a good choice for me.”
Rygol said he may have a chance to start as a true freshman, but will have to wait and see. Nation Ford’s third straight college QB plans on majoring in business.
Jori Benton and Madison Gleason will attend USC-Beaufort and Charleston Southern University, respectively, both to play women’s soccer.
Gleason said the thought of being in Charleston was enough to help convince her that is where she needed to go to further her education.
“I love Charleston,” she said. “I love the campus size and how it feels like a family.”
Gleason is undecided about her major and picked Charleston Southern over Winthrop, Wingate, Liberty and Lipscomb.
Benton, 17, won’t be too far down the road from Gleason. She plans on majoring in mass communications and, like Gleason, it was the attraction to the coast that helped lure Benton.
“I like being next to the water,” she said. “I love everything about it.”
Benton picked USC-Beaufort over Limestone, USC in Columbia and Coastal Carolina.
“I loved the campus and the coaches and the team,” she said. “It is everything I wanted in a college.”
Blake Baker and Will Martin will both play men’s soccer at Charlotte’s Queens University.
Baker, who looked at Presbyterian College and Michigan State, said his relationship with the coach at Queens, helped him decide on sticking close to home. Baker plans on majoring in exercise and sports science and rooming with his teammate in Martin.
“I already fit in with their style of play,” he said. “I love the campus and the coach.”
Martin selected Queens over Radford University and Anderson University. He was also familiar with the Royals’ coach and having Baker at the school made the decision easier.
“It’s a big comfort,” he said. “It’s far enough away for me to be independent, yet close enough for my parents to come watch me play.”
Martin said he is also looking at taking advantage of their study abroad program. He plans on majoring in business.
Michael Smith is staying a little closer to home after signing to play men’s soccer at Winthrop. Smith said he picked Winthrop because it was the best fit for him.
“I loved the campus and I am happy with the school as a whole,” he said.
Smith, who will be majoring in business administration, picked the Eagles over Queens and Mercer University in Georgia.
Brad Young will make the longest drive in the group. He’s headed to Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia to play soccer. Young, who plans on majoring in exercise science, said he wanted to be away from home and in the mountains to further his education.
“It’s a nice campus,” he said. “It is small and quiet. The coaches there showed an interest in me and the team made sure I felt like I was already part of the team.”
- Mac Banks
Jonathan Muhammad said his decision to sign with South Carolina State’s football program was not difficult. The Bulldogs offered after Muhammad had a huge game against Belton-Honea Path during South Pointe’s run to a third straight state title.
Having relationships with future teammates and a good visit to S.C. State made Muhammad’s decision fairly easy.
“The visit there and actually being on campus and enjoying the campus is what made me decide,” he said. “I know a couple people from Rock Hill High that went to S.C. State are still going there and it kind of influenced me to go because I knew them and played with them in previous years.”
Justin Pendergrass also transferred to South Pointe for his senior year, but faced a more difficult decision-making process. He was unsure as recently as last week if playing college football was the best choice for his future. Pendergrass, a wide receiver, spent long nights weighing his options.
“Everything kind of came late, I had offers early but nothing that I was wanting to do,” Pendergrass said Wednesday. “Late night thinking, a lot of stuff running through my mind, I just kind of weighed my options.”
On Wednesday, the Charlotte native signed with Limestone College in Gaffney.
“Limestone showed love from the start,” Pendergrass said. “The first time they talked to me they said they were going to offer me. Just showing love from the start and believing in me, that stuff did a lot.”
Voshon St. Hill knew his college years would likely involve football. He amassed just over 1,200 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns last season. Newberry College has a very similar offensive scheme to South Pointe and was the best fit for St. Hill, who will join several former teammates, including former Stallions QB Greg Ruff.
“Newberry just felt like home and I just felt comfortable there,” he said. “They run the same offense we run, it’s basically like going to a South Pointe game, especially with Greg being there and playing quarterback. I’ve been around him since I was in ninth grade and we clicked, football just brought us closer.”
Ken’Darius Frederick was the Thomas Davis Comeback Player of the Year award winner after battling through injuries during his junior season, but he was not surprised by the amount of attention he received from college coaching staffs. The Herald’s 2016 All-Area defensive player of the year scored offers from South Carolina State, Charleston Southern and Chattanooga, and on Wednesday the standout defensive back chose The Citadel because of its prestigious academics.
“It made me hesitate at first for a minute because (military school) wasn’t something I was used to, but I got comfortable with it and accepted it,” said Fredrick, moments before signing his letter of intent. “I’m already disciplined so it shouldn’t be too difficult.”
- Joe Koon
Malik Williams enjoyed a stellar career at Chester and signed to play football at Appalachian State on Wednesday. Williams, who played quarterback and returned kickoffs and punts for the Cyclones, said he will be used as a wide receiver with the Mountaineers.
Williams liked the Mountaineers coaches and said that academics were also a factor in his decision. He plans on majoring in criminal justice.
“I really like the academic program they have in my major,” said Williams. “The campus is beautiful, and everyone was so nice to me when I visited.”
Switching to wide receiver will be a challenge for Williams, but he is anxious for the opportunity.
“I am very excited about playing that position in college,” he said. “I have confidence that I can move to that position and play well.”
Jarez Hardin signed to play at Benedict College after a standout season on the Cyclones’ defensive line.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity to play at the next level,” said Hardin, who is planning to major in criminal justice.
The coaches at Benedict have told him that he will be playing fullback, and Hardin looks forward to the challenge of playing on that side of the ball.
“I have confidence that I can play well at that position,” he said.
The campus also factored into Harden’s decision to attend Benedict College.
“The campus is beautiful, and the people there are so nice,” he said. “Also, I will be playing close to home.”
Radarrius Wright will be lining up next year with Limestone.
I am excited about competing at the next level,” said Wright, who wants to major in sports management and excelled on Chester’s defensive line.
He is also looking forward to playing at linebacker when he plays at Limestone.
“That is great opportunity for me,” said Wright. “I know that I can make that transition to linebacker and play well.
“The campus is beautiful and people were very nice. The small campus made it feel like home to me.”
Xi Simpson was a stalwart on the offensive line for Chester this past fall, and he signed to play college football at Wingate.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to play at the next level,” said Simpson, who wants to major in technology or business management.
One of The Herald’s 2016 Hawgs of the Year, Simpson is looking forward to playing offensive line at the college level.
“It will be a challenge, but I have confidence that I can do well,” he said. “It was a confidence builder for me to get the chance to play at the next level.”
The campus and the programs also played a part in his decision to play at Wingate in the fall.
“Everything about Wingate impressed me,” said Simpson. “It was like a family atmosphere, because everyone welcomed me with open arms.”
Kabri Gardner ran cross country this past fall for Chester, and she signed to run next season at Spartanburg Methodist.
“I liked the fact that it is a small college” said Gardner, who wants to major in business. “My goal is to own a business one day.”
Gardner only ran cross country during her senior season at Chester, but coach Joe Conlan was most pleased with her dedication and the effort she gave this past fall.
“I just wish that she had come out for the team earlier,” said Conlan. “She really did a good job this past fall.”
“I think that I can improve my running skills, and I am looking forward to doing that,” said Gardner. “They made it feel so much like home when I visited.”
- Sam Copeland
Myles Prosser, Coastal Carolina (football)
Paul Moore, Limestone (football)
Jae’vion Matthews, Georgia Military (football)
Rayna Korver, Erskine (women’s soccer)
Detorien Rawlinson, William Penn (Iowa) (football)
Desmond Ricks, Hampton (football)
Farrika Grier, South Carolina State (football)
Ant Foster, Newberry (football)
Cordarious Tinsley, Limestone (football)
Houston Brantley, Wingate (football)
Parker Largen, USC Upstate (men’s soccer)
Jesse Defalco, Spartanburg Methodist (cross country)
Ben Clark, Anderson (cross country)
Samantha Hybarger, USC Beaufort (women’s soccer)
Dillon Howie, Concord (W.Va.) (football)