There’s one more school record waiting to be broken by former Central-Phenix City football coach Ron Nelson.
At least nine Central players are expected to sign with colleges today, and Nelson’s final class could set a school record if another of his undecided players makes a choice by this morning.
The largest signing class in Nelson’s 30-year tenure on the Central staff came in February 2003, when nine players signed with colleges. When the 2010 group came into the program, Nelson said he knew they were capable of rivaling that record.
“I’ve known this was going to be a good class all the way through,” Nelson said. “They’re a bunch of kids who are not only good athletes but good students and good citizens. You put together those three things in a kid and you know you’re going to have a college-type player.”
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The 2003 class included such players as quarterback Kelcy McKissic-Luke, a two-time Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Offensive Player of the Year who went to Auburn and then Alabama A&M, and Chris Gunter, who went on to play at The Citadel. Nelson said the two classes are about as comparable in talent and achievements as any two he remembers.
The team’s defenses are among the best in Central history, Nelson said, and the offenses are similarly prolific. The 2003 class set a school record with 424 points, an average of 32.6 per game. The 2010 class averaged 32.5 points per game its senior season with a total of 390.
The Red Devils finished 11-2 and reached the third round of the playoffs in the 2002 season before falling to Jeff Davis, which finished runner-up in Class 6A that year. This year’s class went 10-2, falling to eventual state runner-up Prattville.
And a family tie connects the two classes. Don Hill signed with Jacksonville State in 2003, and his brother, Deon, is expected to sign with Georgia Tech today.
“There are a lot of similarities between these classes,” Nelson said. “I don’t know that I could say what the best class we ever had was, but this one’s right there at the top.”
But this year’s signing class stands out in a special way, Nelson said. The four FBS, formerly Division I, signings expected today are the most the coach said he can remember in a single year.
“To have four D-I prospects in one year, you know that you’ve got a great group,” Nelson said. “It’s an honor in itself just to have those kids in this class.”
Nelson, who announced he was stepping down as coach in December, said Central’s next coach, Woodrow Lowe, will start with a class that benefited from being around a large signing class.
“The guys we had this year really set the stage for next year’s guys,” Nelson said. “I could tell from the first week that these guys were encouraging our juniors, and the sophomore class is athletic and strong, too. The younger guys really got better because they had these mentors.”
Nelson plans to closely follow each of the players’ college careers. He said it was satisfying ending his coaching career with such a large signing class.
“It’s really a product of the kids we have here,” Nelson said. “But it is a fulfilling feeling to know going out that so many kids here have had the opportunity to play at that next level and get an education.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571