Central-Phenix City’s lunchroom was full Wednesday to witness one of Ron Nelson’s final duties as football coach for the Red Devils as nine players signed letters of intent to play college football.
“It’s a glorious, great day here at Central,” Nelson said. “These kids get to continue their educations for free and play football.
“When (defensive coordinator and athletic director Bobby Wright and I) took over this program 12 years ago, we said we wanted to see as many sign scholarships as possible.”
Nelson said according to his count, he’s had 65 sign scholarships in the last 12 years.
Four players from this class are going on to play at the Division-I level.
Georgia Tech inked its second Red Devil in two years in running back Deon Hill. Hill ran for 1,587 yards and 18 touchdowns in his senior campaign. Orwin Smith signed last year and lineman Cord Howard signed five years ago.
He said the diploma from Georgia Tech was one of the main reasons he’s going there.
“I know they’re going to run the ball definitely,” Hill said. “And (Smith) said it would be great to have us both in their backfield together again. I’m looking forward to getting better and playing at my full ability.”
Hill will most likely be an A-back in coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense.
Quarterback Darren Daniel signed his letter of intent to play for Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. The two-sport athlete will also play basketball for the Cardinal.
“They’ve got a great coaching staff out there,” Daniel said. “I’m going to get a great education, and you know, it’s California.
“Plus, coach (Jim) Harbaugh has great connections to the NFL.”
Daniel said Vanderbilt tried to make a late run but was never really in contention. Daniel threw for 813 yards and seven touchdowns this year.
Ucambre Williams will continue his career on the offensive line for the University of South Alabama Jaguars. This past season was USA’s inaugural football year, which Williams cited as a plus.
“The idea that I could go in and play as a true freshman at a Division I school was a big reason,” Williams said. “The coaching staff and the location in Mobile were big reasons too.”
Williams had offers from Troy and Samford among others.
Cordary Clark-Allen’s 817 yards and 14 touchdowns this year were enough to get the tall running back some looks from big programs. Tulsa and the University of Alabama-Birmingham were just two of the contenders, but Colorado was at the top of his list after his official visit.
“I felt real comfortable there after the visit,” Clark-Allen said. “The players there, everything about it was real comfortable.”
Dante DeVouse said St. Augustine’s coach Michael Costa’s pitch to the linebacker is what made his decision easy.
“He told me he wouldn’t make any promises if I’d be able to play beyond college football,” DeVouse said. “But he did promise that I would graduate, and that’s the right choice for me.”
Academics also played a big role in wide receiver T.J. Rice’s decision to play at Huntingdon College. Rice plans on studying criminal justice. His chances of playing early were also appealing.
“I’m going to be able to go out there and compete for a job and maybe play next year,” he said. “The team spirit and chemistry was great when I visited.”
Offensive lineman Cortez Hoskins chose West Georgia because of the atmosphere of Carrollton, Ga., among other things.
“I love it up there,” Hoskins said. “The people, the coaches … everything is nice. Plus, I’ll be able to play right off the bat.”
Deonte Swinton chose Gardner-Webb over other front-runner Alabama A&M. The wide receiver said his best friend living near him in North Carolina was just one factor.
“I can probably play as a true freshman too,” Swinton said.
Joseph Porter, one of three Red Devil offensive lineman who signed, filled out his letter of intent to play for Alabama A&M. Porter said he expects the game at the next level to a lot different.
“I think it will be much, much faster,” he laughed. “The speed is definitely going to change.”
Nelson said this class has had big expectations for a long time.
“Going back to seventh and eighth grade these kids have had a lot of pressure and expectations on their shoulders. But their commitment has been second to none and have worked hard to qualify to do this.”
Central made it to the quarterfinals in the 2009 AHSAA playoffs before losing to Prattville.
This class ties the school record made by the 2003 class with nine signees; however, Nelson said more could be signing soon.
Stephanie Pedersen, 706-571-8502