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Athletes enjoy spotlight on Signing Day

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.It’s a special day for High School student-athletes all over the country when Signing Day allows them to put pen to paper and officially commit to a school. There are assemblies, media coverage and congratulations all around. Below, follow our Sports Team's coverage from signing events around the city throughout the day:

5 p.m.

Atlantic Coast had 12 student athletes sign Letters of Intent. Zach Parrish and Trey Simons are headed to Jacksonville University to play football.

Ten student athletes signed Letters of Intent at Sandalwood. Eli Peters (football) did not attend the ceremony since he is already enrolled at Illinois. His favorite receiver in high school, Phil Benker, will attend Indiana.

“Numbers don’t lie," Benker said of choosing the Hoosiers. "They have the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten.”

Mandarin had eight student athletes sign letters to continue their playing careers. Among those, Kirsten Weed is staying home to play soccer at JU.

Terry Parker had two athletes sign their letters. Tyler Rourke will play baseball at Surry Community College while Derrian Hall will play football at Savannah State. School officials brought Rourke’s and Hall’s teammates to the ceremony in hopes the Braves will have more sign next year.

 

4 p.m.

North Florida has turned into a hotbed for soccer talent and Signing Day had plenty of action in the “beautiful game.”

Chris DeGance led the area in scoring with 37 goals during the regular season for Bartram Trail. DeGance is headed to Stetson.

“It fits me perfectly," he said. "I wasn’t really looking for a big school. I definitely want to go to law school afterwards, and they have a very prestigious law school."

With a 3.87 GPA, he’ll have a chance to compete both on the field and in the classroom.

 

3 p.m.

In the afternoon, Trinity Christian had a big ceremony with 16 total signees. The Conquerors had four for baseball, including JC Flowers to the University of Kentucky. Morgan Woods will stay close by and play girls soccer for Trinity Baptist.

The three-time defending state champions in football had 11 signees that will play at the next level.  Two signees who were teammates are now arch-rivals as Kendall Brown announced he will play football at N.C. State, while Dominique Ross chose North Carolina over Virginia Tech. 

"Yeah, we used to be boys," said Brown, jokingly.  "Off the field we are still brothers, but on the field, we are rivals now."

Signing Day at Episcopal had a lot of different sports represented. Keenan Bell signed, as expected, to play baseball at Florida. The Gators are considered a preseason No. 1 team, so Bell is stepping into a good, competitive situation.

Sisters Maria and Isabel Wothe will go to different coasts to continue to row: Maria at UCLA and Isabel at Cornell. Jordan Glenn will row at Fordham.

Kieran Wallace will swim at Mount Union, Kristen Whitehead is going to Queens to play golf, Katie Glasgow will play softball at Emory.

Softball player Kelly Winter will continue her career on the diamond at Queens and Caleigh Morrison is headed to West Florida to play volleyball.

Jake Osgard will go to Panoma-Pitzer to play baseball. Gray Vickers will play football at Stevenson and Darius Newbill will do the same at Valdosta State with Conor Chepenik also playing football at Tufts.

Navy is where Amari DuBose of Westside High will continue his education and football career.

 

1:30 p.m.

There was a heartwarming story at Stanton, where Lianne Mananquil was the only signee. She’ll play soccer at Rice.

Her father, Ed, is a Lieutenant Commander with the U.S. Navy, stationed in a classified location in the Middle East. He could not be in Jacksonville to see his daughter sign her Letter of Intent. However, thanks to technology and a well-timed break in his patrol, Ed was able to watch Lianne’s ceremony via FaceTime on Wednesday afternoon.

"He's probably crying or something," said Lianne.  "It would've been nice to have him here, but I understand why he can't be here, but it was nice to have him on FaceTime."

 

1 p.m.

DT Shavar Manuel had verbally committed to the Gators but de-committed via Twitter and then signed with FSU on Wednesday.  Manuel reportedly had offers from Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ohio State as well.

Then the ‘Noles picked up one of the top OT tackles in Landon Dickerson from North Carolina to even further bolster their 2016 class.  Dickerson was considered one of the top 5 offensive linemen in the country. 

 

12 p.m.

Bolles had its usual cast of signees. Although the Bulldogs didn’t have any big-name football players for the 2016 signing class, Austin Williams is headed to Yale to play basketball. Swimmers Cat Gleason & Maddie Wessel signed with Centre College and Williams College.

Sometimes there’s intrigue and sometimes there’s head-scratchers on Signing Day.

CB Aaron Robinson from Deerfield Beach was considered pretty solid for Florida but at the last minute switched to Alabama. Robinson reportedly told the Miami Herald that he switched partly because he never received a visit from Gators head coach Jim McElwain. That doesn’t seem to be McElwain’s style and, if true, it’d be because the head Gator didn’t know about it.

 

11 a.m.

There were nine total signees from Ribault Wednesday morning, including eight for football. Continuing with the theme of families sticking together, Jarrodd and Jarrell Williams will continue to play next to each other at Methodist University.

"We weren't ready to split up yet," said Jarrodd.

"We wanted to at least play together for two more years," said Jarrell. "Keep the tradition going."

Speaking of tradition, the Ribault girls basketball team is coming off its fourth state championship. Lady Trojan Kayla Rodgers will play for Florida International next year. 

"Today's usually about the guys, but I'm happy to represent for all the girls out there," she said. "It means a lot to me."

Rodgers said she picked FIU in part because of its coaching staff and style of play, but there is a bigger reason she's going to be a Panther,

"They have a PhD program for physical therapy that I am looking for. That's what I want to be," she said.

It is funny how one player can change the perception of how a recruiting class is put together. FSU was considered having a Top 5 class just from the players who were “hard commits” and the ones already in school, including Jacksonville's own Andrew Boselli of Episcopal.

But late in the morning, LB Dontavious Jackson from Houston picked the ‘Noles over Texas, Alabama, Florida and Michigan and it launched FSU up the recruiting rankings. Jackson is 6-2 and 239 pounds. He could step in as a true freshman and start for FSU this year. 

The Seminoles continued to scour the country for talent with a national recruiting class. They added Josh Ball, an offensive lineman from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to their class. Ball is 6-7 and 317 pounds.

 

10:30 a.m.

One of the top names in North Florida high school football, Hussein Howe of University Christian, signed with East Carolina. Howe helped UC to the state title as a workhorse running back and a DB multiple times.

Howe, a U.S. Army All-American, had a box delivered to the stage during the ceremony. The box contained a hat, and he peeked inside for a moment, trying to build suspense, before pulling out the East Carolina hat and donning it as the crowd applauded.

Howe, a three-star athlete, chose ECU over Maryland and Louisville.

The Pirates listed Howe as a 5-9, 175 pound cornerback in their Twitter announcement.

 

10 a.m.

As the morning rolled on, Florida got some good news when WR Tyrie Cleveland committed to the Gators.  Cleveland is from Jacksonville but went to Texas to play high school football. He lives in Houston and was heavily recruited by the Cougars as a 4-star receiver.

But he’s friends with Rick Wells, the Raines/Florida WR and decided to come home to play for the Gators.

Jim McElwain apparently expects to throw the football plenty, signing five receivers in the 2016 recruiting class. 

 

9:45 a.m.

When Steve Spurrier took the head-coaching job at Florida in 1990,  he immediately laid out a plan for recruiting, emphasizing how good the talent was in the home state.  

“If we can win the recruiting battle in Florida, we’ll be alright,” Spurrier said.  

He did just that and went on to amazing success.  

Howard Schnellenberger drew a line across the state just below Orlando and dubbed it the “State of Miami,” saying they would dominate recruiting in South Florida. The Hurricanes did, and national championships ensued.  

Everybody else knows the level of talent in Florida, but Dabo Sweeney has been able to tap into it for Clemson. Appearing in the National Championship game raised the profile of the Tigers and no doubt influenced CB Trayvon Mullen from Coconut Creek to head to Clemson. Mullen was considered among the top two or three talents in Florida. Clemson has signed 16 “blue-chippers” from the Sunshine State in the last four years.

 

9:30 a.m.

There’s not a lot of suspense any longer on National Signing Day.  

The intense media coverage of every recruit lays out what’s expected when the fax machines start whirring across the country. 

But there are a few surprises. Brian Burns, a coveted defensive end from American Heritage was said to be on his way to Gainesville but instead chose FSU at his signing ceremony this morning.

Under new coach Kirby Smart, Georgia was in a precarious position. Most of the Bulldogs' recruits had committed when Mark Richt was still in charge, but Smart was able to hang onto the ‘Dogs talented class and add to it when Mecole Hardman, considered the best “athlete” in the country, chose Georgia.

It’s not much of an upset, but Joshua and Jaquan Bailey, defensive linemen and twins who played at Raines, announced that they’ll be going to Iowa State together. There was some talk that they’d split with Jaquan going to the Gators or Virginia Tech, but they’ll stay together in college.  

The Vikings' Rick Wells committed to Florida last year and stuck to it, signing with the Gators. And Solomon Kindley is headed to Georgia where he planned to go all along. 

Fourteen different student athletes signed letters of intent from Raines during the Vikings' morning announcement.

Receiver Rick Wells had been a strong Gator commit until last week when he took visits to USF and Virginia Tech. But in the end he said it was the coaches at Florida who were the difference. 

"I've been with them for a year so I know them personally, off the field, you know. And Florida, there's nothing like it," he said.

It was no coincidence that Georgia commit Solomon Kindley was sitting right next to Wells, the Gator. 

"He's my boy," said Kindley. "But he's a Gator now and I'm a Bulldog. I wish him nothing but the best."

Of the 14 Raines signings, 13 were for football. No. 14, Chase Killette, signed with FAMU to play golf.  He is the first ever Viking to receive a golf scholarship.

A new twist this year during the signings had cakes replacing hats on the table. Putting multiple hats on the table became part of the show for top recruits who were waiting to make their decision known on Signing Day, but this year it seemed everywhere we went, there were multiple cakes in school colors just waiting to be selected.

 

9:15 a.m.

Colleges and universities know it’s a big day for their “commits,” so welcoming new additions to the program takes on a festive atmosphere, and lately social media is allowing schools to ramp up their tech game. 

Alabama had a special digital Twitter board announcing new recruits as “Offered, Committed, Signed.” 

Indiana’s announcement that Khalil Bryant, a defensive back from First Coast, had signed with the Hoosiers included a couple of plays from his senior year with the Bucs on their Twitter announcement.