National signing day ‘23 notebook: UC stars make it official; Tocoi Creek makes history

Tocoi Creek High School celebrated a first ... it's first national signing day. Nine athletes at the program signed on Wednesday. (Justin Barney, News4JAX)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A roundup of signings and notables from Wednesday’s national signing day around the area:

Most of the signing day suspense had long since passed, but there was a bit of surprise on Wednesday.

That came at University Christian, where Desirrio Riles and Orel Gray had yet to announce their college decisions.

Gray was the All-News4JAX offensive player of the year and Riles was a first-team selection. Those two played their entire high school careers together at UC, capping it with a run to the Class 1M state semifinals last season.

Gray signed with Florida A&M, while Riles signed with Indiana. Riles said he picked the Hoosiers over East Carolina and South Florida.

Riles (6-3, 225) saw his role shift throughout high school with UC. He started three seasons at quarterback and played defense when needed. The Christians shook things up in 2022, moving Riles to defense full time and had him play all over the front as a senior. Riles could put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer or stand up and play the edge at outside linebacker.

Gray rushed for a 2,064 yards and 30 touchdowns, both area highs, and picked off four passes, returning two of those for touchdowns. He was the consensus best player in the area.

Along with Gray and Riles, offensive lineman Noah Clark signed with McPherson College.

All-News4JAX football players head where?

With the advent of the early signing period for football in December, most of the Football Bowl Subdivision programs had largely filled out their classes. But several All-News4JAX selections finalized their signing choices on Wednesday.

Middleburg running back TJ Lane (West Florida).

Oakleaf receiver Taylor Bradshaw (Georgia Southern).

UC’s Gray (Florida A&M) and Riles (Indiana).

Palatka defensive back Chavaris Dumas (Western Kentucky).

Bolles defensive back Kavon Miller (Princeton).

Fletcher defensive end Matteo Davis (Albany State).

Jackson athlete Seth Brooks (Clark Atlanta University).

Riverside defensive lineman De’Avary Weeks (Albany State).

Parker athlete Charron Dorsey Jr. (Ferris State University) and linebacker Lashun Mays (Tuskegee University).

Mandarin linebacker Carmello Murphy (Clark Atlanta University).

Bartram Trail two-way lineman Marcos Ramos (River City Prep).

Yulee quarterback Chris Turner and tight end Jye Thompson (both Valdosta State).

Tocoi Creek makes history

The second-year program celebrated a first on Wednesday — a first national signing day.

Tocoi Creek didn’t have a senior class in its first year, so it is making history as it goes.

The Toros had a morning signing ceremony and then an afternoon session to honor nine athletes across seven sports. In the morning celebration, it was Makayla Dolan (St. Leo, swimming), Alexa Duffy (Georgia Southern, volleyball), Tatum McCool (JU, softball), Mia Naughton (Culver-Stockton, lacrosse) and Emma Reed (Shorter, lacrosse) doing the signing honors.

In the afternoon, it was Mia Duncan (USC Aiken) and Sofia Vaughn (Oklahoma) of the district champion girls soccer team, Charles Allsup (Army, track and field) and Caleb Hobbs (Miles College, golf) making things official.

For athletes like Duncan and Vaughn, making the move to Tocoi Creek was a leap of faith. Duncan previously attended Creekside and could have been on the Knights’ state championship team last year. Instead, she made the sacrifice of joining a new program and considers being apart of the Toros legacy something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“Yes, Creekside won a state championship, but I take winning our district championship and being part of this family over that,” Duncan said. “… Something new and it was great. Looking back, it was great and I don’t regret anything.”

Vaughn, who is headed to Sooners country in Norman, Oklahoma, came to Tocoi Creek from Nease, said being in the first signing class with the Toros is helping lay the foundation for the athletes to come.

“It’s amazing. To come back [in the future] and to know that you’re the first graduating class to come back and set a standard so people can look up to it, it’s really cool,” she said.

Massive class at Ponte Vedra

The Sharks had the largest signing day festivities among all area programs, holding a ceremony to honor nearly three dozen signees.

Three of those athletes earned All-News4JAX athletes of the year honors during the school year. Another earned that honor in 2021.

All-News4JAX swimmer of the year Annie Wohlgemuth parlayed an incredible two seasons with the Sharks into a scholarship with Georgia. Wohlgemuth won the 100 backstroke in the Class 3A state meet, as well as swam the lead legs on the 200 medley and 200 free relay teams. Both won state championships.

“Why Georgia? First, I verbally committed to Florida State actually. And so, I after I realized that there was a better program out there for me, I took my visit to Georgia. And then after that, it was kind of like, I stepped on campus, and the team culture was amazing. The environment, I just really felt that I would thrive there and do the best there. The coaches are amazing. The team is amazing. So, after I like experienced the Georgia culture, there was no going back.”

Three-time All-News4JAX volleyball player of the year Zeta Washington will graduate as the most successful athlete in that sport in area history. Washington won back-to-back state championships with the Sharks and is headed to Cincinnati next.

“I’m so excited to be here surrounded by so many awesome coaches and staff and trainers and I’m just I’m excited to go to college,” she said. “I mean, it’s literally everything I could ever want. The coaching staff, the training staff, it’s a top-level volleyball program, and I’m going to play in the Big 12.”

The record-setting boys golf team, which has won six consecutive state championships, was well represented.

Last year’s golfer of the year Carson Brewer was honored for signing with Florida State. And this year’s golfer of the year, Brock Blais, was recognized for signing with UTSA. Those two signed with their respective programs in the early period.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.