The NCAA may have created an extra window of opportunity for football signings in December, but that didn’t make the first Wednesday in February any less busy.
All over Central Texas, athletes from a variety of sports – including football – made their decisions official. They scrawled their signatures on letters, posed for pictures, and reveled in the head-spinning euphoria that culminated with the realization of a dream.
At Midway High School, the athletic department celebrated 18 athletes moving on to the next level in six sports. That included eight football players from the Panthers’ 15-1 state finalist team, which head coach Jeff Hulme believed to be a program record for signees.
Four of those players inked with Division I schools back in December – quarterback Tanner Mordecai (Oklahoma), defensive tackle Jaxon Player (Tulsa), offensive lineman Hakeem White (Texas Tech) and offensive lineman Kaitori Leveston (Kansas State). That quartet still participated in Wednesday’s ceremony at the Midway auditorium, as Midway athletic director Brad Shelton called the February gathering the school’s “showcase” event.
One of the holdouts who didn’t sign in December was tight end David Priebe. That ultimately proved to be a sage decision, as Priebe opted to switch his original commitment from SMU and sign with UCLA of the Pac-12 instead.
“I knew that no matter where I went, however the visit went, I knew I had somewhere to be (in SMU),” Priebe said. “Going into the visit (to UCLA), I just fell in love with the campus and the coaching staff, and I really kind of felt in sync with Chip Kelly and the new guys. I sat down and evaluated both schools, and I felt that UCLA was best for me.”
Los Angeles and Dallas are vastly different cities. When Priebe made his visit to UCLA, it was the first time he’d set foot in the state of California.
But he figures he’ll adjust.
“Regardless of where I would have been at, I wouldn’t have been able to be at home,” Priebe said. “So college was still going to be college. But I felt comfortable being out there.”
The other Midway football players who locked down scholarships on Wednesday were defensive end Jordan Jacobs, who signed with Kilgore College, offensive lineman Daizion Carroll, who is headed to North Texas, and receiver C.J. Williams, who will play for Trinity Valley. Jacobs is the younger brother of Baylor defensive end Jamie Jacobs.
Williams set a variety of records as a senior, including breaking Midway’s single-season touchdown catch record with 23 and setting a state championship single-game record with 14 catches for 195 yards against Cy-Fair. Williams was hoping to land an FBS offer, but that never came.
“Instead, C.J. will go to Trinity Valley for two years and he’ll do great there, and then go somewhere really big,” Midway coach Jeff Hulme said.
Midway’s ceremony also highlighted two signees each from the girls’ soccer, boys’ golf, volleyball, softball and baseball teams.
“Excellent group. As always, it’s a community event,” Shelton said. “It goes for these parents, raising them up from Woodway Family (Center) to YMCA to HOT Soccer, all the way to here. I’ve got a little one, and we’re seeing it, we’re living it. It’s exciting, the culmination of this for these kids and these families. I’m very proud.”
McGregor teammates enjoy festivities
In McGregor, dozens of students filled the cafeteria to cheer on a trio of football seniors one last time. Defensive back Johnathan Phenix will play his college ball at Houston, defensive back Michael Irons is headed to the Ivy League and Cornell University and kicker Joanly Martinez signed with Tarleton State University in Stephenville.
Irons, who scored 32 points in a McGregor basketball win over Marlin on Tuesday night before signing his football letter-of-intent on Wednesday, said he has been dreaming of being a college athlete as long as he could remember.
“I always used to get in the (video) games and I’d create me a player and say, ‘This is going to be me one day in college,’” Irons said. “Once I got up to junior high and high school, every night I used to worry myself about it and would pray for it a lot. But it came, and I’m super happy for it. I’m glad the coaches were on my back every day, making me work out and things like that.”
Martinez was a multi-time Super Centex performer who scored 44 points as a senior kicker/punter for the Bulldogs. He had to hustle to land a scholarship offer, but it came after a visit last weekend to Tarleton State.
“I told myself I’d have to work for it, have a good work ethic,” Martinez said. “I’ve been out there almost every day, lifting weights, kicking, running, doing bleachers. I’m just happy it all paid off.”
Phenix signed with Major Applewhite’s Houston Cougars in December, but delayed any type of signing day party so that he could celebrate with his teammates.
“I love my teammates, Michael and Joanly,” said Phenix, who split time for the Bulldogs at running back and as a shut-down corner. “They’ve been here throughout with me, and that’s the main reason I wanted to do this again with them.”
China Spring’s Mathis earns his wings
Mark Bell said it perfectly. Brayden Mathis just “smashed it.” With Mathis in front of Bell, seated in between his parents, the China Spring head football coach laid out the stats of Mathis’s Cougar football career.
As a sophomore, Mathis racked up a school-record 172 tackles, followed by 134 tackles as a junior and then 143 tackles this past season as a senior. That totals 449 tackles in his career, which broke the former China Spring record by 72 tackles.
Bell is right, he smashed it.
And now, Mathis is headed to the Air Force Academy. With his family behind him and friends in front of him, the China Spring senior couldn’t be more excited.
“I feel like I’ve worked hard for it,” Mathis said. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to play college football.”
A big reason why Mathis chose Air Force is the security it brings post graduation. His grandfather was in the Army, while his brother is currently in the Coast Guard.
“I’m not going to be able to play football forever,” Mathis said. “To have a job coming out of college, second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, I’m very excited.”
Pirate trio college-bound
It’s unexplainable, Jamal Williams said.
The La Vega senior couldn’t put into words what it was like playing quarterback under his father, former head coach and still athletic director Willie Williams.
“We had some great moments.” Jamal said. “I was able to do something that my older brother (Vincent) couldn’t do, which is win a state championship.”
Another great moment for the Williams family came Wednesday morning inside the La Vega High School auditorium as Jamal signed his National Letter of Intent to play football for Mary Hardin-Baylor.
On Williams’ right and left were Michael Fletcher and Isaiah Terrell, who signed to play at Navarro College and Texas A&M-Commerce, respectively.
“Today means a lot,” Fletcher said. “My coaches, my family, everybody who pushed me to actually get to this point, I just thank them all.”
Terrell said he was so excited he barely slept the night before. He figured he finally fell asleep around 4 a.m. and woke up around 6 a.m. Shorty after 10 a.m., he was officially on his way to playing football at A&M-Commerce.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Terrell said. “It’s another opportunity for me to showcase my talent and chase that degree as well as a national championship.
Five Lions ink college commitments
Terrance Hamilton couldn’t thank Marty Herbst enough. With four of his teammates around him on National Signing Day inside the Waco High gym, Hamilton, the University of Texas Permian Basin signee, knew he was going to miss the Lions head football coach.
“Coach Herbst, keep strong,” Hamilton said, before a grin spread across his face. “I’m going to come back just to mess with you.”
Joining Hamilton Wednesday morning were Trae Cherry, who signed with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Michael Stimpson, who is headed to UMHB, David Vaughn, who is bound for McMurry University, and Nakeveyon Vincent, who signed with Navarro College.
Hamilton, who finished his Waco High football career just shy of 3,000 rushing yards in addition to 37 touchdowns, couldn’t remember a time when he didn’t want to play football in college.
“I’ve always been wanting to go to college,” Hamilton said. “This is just really like a dream to me.”
For Vincent, signing with Navarro meant a lot. It’s something he has worked for since his freshman year at Waco High.
“Last year watching my brothers sign to college made me think that I really wanted to do this,” Vincent said. “I am honored today just to sign and go to a college of my choosing and play football at the next level. I want to thank God. I’m very blessed.”