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County has record 28 players ink D-I offers

Most high school football players good enough to be offered a college scholarship - especially one from a Division I-A program - are used to being in a class by themselves.

However, that is hardly the case for Gwinnett County's senior class of 2008 as National Signing Day came and went Wednesday.

For the third straight year, a record number of players signed national letters of intent to attend Division I schools - this time, 28 players, which eclipses last year's mark of 23. A majority of those Division I signees signed with BCS conference teams.

In all, 76 players from around the county put their names on the dotted line at Division I, I-AA, II or III schools, easily surpassing last year's impressive total of 58 and cementing Gwinnett's reputation as a football recruiting hotbed.

In addition, three other former Gwinnett high school players - Central Gwinnett's Beau Johnson (Oklahoma State), Brookwood's David Pittman (Minnesota) and Parkview's Julian Whitehead (Ole Miss) had signed with Division I schools last month after attending junior colleges or prep schools.

"There are, what, 18 schools (that played football in 2007) in Gwinnett County?," asked North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire, who had six seniors sign off his Bulldogs team that went 13-2 and finished as Class AAAAA state runner-up, including Division I-A signees Robert Pritchard (Central Florida) and Marquese Quiles (Bowling Green).

"So, you're up to almost two Division I players per team. So, you know every time you step out on the field, you pretty much know you're going to be facing at least one or two Division I prospects. That shows you how good (football) is here."

Perhaps the most decorated senior class among Gwinnett schools came from Buford, which ran the table on its 15-game Class AA schedule for the school's fifth state championship.

The Wolves had nine players sign scholarships Wednesday, five of them - Melvin Harris (Ole Miss), Alex Hunt (Indiana), Demetris Murray (South Florida), Omar Hunter and T.J. Pridemore (both to Florida) - with BCS conference programs.

"We had an idea we'd have quite a few sign somewhere," Buford coach Jess Simpson said. "You just don't know the level and where. This is just an outstanding class."

For Hunter and Pridemore, Wednesday was the culmination of a long process that saw each originally commit to other programs - Hunter to Notre Dame and Pridemore to Georgia Tech - before changing their minds and opting to remain teammates in Urban Meyer's program at Florida.

"Omar and I have always been close," said Pridemore, who led the Wolves and finished seventh in the county with 127 combined tackles as a linebacker this past season. "We've played together since eighth-grade football. ... We talked about going to school together and looked at some different options.

"It's really a special opportunity to have someone like Omar going to Florida with me, and to be part of such a great program is exciting."

Buford was hardly alone in having a highly decorated class, however.

Brookwood had eight signees Wednesday, including Division I-bound players Kenny Miles (South Carolina) Terence Davis (Wake Forest) and Dawson Zimmerman (Clemson), plus the trio of Josh Jackson, A.J. Mackey and Jarrett Mackey, all of whom will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Peachtree Ridge will send at least six players to the next level, including Division I-A signees Derrick Bryant (LSU), Asher Clark (U.S. Air Force Academy), Brandon Davis (Central Florida) and Brandon Sanders (Ole Miss).

Norcross had only four signees Wednesday, but three of them went with Division I-A programs, including the highly sought-after receiving pair of Devonta Bolton (Alabama) and Brice Butler (USC).

While not having as many high-profile signees, Grayson made its mark on signing day with is largest-ever class of 10 signees, including linebacker Tristan Strong to Vanderbilt and a trio of players headed to the Sun Belt Conference - Denzell Guerra to Middle Tennessee State and Rammell Lewis and Quanterius Smith, both to Western Kentucky.

"Our largest class before (Wednesday) was four," Grayson coach Mickey Conn said. "We have two coaches - (running backs coach) Jake Carlisle and (ninth-grade defensive ends and receivers coach) Adrian Williams - who did a great job of getting DVDs of our guys out to coaches and get them seen. It's nice to see that effort pay off. It's a good day for our program."

For all of Wednesday's signees, it was the end of a long process that began as early as two years ago for some.

"I have been waiting for this day to happen since I committed, actually," said Norcross' Butler, who verbally committed to USC last summer.

It was also a natural time for many to look back even further.

"I remember coming up as a freshman and all the seniors would tell us, 'It goes by before you know it,' and they were right," said Pritchard, who signed with George O'Leary's Central Florida program over interest from such schools as Mississippi State, Memphis, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern. "In the car (on the way to a signing day function), a lot of us were talking about stuff that happened all the way back in eighth grade."

But while Wednesday was the end of the process for some, it's not the absolute end of the process.

Conn said at least two more of his Rams either have offers on the table or are still talking with schools about possible scholarship, while Sphire said there could be as many as three or four more Bulldogs who eventually sign.

Meanwhile, a handful of other strong players around the county - like Buford fullback/defensive end Tyler King and quarterback Twoey Hosch - also may still sign.

"That's the beauty of (Wednesday)," Sphire said. "The game's not over by any stretch of the imagination. This is just the first day."

And even for those players who have already signed, Wednesday marked the end of one process, but also the beginning of another.

"I'm glad (the recruiting process) is over," said Grayson's Strong, who carries a 3.5 grade-point average and plans on majoring in pre-med at Vanderbilt. "I'm ready to move on to bigger things."

Staff Writers Ben Beitzel and Brandon Brigman contributed to this report