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SIGNING DAY FOOTBALL ROUNDUP: Lions sign largest class

SUWANEE -- Susan Price's normal job in the Peachtree Ridge athletic department keeps her plenty busy, though Wednesday's National Signing Day added to her duties.

She had the important job of getting the Lions' national letters of intent faxed to colleges around the country, and the school's fax machine was busier than it had ever been on signing day, with 12 seniors making their destinations official Wednesday.

"I'm glad I played some small part of it," joked Price, who works with athletic director Bill Holleman. "When I watch them on TV, I can say it never would have happened if I didn't get their fax out."

Peachtree Ridge's 12 football signees were the most in school history, in addition to giving longtime head coach Bill Ballard his most college-bound seniors ever. He had 13 one season at Tucker, but that included post-signing day athletes.

Ballard said he expects four more seniors to sign in the next few weeks, pushing that number to 16.

"These guys represent over $3 million in scholarship opportunities this year," Ballard said. "That's pretty special."

Ohio State signee Brad Roby highlighted the Lions' class, along with Air Force-bound wideout Willie Udofia and Indiana-bound cornerback Brian Williams.

Other seniors signing Wednesday were Brandon Stanley (Eastern Kentucky), Jordan Boatright (Samford), Trevor McBurnett (Georgia Southern), Stephen Atwater (Georgetown), Nick Lombardo (Washington and Lee), Eric Mitchell (North Greenville), A.J. McDonald (Appalachian State), Eric Odonkor (Georgia State) and Juan Burnett (Elon).

Ballard said Michael Olushuga, who visited Rhodes College this past weekend, and Austin Louchart, who visited Shorter College on Wednesday, also are expected to make college decisions soon. They will join Chris Sawdey and Nasir Moore, who are both considering their options. Sawdey is hopeful of playing at Army, while Moore is checking out junior college programs.

"It's great to know all our hard work paid off, everything we've been working for since freshman year," Roby said. "Our dreams are coming true. I'm as happy for all my friends as I am for me."

-- Will Hammock

Curry, Houston make it back for signing day

BUFORD -- Jessel Curry and Kolton Houston graduated from Buford last semester, but the duo made sure to return to their alma mater for National Signing Day.

Curry drove from Auburn last night and was up until 1 a.m. studying for a test today. Houston made the short drive from Athens Wednesday morning after having a 5:45 a.m. workout with Georgia.

"Buford gave me everything I have here, so I needed to come back and celebrate with them," Houston said.

The duo were part of a nine-player signing class on Wednesday in the school's gym. The signing ceremony also served as a celebration for the Wolves, who won their third straight Class AA state championship.

"I'm so excited. Nine of these guys are going to have a chance to go somewhere we feel like it's a great fit for them academically and at the end of the day they are going to get their college paid for," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "As a coach, you can't be more proud of anything than that."

Curry and Houston were joined by Du'Von Millsap, who signed with South Carolina, as the Wolves' three signees to SEC schools.

Mitchell De-Walt (North Greenville), Jerome Davis (Kent State), Andrew Swope (Hutchinson Community College), Shaun Artz (South Alabama), Tyshawn Holley (Albany State) and A.J. Cunningham (Albany State) also signed.

Holley expected to be going to Albany State by himself before Cunningham surprised him by picking the Rams Wednesday morning.

"I was pretty scared when I was going by myself," Holley said. "Now I've got somebody I can hang with."

Record-setting wide receiver Sherman Page is mulling offers from several schools and is expected to sign next week.

-- Brandon Brigman

Wright becomes first Mountain View signee

LAWRENCEVILLE -- William Wright was part of building a program from scratch in high school. Now he'll try to revamp one in college.

The Mountain View offensive lineman signed with West Georgia on Wednesday, becoming the first signee for the first-year school. He'll play in Carrollton for the Wolves, who won just one game last season.

"They are headed in the right direction," Wright said. "They are in a rebuilding phase, but you know I want to be a part of program that's going to be on the rise."

The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Wright moved from Florida in August. Before transferring, he was drawing recruiting interest from Florida Atlantic, Ohio and Bethune-Cookman. Wright came in right away and made an impact for the Bears, helping the team to a 9-1 record, including 4-0 in varsity games.

"It's exciting as you're building a program, starting a program, there's so many different milestones and this is one of them. First signing day and we've got a guy signing," Mountain View head coach Tim Hardy said. "He's a difference-maker on both sides of the ball on the offense and defensive line."

-- Brandon Brigman

Choice appealing for Lombardo

SUWANEE -- Washington and Lee was the perfect fit for Peachtree Ridge quarterback Nick Lombardo, and not just because the football team runs the same offense as his high school team.

The Lexington, Va., school also has offered Lombardo a chance to play on its successful lacrosse team. But most importantly, the prestigious school offered a great academic opportunity for the senior, who maintains a 3.96 GPA and plans to major in engineering and physics.

Founded in 1749, the private school is considered one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges.

"I loved the campus and I loved the good student-to-teacher ratio (9 to 1)," said Lombardo, who also considered Rhodes College and Harvard. "It's a Division III school so I have a shot of playing early on. And for me, I'm not going to go to the NFL, academics comes first."

-- Will Hammock

Wildcat pride

DULUTH -- For one signee headed to a small East Coast school, the spectacle at Duluth seemed overdone.

There are other players going to BCS and other big-name schools who don't get the reception afforded Hamilton Garner.

But where didn't matter. Star ratings weren't important. All that mattered was in the cheers and on the face of Garner as he signed in letter of intent to attend and play football for Columbia.

That's how Duluth does it.

Flanked by his parents, Mary and Jack, and sitting on the stage in front of a half-full auditorium, Garner signed his letter and the applause erupted.

On top of the football team attending, Garner had 50 passes to give to his friends and he ran out before midday.

"It was great," Garner said. "We have fantastic guys and great fans. Everyone supports you no matter what you do."

Coming off a one-win season, the Garner signing seemed symbolic of the tight end's attitude. Ivy League schools don't just chase talented athletes.

"It's perseverance and hard work," said Garner, who picked Columbia over Brown after a January visit to the New York campus. "I knew what I wanted to do. The teachers here pushed me so hard and the coaches pushed me."

-- Ben Beitzel

Longtime Devil

NORCROSS -- Norcross head football coach Keith Maloof teared up when talking about only one of his senior signees, Max Garcia. It was understandable, given how long he's known the big offensive lineman.

Garcia is the only Norcross senior to play his entire football career in a Blue Devils uniform, dating back to his youth leagues as a 6- and 7-year-old. Maloof recently found all photos of Garcia as an elementary-schooler at one of the coach's summer camps.

"I guess it doesn't happen often (in an ever-changing Norcross community)," Garcia said of his career in blue. "A couple of years ago, (Kevin) Abercrombie did it and James Simien. They stuck it out here and I thought that was cool. That's what I wanted to do, too."

Garcia will have to change his colors for college. He donned the red and black Wednesday to celebrate his signing with Maryland.

"Maryland had the right mixture of everything I wanted, academically and athletically," he said.

-- Will Hammock

Patience pays off for Shiloh's Freeman

SNELLVILLE -- Bobby Freeman's hopes of playing college football almost never materialized.

The Shiloh offensive lineman had the grades and the skill set to play at the next level, but never really attracted recruiting interest.

He almost gave up on football before Davidson College, a private school in North Carolina, showed interest in him two weeks ago.

After visiting the school and getting accepted last week, his hopes of playing college football came to fruition on Wednesday.

"It was real frustrating. It was a tough decision because I got into UGA and a couple of other places and I had some other options," Freeman said. "So I had to decide if I wanted to play football or not. When I found out I got in, it was just a huge relief."

Freeman was one of five Shiloh players to sign on Wednesday, joining Eugene Glenn (Air Force), Lawrence Massey (Morehead State), Nicholas Bingham (Rochester) and Devonta Bowens (Louisburg Community College).

"This is the biggest day for me," Shiloh head coach Keith Wilkes. "From all the state championships to this, I always remember this."

In his two seasons as Shiloh's head coach, Wilkes has had 11 players sign on National Signing Day. From 2000-08, Shiloh only had eight total players sign.

Wilkes said he plans to have five more players sign in the next few weeks.

-- Brandon Brigman

Big cake for a big boy

SUWANEE -- Assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for North Gwinnett Maurice Dixon joked Wednesday that offensive lineman Austin Shepherd liked to flirt with 300 pounds.

Along with towering over his fellow eight college signees during North Gwinnett's signing day ceremony, the Alabama commitment sported the largest and most elaborate cake.

Every player in attendance had their own cake with their new school's logo on it, but Shepherd's was the only one with a second level. The white cake, trimmed in Crimson, lay square with a round layer on top with the Alabama logo scripted on it.

And it came with Crimson Tide forks, napkins and a tablecloth.

Winning the national title never seemed so tasty.

-- Ben Beitzel

Big smiles

SUWANEE -- The Shepherd signing, while commanding the most attention in the room, combined with James' commitment to another SEC school stole every North Gwinnett recruiting story.

But during Wednesday's ceremony, no smiles were larger than the ones on the faces of the seven other Bulldogs headed to play football on college scholarships.

"They all have different abilities but all were able to find a place to match their abilities," North head coach Bob Sphire said. "It's neat to see guys play in the Southeastern Conference, but at the same time you don't have to be an SEC player to enjoy the college experience and enjoy playing football."

The other North players signing were Justin Dickens, (Mercy Hurst, Pa.), Cordero Dixon (Buffalo), Jon Gibson-Green (Carson-Newman, Tenn.), Cody Gower (Quincy College, Ill.), Ayo Ojolola (Murray State, Ky.), David Park (Pennsylvania) and Trey Sims (South Alabama). They all had their own balloons, their own cameras, their own letters of intent and their own moments to speak.

"It's a very big day," Dickens said. "Especially starting from nothing and working my way up."

Signing his letter was the perfect end to his North career for Gower.

"It's a great day," he said. "It puts a close on the season, but it opens new doors.

"It's all about going on and still being able to play ball and getting an education so I can achieve something in life."

-- Ben Beitzel

Hey, Jon! You are.

SUWANEE -- Following North Gwinnett's signing ceremony all eight players sat in their seats and signed autographs on poster and individual cards for parent, fans and coaches.

The signing went on for nearly 20 minutes with a large crowd pushing to the front at first and then lining up across the common area.

"It's like we are college football players," Carson-Newman signee Jon Gibson-Green said.

Well, that is what Wednesday was all about.

The players had to hold a few minutes on their cake and some even needed breaks to stretch out their hands, but no one moved until every person got what they wanted.

"This is a new experience," Justin Dickens said. "This is the biggest (crowd)."

-- Ben Beitzel