(WRCB) - Dozens of Chattanooga-area athletes made their college choice official Wednesday when they signed national letters of intent as part of the NCAA's annual National Signing Day.
Calhoun headlined the local contingent with a school-record nine player signing scholarship papers, headlined by all-American placekicker and University of Alabama signee Adam Griffith.
"I never dreamed of getting letters from big schools like that when I came here and started kicking in eighth grade," said Griffith, who grew up in an orphanage in Poland. "When I first saw them and first started getting phone calls, it was just so exciting. It made me work even harder.
"Now they told me when I go down there if I just do what I do, I may have a chance to start, so I'm really looking forward to it."
Linebacker Alex Kirby stayed close to home by signing with Chattanooga. Calhoun coaches described the 6-foot, all-state defender as "the biggest steal of this senior class."
"I really didn't have a lot of schools looking at me because of my height, but Chattanooga stuck with me the whole way," Kirby said. "Just knowing they're really young and will progress even more as they go along, that really got me interested.
"I also was able to develop a great relationship with their coaches, and the facilities are very nice."
Five Yellow Jackets signed with West Georgia, which happens to be Calhoun coach Hal Lamb's alma mater. Defensive end Reed Allen and long snapper Trent Frix both signed to play at the Air Force Academy, giving Calhoun four Division I recruits.
"Both my granddads served, one in the Army and one in the Air Force," said Allen, who committed to the Falcons a year ago. "They've been a big impact in my life, and just to see the men they've become, I know I want to be like that.
"I know it will be tough, but I'm really excited about it and I'm ready to serve my country."
Bradley Central's James Stovall continued the area's military theme by signing with the Naval Academy. The all-state wideout originally committed to UTC, but reconsidered once Navy finally offered in early January.
"I knew it was for me. Once they offered me, I knew it was where I wanted to go," said Stovall, who signed alongside Bradley Central teammates and Tusculum recruits Justin Houston and Patrick Benson. "My mom and dad helped me make the decision, and with them having a military background it really influenced me to follow that path.
"When you look at all the opportunities it will give me, I just thought there was no way I could pass it up."
In all, four of the Chattanooga area's seven Football Bowl Subdivision signees chose to continue their careers at service academies. Chattooga's Luke Brantley also signed with Air Force.
Behind Calhoun's nine-player haul, Ooltewah's six-player celebration was the next largest local class from one school. The Owls had three players sign FCS scholarship offers: Mikhail Creech (Austin Peay), T.J. Warren (Furman) and Jay Rudwall (Tennessee Tech), and three more (Matt Sealor, James Stone, Drew Manning) accept offers from Carson-Newman.
"Growing up I always wanted to play college football, but at times I thought I didn't have the talent," Warren said. "I just kept working hard, kept practicing and never gave up. It certainly paid off today."
Warren joined McCallie offensive lineman Tye Youngblood in turning down an offer from the hometown Mocs to sign with an opposing Southern Conference program. Youngblood inked a letter of intent for Wofford.
Red Bank defensive end Keionta Davis offered up signing day's standout moment to start the day.
Once a highly-sought recruit, Davis missed his entire senior season with a knee injury. The offers and interest dried up outside of contact with nearby UTC, and Davis couldn't hide his emotions Wednesday when accepting an offer from the Mocs.
"It was so hard not playing and having to watch my team this last year. I'm just ready to go out there and play to the best of my abilities for UTC," Davis said while holding back tears. "This has been a really long time coming. I'm just so happy... that I finally get to play in college."
While Davis is getting a second chance, Signal Mountain running back Tim McClendon is excited about a fresh start. After being declared ineligible by the TSSAA in a ruling that left the defending state champion Eagles out of the postseason, McClendon signed scholarship papers to play junior college ball at the College of the Sequoias in California.
"This is a huge reward moment for me. Right now I feel like my heart's about to bust open because I'm so happy about everything," said McClendon, who signed alongside his Signal Mountain teammate and Tusculum recruit Zack Bowman. "I'm not worrying about the past anymore. I'm focused on the future.
"I'm going to get out there, do some work, hopefully get good grades and find a way to play Division I football down the road. That's my dream."
The biggest names of the day were Cleveland all-American Chad Voytik and Baylor all-state lineman Barrett Gouger. Both followed through on long-time commitments to sign with BCS-conference programs in Vandy and Pittsburg.
"It wasn't really Vanderbilt from the start, but when I took my visits I liked it a lot more," said Gouger, a three-star recruit. "I obviously like the education, and they're really starting to build something there. I wanted to be a part of that."
Voytik signed with Pitt despite the Panthers' recent coaching change.
"It wasn't the coaching staff that was the reason I went there. It played a part, but I wanted to follow through on my commitment," the four-star recruit said. "They had everything I wanted academically and athletically, so it was always an easy decision."
-- Below is a full list of local signees, as well as the signing classes finalized at Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn and Chattanooga on Wednesday evening.
Barrett Gouger, Baylor, OL, signed with Vanderbilt
Keionta Davis, Red Bank, DE, signed with UTC
Deres Benn, WR, Red Bank, signed with Tusculum
Alex Kirby, Calhoun, LB, signed with UTC
Chase Rierson, Calhoun, WR, signed with West Georgia
Gabe Freeman, Calhoun, DL, signed with West Georgia
Ben Lamb, Calhoun, WR, signed with West Georgia
Hunter Knight, Calhoun, WR, signed with West Georgia
Tyler King, Calhoun, signed with West Georgia
Trent Frix, Calhoun, C, signed with Air Force
Reed Allen, Calhoun, DE, signed with Air Force
Adam Griffith, Calhoun, K, signed with Alabama
Chad Voytick, Cleveland, QB, signed with Pittsburgh
James Stovall, Bradley Central , WR, signed with Navy
Justin Houston, Bradley Central, RB, signed with Tusculum
Patrick Benson, Bradley Central, OL, signed with Tusculum
Tye Youngblood, McCallie, DL, signed with Wofford
TJ Warren , Ooltewah, OLB, signed with Furman
Mikhail Creech, Ooltewah, WR, signed with Austin Peay
Jay Rudwall, Ooltewah, MLB, signed with Tennessee Tech
Matt Sealor, Ooltewah, WR, signed with Carson Newman
Drew Manning, Ooltewah, ILB, signed with Carson Newman
James Stone, Ooltewah, TE, signed with Carson Newman
Justin Houston, Bradley Central, RB, signed with Tusculum
Patrick Benson, Bradley Central, OL, signed with Tusculum
Zack Bowman, Signal Mountain, MLB, signed with Tusculum
Tim McClendon, Signal Mountain, RB/LB, signed with College of the Sequoias
Trevor Guthrie, McMinn County, LB, signed with Campbellsville State
Mark Fairbanks, Ringgold, WR, signed with Mercer
Shaun Anderson, Ringgold, RB/LB, signed with Reinhardt
Dezmond Harris, Ringgold, signed with Tusculum
Dakota Ball, Pepperell, OL, signed with Alabama
Gavin Lawrence, Darlington, OL, signed with West Georgia
Trevor Flannigan, Trion, OL, signed with Georgia State
Matt Chastain, Gordon Central, signed with Mercer
Noah Henson, Sonoraville, signed with Shorter
CJ Bell, Gordon Centrall, signed with Tusculum
Justin Adekoya, Heritage, signed with Eastern Kentucky
Michael Pilcher, Heritage, signed with Point University
Billy Johnson, Heritage, signed with Point University
David Page, Dade County, ATH, signed with Georgia Southern
Kahne Cooper, North Jackson, DB, signed with Faulkner
Luke Brantley, Chattooga, Air Force
Drew Chambers, Signal Mountain, OL, will sign with University of the Cumberlands on Friday
CHATTANOOGA RECRUITS: (15)
D'Eddric Williams, Tuscaloosa (AL), DE – early enrollee
Vantrell McMillan, Monroe (GA), DE
Corey Levin, Dacula (GA), OL
Tolerance Shepherd, Fitzgerald (GA), RB
Kevin Niethammer, Maryville (TN), TE
Robert Hill, Buford (GA), OL
Keionta Davis, Red Bank (TN), DE
Will Johnson, Alpharetta (GA), DB
Cedric Nettles, Jonesboro (GA), DB
CJ Boards, Clarksville (TN), WR
Al Thompson, Nashville (TN), WR
Jarvis "Dee" Virgin, Donalsonville (GA), DB
Nakevion Leslie, Powder Springs (GA), DB
Tray James, College Park (GA), WR
Alex Kirby, Calhoun (GA), LB
TENNESSEE RECRUITS: (21)
Cody Blank, Knoxville, ATH
Deion Bonner, Columbus (GA), DB
Davonte Bourque, Crowley (LA), RB
Drae Bowles, Jackson (TN), WR
George Bullock, Knoxville, K
Jason Croom, Norcross (GA), WR
Daniel Gray, Lauderdale Lakes (FL), DB
Alden Hill, Alliance (OH), RB
Alton "Pig" Howard, Orlando (FL), WR
Justin King, Dunwood (GA), LB
LaTroy Lewis, Akron (OH), LB
Daniel McCullers, Raleigh (NC), DL
LaDarrell McNeil, Dallas (TX), DB
Justin Meredith, Anderson (SC), TE
Danny O'Brien, Flint (MI), DL
Cordarelle Patterson, JUCO, WR
Nathan Peterman, Fruit Cove (FL), QB
Darrington Sentimore, Norco (LA), DL
Trent Taylor, Lakeland (FL), DL
Tino Thomas, Memphis, DB
Queshaun Watson, Athens (GA), RB
GEORGIA RECRUITS: (18)
John Atkins, Thomson (GA), DT
Collin Barber, Cartersville (GA), P
Faton Bauta, West Palm Beach (FL), QB
Mark Beard, Adamsville (AL), OG
Josh Dawson, Tucker (GA), LB
Sheldon Dawson, Memphis (TN), ATH
James DeLoach, Millen (GA), LB
Leonard Floyd, Eastman (GA), DE
Todd Gurley, Tarboro (NC), RB
Quayvon Hicks, Blackshear (GA) , RB
Jordan Jenkins, Hamilton (GA), DE
Keith Marshall, Raleigh (NC), RB
Marshall Morgan, Ft. Lauderdale (FL), PK
Greg Pyke, Baltimore (MD), OT
Ty Flournoy-Smith, Moultrie (GA), TE
Jonathan Taylor, Millen (GA), DL
John Theus, Jacksonville (FL), OL
Blake Tibbs, Lithonia (GA), WR
ALABAMA RECRUITS: (25)
Ryan Anderson, Daphne (AL), LB
Deion Belue, Tuscambia (AL), DB
Chris Black, Jacksonville (FL), WR
Amari Cooper, Miami (FL), WR
Travell Dixon, Miami (FL), DB
Dillon Lee, Buford (GA), LB
Alphonse Taylor, Mobile (AL), DL
TJ Yeldon, Daphne (AL), RB
Alec Morris, Allen High, QB
Geno Smith, Atlanta (GA), DB
Korren Kirven, Lynchburg (VA), DL
Eddie Williams, Panama City Beach (FL), WR
Dakota Ball, Lindale (GA), DL
Kenyan Drake, Powder Springs (GA), RB
Denzel Devall, Bastrop (LA), LB
Reggie Ragland, Madison (AL), LB
Caleb Gulledge, Prattville (AL), OL
Tyler Hayes, Thomasville (AL), LB
Kurt Freitag, Buford (GA), TE
Brandon Hill, St. George's (TN), OL
Adam Griffith, Calhoun (GA), PK
Dalvin Tomlinson, Henry County (GA) DL
Darren Lake, Sumter County (AL), DL
Cyrus Jones, Gilman High (MD), ATH
Brandon Greene, Cedar Grove (GA), OL
AUBURN RECRUITS (20):
Will Adams, Tyrone (GA), OT
T.J. Davis, Tallahassee (FL), DB
Joshua Holsey, Fairburn (GA), DB
Darrion Hutcherson, Dadeville (AL), TE
Jonathan Jones, Carrolton (GA), DB
Robert Leff, Fairhope (AL), OL
Ricardo Louis, Miami Beach (FL), WR
Cassanova McKinzy, Birmingham (AL), LB
Tyler Nero, Atmore (AL), DT
Ricky Parks, Hogansville (GA), TE
Gimel President, Mt. Pleasant (SC), DE
Jovon Robinson, Memphis (TN), RB
Jonathan Wallace, Phenix City (AL), QB
JaQuay Williams, Tyrone (GA), WR
Avery Young, Palm Beach Gardens (FL), OT
Shane Callahan, Parker (CO), OL
Patrick Miller, West Palm Beach (FL), OL
Javiere Mitchell, Leeds (AL), LB
Zeke Pike, Edgewood (KY), QB
Jay Prosch, Mobile (AL), FB