CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The Tennessee Valley was once again buzzing as college football fans, high school players and coaches celebrated the unofficial holiday known as National Signing Day.
Dozens of local student-athletes are finalizing their college decisions Wednesday, the first day high school football players could sign binding national letters of intent.
Below are some of the highlights of Channel 3's tour through the Chattanooga area, catching up with some of the area's top college prospects.
9am - Gordon Central
Perennial state power Calhoun High is usually the North Georgia school celebrating the largest group of signees, but this year its cross-town rival Gordon Central with the Chattanooga area's largest recruiting haul.
In his final duty as head coach, Chad Fisher watched six Warriors ink college scholarship papers Wednesday morning, including three with Division I schools.
The dynamic offensive duo of quarterback/athlete M.J. Reynolds and receiver/defensive back Tyshaun Clemmons will play on the Football Bowl Subdivision next year after signing with Georgia State. The Panthers are moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision next year and will join the Sun Belt Conference in 2013.
"It's a great atmosphere down there," said Clemmons, whose brother lives near GSU's campus in Atlanta. "There's a lot being done. They're building new things every year, and I'm excited to be a part of it and help start a new tradition."
Defensive end D.J. Prather will stay close to home to play DI ball for Chattanooga. Turns out he'll get to see Reynolds and Clemmons sooner than expected, as GSU hosts UTC in September.
"It was a tough decision for me, especially because I had MTSU and Georgia State come and offer me late," Prather said of signing with the Mocs. "But after I took my official visit a few weeks ago, I knew it's where I wanted to be.
"They have a really good defense, but there's always room for improvement. I'd like to be a part of that over the next couple of years."
Also signing Wednesday at Gordon Central were Larons Winston (Cumberlands), Eric Smith (Lindsey Wilson) and Brandon Paradise (West Georgia Tech Junior College).
10am - Ridgeland
Before Vonn Bell's big announcement, several of his Ridgeland teammates enjoyed their moment in the spotlight on signing day.
After rushing for more than 2,000 yards as a senior, running back Darrell Bridges followed through on a commitment to play on the FCS level at Presbyterian. The power back received recruiting interest from several schools, including UTC, Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee Tech, but the Blue Hose provided him with his lone Division I offer.
"For those team that didn't recruit me, I want to make them hate that they didn't offer me," Bridges said with a smile, noting that many schools wanted to switch him to linebacker. "It's one of those things I'm going to carry around with me until my four years of college are up and keep working to get to the next level."
Offensive lineman Gannon Hampton, who helped pave the way for Bridges' breakout year, also signed to play at Carson-Newman.
Head coach Mark Mariakis expects offensive lineman Grady Matthews, running back Shaqualm McCoy and quarterback Trevor Long to finalize their college decisions in the next few weeks.
10am - Rhea County
Jacob Revis followed in family footsteps when the Rhea County offensive lineman signed his national letter of intent Wednesday to play at Chattanooga.
Revis' older brother, Kevin, originally signed with Tennessee back in 2009, but later transferred to UTC and has been a two-year starter for the Mocs.
"It's a great honor," Revis said. "A lot of people think it's not as good as some other schools, especially big schools, and I've seen plenty of them first-hand and believe this place is better than any of those.
"UTC is just a great school and I can't believe I get the opportunity to play there."
Jacob verbally committed to Chattanooga back in October, turning away offers and interest from Navy, Middle Tennessee State and Jacksonville State.
Rhea County girls' cross country standout Madalyn Garland also signed with UTC, passing up opportunities at Tennessee Tech and ETSU, among others, to stay closer to home.
11am - Bradley Central
Putting pen to paper Wednesday morning was a moment 17 months in the making for Bradley Central's Austin Sanders.
The TSSAA Class AAA Mr. Football Lineman of the Year verbally committed to Tennessee in August of 2011 before his junior season, making him the first pledge of UT's 2013 signing class.
Sanders, a lifelong Vol fan, never wavered from that commitment, providing some stability to a class that saw a lot of addition and subtraction after the firing of Derek Dooley and hiring of Butch Jones.
"It was pure excitement every time I was up there after Coach Jones was hired," Sanders said. "He told me as soon as we met 'Here's what we're going to do. It's not what we're trying to do, it's what we're going to do.'
"After that, I was just sold. I think he's the man and he's going to be great for Tennessee."
12:30pm - Calhoun
It wasn't as crowded as last year's school-record nine college signees, but there was still plenty to celebrate at Calhoun Wednesday morning
The Jackets sent three players to the FBS level following a fifth straight Georgia Class AA state championship game appearance, headlined by quarterback Taylor Lamb.
Lamb, the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, signed to play on the FCS level at Appalachian State. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound signal caller committed to FBS school South Alabama before his senior season, but switched his pledge to the Mountaineers last month.
"The gameday atmosphere there is phenomenal, and the coaches are great. Plus the winning, that was a pretty important part in my decision," Lamb said. "I grew up watching them win national championships, so it's a pretty special place to be."
The other Jackets' signing college papers were receiver Josh Barnes, who signed with the Air Force and tight end Sebastian Willer, who signed with Georgia State.
2pm - South Pittsburg
Demetric "Little Man" Johnson is the latest in a long and storied line of running backs to sign scholarship papers after a standout career at South Pittsburg.
"I didn't really see this part of the process in my dream. In my mind, I always skip right through to the NFL," Johnson said with a laugh.
The TSSAA Class A Mr. Football Back of the Year finalist will play on the FCS level next year after accepting an offer from Murray State, whom he chose over offers and interest from MTSU, UTC, Samford and Tennessee Tech.
"I went back and forth between UTC and Murray State, but the truth is Murray State has been showing me more love for awhile," said Johnson, who plans to study pre-law. "It's a warm feeling when you step on the campus that feels a lot like South Pittsburg, but I'm excited to not be too close to home.
"It ended up making it easy for me to choose them."
Johnson averaged a remarkable 21.5 yards per touch as a senior, racking up more than 2,100 yards of total offense and scoring 36 touchdowns. The speedster also picked off five passes as a defensive back, and may play on that side of the ball in college.
Johnson is the 23rd South Pittsburg player to sign scholarship papers in the last 17 years, a ridiculous number for a tiny town with just more than 3,000 people.
6pm - Baylor
Three days after finding his college of choice, linebacker Colton Jumper finalized his football future by signing scholarship papers with The Naval Academy.
Jumper, who is rated as a two-star prospect by both Rivals.com and 247Sports, recorded 131 tackles as a senior last fall, including 19 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound tackling machine chose Navy over offers from Air Force, Furman and the UTC.
"Navy just had so much to offer, especially post-graduation," said Jumper, whose uncle was a Marine fighter pilot. "Plus it's obviously big-time football playing in the FBS level. The coaches are great, and I think I can really flourish when I get there."
His Baylor teammate Jeffrey Bowens and Landry Taylor will also play on the Division I level next year. Bowens signed with Mercer, who will be a start-up FCS program in the Pioneer Football League, while Taylor signed with fellow PFL program Davidson.
Bryce Reynolds was the fourth Red Raider to sign Wednesday, inking scholarship papers with Maryville.
Below is a full list of local athletes who signed scholarship papers Wednesday. If you know of one we missed, please email sports director Keith Cawley at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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