- By Rick Cassano Staff Writer
Area prep football players took center stage Wednesday afternoon at the 17th Greater Miami Conference Signing Day event.
Hamilton, Fairfield, Middletown, Lakota East and Lakota West athletes and coaches were part of the annual ceremony that’s hosted by Beacon Orthopaedics. It was moved to the Sharonville Convention Center because of construction at Beacon.
“What a great day for families and kids,” said Stu Eversole, the GMC’s associate commissioner, as he addressed the players and crowd. “It’s the midway culmination of all your hard work and everything you’ve done to this point. You’ve put hours and hours in the weight room and the practice fields to get yourself to this point, for this opportunity. And that’s what this is — an opportunity.”
West coach Larry Cox said “the neat part” of this year’s GMC Signing Day was that all 10 schools had commitments.
“I think that’s a tremendous statement about our conference and how many people watch what we do and appreciate it and go there to find their kids,” Cox said. “I remember when I started this 17 years ago. It was an idea I floated out, and it’s just sort of mushroomed and morphed into a really, really big deal. It’s a big day for the kids.”
Some players who signed early weren’t in attendance Wednesday. Fairfield’s Jackson Carman (Clemson) and Malik Vann (Cincinnati) have graduated and are already taking classes at their respective schools.
The only Indian involved in the event was Nahshon Bell, who’s headed for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.
Lakota West had two Division I signees in Xavier Peters (Florida State) and Tyler Bentley (Pittsburgh). Jordan Harris (Wilmington), Chris Johnson (Findlay) and Cedric Thomas (Pikeville) were also on the GMC stage.
Peters, a 6-foot-4, 227-pound outside linebacker who played for former NFL great Deion Sanders last month in the Under Armour All-America Game, decommitted from Kentucky and chose to sign with FSU in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Florida State recently hired head coach Willie Taggart and linebackers coach Raymond Woodie. Both came from Oregon and recruited Peters while they were there.
“Having Deion Sanders as my All-American football coach was great,” Peters said. “Just from him seeing me practice and being a leader, just bringing the energy off and on the field, he was like, ‘Hey Coach Taggart, you’ve got to get this kid Xavier.’ But Coach Woodie had already been telling Coach Taggart about me because of Oregon.
“It’s a blessing just to be (at Florida State) and start my own history. Nobody from Lakota West or Middletown, Ohio, where Cris Carter’s from, has ever went there, so this is a blessing to have this opportunity.”
Peters said he has no plans to redshirt and could play linebacker or defensive end with the Seminoles. He said he couldn’t have imagined playing at that level during his days at Middletown.
“That’s why I’m glad that my mom moved to West Chester so I could have this exposure,” Peters said. “When I first got to West, I used to work out in the weight room, and I could never hit that 315. A few months later, I hit that 315 three times and I’m like, ‘I know West is helping me make progress in a lot of things in achieving my goals, so I’m going to just keep striving with it.’ ”
Asked about his UK decommitment, Peters had this to say:
“My goal is to leave in three years. I already know UK is going to take a little time to get that exposure out to the NFL and a few agents, so that’s why I really thought about it. I talked to my mom, my parents. It’s the best decision for me.”
Said Cox, “I’ve got a different take on this. I’ve had players that had their commitment pulled from them by the school. Josh Chichester … he’s committed to Ohio State, and two weeks before signing it’s, ‘We’re going to go in a different direction.’ He goes to Louisville and it works out well for him.
“When you sign your name, it’s like walking down the aisle. You’ve got to be solid with it. As far as decommitting and all that stuff, all’s fair in love and war until you put ink to the paper. There’s too many ifs, ands or buts now. Even when a kid commits, the rest of the schools are still going to come after him in recruiting.
“The biggest thing is just to tell everybody what’s going on. If you’re going to visit another school, that’s fine. Just let everyone know what your intentions are, and Xavier did a good job with that.”
Six Hamilton athletes will be playing Division II ball, including Gabe Mathews (Malone) and Jason Smith (Notre Dame College). The other four — Quinton Henderson, Maleek Jarrett, Johnny Jones and Dillon Stone — are headed to Urbana.
Why are the Blue Knights so popular with Big Blue football players?
“I really don’t know,” HHS coach Chad Murphy said. “I think it started with Devan Pankey. He started up there I think my first year at Hamilton, and he ended up playing four years. We had four guys in last year’s class go there, and we ended up with four again this year.
“I really believe Coach (Tyler) Haines is doing good things there. I think from Urbana’s standpoint, they’re trying to get into the GMC with recruiting as much as they can. If you’re not going to play Division I football, you might as well go to a conference in Division II that’s going to play great football.”
Murphy said he expects three other Big Blue players to play college ball, though Mark Pratt, Hosea Burnett and Deon Tillery have yet to commit.
“Last year we had eight kids going to college, this year it’s nine. That’s what it’s about,” Murphy said. “This group was special to me. They were a group that I got to see from eighth grade on. We should’ve won more games and we know that, but I think they’ve set the tone for the next group. I feel really good about the classes coming up. They’ve won a lot of games.”
Also headed to Urbana are Middletown’s Keion Williams, Lakota East’s Jeff Garcia and Princeton’s Rafael Floyd.
Williams considered Alderson Broaddus, but the lineman said he had a connection with Haines during the recruiting process.
“I like the coaches. I like the players,” Williams said. “It just feels like home there.”
He said he won’t have any trouble being teammates with guys who have been GMC rivals.
“Me and the Hamilton guys, we get along outside of the field, but on the field, we’re always competitive,” Williams said. “That’s why I feel like we’re going to be real good because we’re going to be competitive in practice.”
Middletown’s Diondre Cooper and Ayron Thompson Jr. will be playing at Mercyhurst. Lakota East’s Sam Ballman and Dylan Fry are going to Morehead State and Olivet Nazarene, respectively.