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National Signing Day: Eastside linemen end long recruiting journey with satisfying results
Eastside's Spurgeon Gaither, left, and LaMarius Benson are all smiles after signing letters of intent to play college football on National Signing Day. - photo by Tyler Williams

COVINGTON, Ga. — Although the 2018 National Signing Day was a simple one for Eastside High School — only two Eagles signed letters of intent to play college football —  it was still a day that was a culmination of drama, triumph, and closure to the recruiting process, as LaMarius Benson and Spurgeon Gaither signed with UCF and Charleston Southern respectively. 

“I’m really excited for both of them,” head coach Troy Hoff said. “They were both cornerstones of our program for a long time, and I couldn’t be happier for them and their families. The process is long and it weighs heavy on them, but at the end of the day, they are both at a spot where they felt comfortable and they’re excited to go play.”

They weren’t part of Eastside’s flashy set of skill position players, but both Gaither and Benson boast game-changer mentalities that allowed them to shine on the gridiron on both sides of the line. 

Now, they will continue to the next level, both hoping to keep those aggressive attributes they highlighted during their time as Eagles.  

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Charleston Southern was the best fit for me. They showed me love, and I connected with the players and coaches, so hopefully it turns out good.”

The long process that Hoff mentioned took its toll on both linemen, each in a unique way.

Gaither described his recruiting journey as a long, but short adventure at the same time. He noted that his high school years flew by, and that he appreciated his time at Eastside citing the coaches as the reason he is the player he is today. 

The weight of the journey was apparent in the way he choked up at the table when he began thanking God and his family for getting him to this point while hoping that he left his mark on the Eagles that succeed him in the future. 

“You want to win,” he said. “Just train hard, play hard, and do everything you can to win.” 

It’s a mindset that he looks to take with him to the Buccaneers squad to establish his future there as an impact player. 

“Hopefully it’s a good one,” he said. “I just want to get my education and play football.”

The entire recruiting process was different for Benson, however. Although he remained committed to South Carolina for almost an entire year, he found himself flipping to UCF just a week before signing on the dotted line to continue his football career there.

“When I first got to UCF, I didn’t know anyone,” he said. “Then I got to talk to the coaches, and I began to feel wanted there. Everything just felt natural.”

The Knights’ football program has been a major topic of discussion in the college football world in the last few months. After posting a perfect 13-0 record and winning their fourth conference title in eight seasons, many felt they were snubbed out of the four-team College Football Playoff system and the committee that filled the brackets, leading to them claiming themselves as the national champions. 

But despite that success, Benson made it clear that he would have signed with UCF regardless of the state of their program. 

“Even if they had a losing record, I would still help to rebuild the program,” he said. “I like the rebuilding process.”

Like Gaither, Benson also paused with emotion at the table as he thanked everyone for getting him to that point. 

“Everything changed when I moved to the offensive line from the defensive line in my 11th grade year,” he said. “It was a big adjustment for me.”

The way that Hoff witnessed the journey for both players can only be described as one that comes full circle for both. 

“There was a lot of hard work,” Hoff said. “There was a lot that went on behind the scenes because it’s more than just showing up on game day. I think also the emotional part is that it is such a long journey to get to this point and there are so many people involved from their families and their teammates. They are going to the next chapter of their lives. They are both humble kids who work hard, so I’m really looking forward to their opportunities.”

As far as Benson and Gaither’s now-opposite paths coming full circle, Hoff noted that each had a hand in each other’s success. Whether they lined up on the same side, or opposite sides of the ball, he agreed that they have set the new standard for those positions. 

The four-year legacy Gaither and Benson leave at Eastside is one that Hoff hopes to see bring future athletes to that same signing table in the years to come.

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“I think they brought that legacy of going to work everyday and setting a higher standard of how you carry yourself on and off the field,” he said. They set a great standard for our kids. We are fortunate enough to have a long list of those guys that still show up around here, and they both fit in with that group.”