Two of Newton County’s three Georgia High School Association schools celebrated Signing Day this past Wednesday when a total of 18 students signed letters of intent to play college football.
Headlining the group this past Wednesday was the signing of Eastside’s three-star cornerback Eric Stokes. Stokes waited until the last moment to make his commitment sure, as he spurned Florida and Ole Miss to select Georgia.
Stokes was one of 26 UGA signees, 18 of which were in-state athletes, and of that number, 15 are considered top 30 in-state prospects, according to 247sports.com. He joins Newton’s Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman in Athens after Holloman signed his LOI in December. He’s already enrolled at UGA.
Two other Newton High athletes will attend Georgia’s other Power Five conference school. Jaquan Henderson, who was a long time Tennessee commitment, confirmed his pledge to Georgia Tech, while 6-foot-6 defensive linemen Josh Tukes accepted a preferred walk-on offer.
Ten of the 18 county signees will be attending schools in Georgia.
The crop of in-state talent that stayed home is particularly encouraging for UGA — a school that had been much maligned for its lack of keeping the state’s best talent in Athens, particularly during the last several years of former coach Mark Richt’s tenure.
In fact, the 15 top 30 recruits who signed with the Bulldogs is the largest number since 2011, and only the second time in the last 15 years that Georgia has signed that many top 30 recruits.
Holloman, the 6-foot-4 wideout and Rams alum, was a consensus 4-star prospect, and was the fourth highest rated prospect overall in a Georgia recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the nation and second in the SEC, behind only Alabama.
These facts caused area coaches and athletes alike to laud the caliber of Newton County’s collective football talent.
“The talent is out here,” said Newton’s Robert Black, IV, an Air Force Academy signee. “We got some dogs out here. There’s a good crop of players here, and it’s starting to show.”
Rams Linebacker Jeremiah Bundrage agreed. Bundrage, the Covington News’ defensive player of the year, is on his way to Wingate next year.
“I always knew we had talent, but now we finally are getting out there here and showing it,” Bundrage said. “Year after year, we have people signing to big time colleges, and I just love it.”
Henderson sees it in places beyond just his own school. The 6-foot-1, 4-star linebacker prospect was seen earlier Wednesday morning at Eastside’s signing ceremony to witness Stokes make his selection and to see Josh Davis, a signee of 2016 FCS National Champion James Madison, confirm his decision.
“I started high school with all those guys,” Henderson said. “And they’re my day ones. I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to show them that they’re my brothers, and that it’s real love, not fake. The way we’re getting on to these schools, it shows everyone around us who underestimates us that we have talent. It says, ‘don’t overlook us because we’ve got ballers down here too.”
Newton coach Terrence Banks says the continuing emergence of college-caliber talent in the county should encourage anyone in Newton County thinking about their future as an athlete.
“When you look at it, now you have two guys in the NFL from Newton and one guy from Eastside,” Banks said. “And you’ve got all these guys signing every year. For a while, every school wasn’t winning and was going through a drought. But the athletes we’re producing now at Eastside and Alcovy as well, you have to start having us in the conversation. At Newton County, you’ve got the same opportunities to get to that next level that you do at Dekalb or Cobb or Gwinnett or anywhere else.”
Alcovy will have its signing day ceremonies on Friday, with several Tigers expected to sign.