COVINGTON, Ga. — Chalk up another successful signing day for head coach Terrance Banks and his Newton Rams football program.
Although their top recruit, Darnell Jefferies signed his letter of intent to play football at Clemson about a month prior during the new early signing period, the Rams still managed to see six football players: Melvin Jackson (Baldwin Wallace), Myron Middlebrooks (Jacksonville University), David Butso (Millsaps College), Jordan Reed (Davidson College), Jaison Taylor (Navy) and Dre Butler (Tennessee-Chattanooga) sign national letters of intent Wednesday to advance their careers to the next level.
“I remember when a lot of these guys were freshmen, and I was like, ‘You are going to play varsity football one day,’” Banks said. “It has been fantastic to see them grow into the young men they are now and to be successful.”
As the attention was drawn away from Jefferies after his signing, and the spotlight landed on the remaining six who inked during the traditional signing day, it was easy to see how incredible each signee’s story was leading up to the moment their pens met the paper.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing stories of all is Taylor following in the footsteps of recent Rams by joining one of the military academies to play football.
“First of all, I’m impressed that you have young men who are 17 and 18 years old who are willing to serve their country,” Banks said, now with former players at Navy, Army and the Air Force Academy. “With those guys, it’s more than just Division I football. They are going to come in and be second lieutenants in our military, so it is great having those young men going down that route.”
For Taylor, the path to get to the Naval Academy began early, but it wasn’t easy by any stretch.
“It has been tough,” he said. “Our team came together, though, and we worked hard all year. Navy started recruiting me in the spring of my junior year, and me and my parents fell in love with the opportunity.”
Despite a late push by Army, Taylor remained loyal to Navy due to family ties to the branch.
“I come from a bloodline of Navy men,” so he said. “I just want to follow in their footsteps.”
From forging military paths to turning basketball players like Dre Butler into football commits, Banks has created many personal relationships while prepping his players for the next level of play. But there is arguably not a more personal relationship he has with a player than he has with Middlebrooks.
“There is always that one player who you have that personal connection with,” he stated while introducing Middlebrooks to the stage.
Whether fighting for him on the field, or pushing his recruiting campaign on Twitter, Banks always knew there was something there in Middlebrooks from the very first time he scored a touchdown and “didn’t let the coaches hear the end of it,” according to him.
For Myron, the recruiting attention wasn’t always there, and there were several obstacles that mounted in front of him before Jacksonville came along.
“It’s been a crazy ride, you know,” Middlebrooks said. “From the workouts, the hard work over the summer, to getting acquainted with the team to have a cohesive unit was pretty good.”
Then he recalled the trials that he faced on the road to signing day.
“The first couple of years sitting behind Ray J (Romario Johnson) even though he was a great leader, but then getting hurt my junior and senior year,” he said. “Those were crazy moments in my life that kind of made me reconsider if I really loved this sport, but I just pushed through and continued with it.”
Those trials made the moment even more bittersweet when he finally inked his letter of intent to play at Jacksonville University, a school that was adamant about bringing him in.
“They were very persistent in recruiting,” he said. “They made sure that I was good not only in athletics, but academically as well.”
As for the legacy he believes he’s leaving behind, Middlebrooks wants to set a goal for the younger classes of how to carry themselves as an athlete on and off the field.
“I just want to set a standard so that they know the hard work really does pay off, no matter where you are,” he said.
Banks believes that these signees leave legacies behind for the football program, but also in the community as well.
“I think with every class, you have guys who have potential to be NFL football players,” he said. “But I think more importantly, what you are going to get from all of them are future leaders of our country that started right here in Covington, Georgia. I think that is going to be more important one day to have those servicemen in our military, future doctors, and future engineers who are designing the Newton County of 2050, will be guys who started right here at Newton signing football scholarships.”
And while the 2018 class heads off to build that future, Banks is eagerly looking to next season, where he believes the class of 2019 is also loaded with college level talent.
“We’ve got great talent coming back like Kendrick Carlton, Michael Mathison, Adarius Thomas, Khalil Wilcox, Cozbi Craig, and others,” he said. “I think their recruiting process is going to be fantastic, and we will always have one or two kids who weren’t on the map today that will show up.”