Nine Newton County athletes joined the horde of high school athltes participating in National Signing Day Wednesday.
Three Alcovy Tigers, five Newton Rams and one Eastside Eagle made their pledges official, sealing their collegiate decisions.
Three Tigers sign
Alcovy football standouts Okon Godwin, Curtiss Benton and Robert Bullard made their collegiate pledges Wednesday afternoon, signing their National Letters of Intent in a ceremony held in front of friends, families and coaches.
Godwin and Benton officially committed to Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., while Bullard signed with the United States Air Force Academy.
With the ink on their signatures dry, the trio made Tigers’ history, giving Alcovy three Division I signees for the first time in its history.
Godwin, Benton and Bullard helped Alcovy to a 7-4 record in 2013 as the Tigers battled for the Region 8-AAAAAA crown until the final weekend of the regular season.
“It’s exciting,” Alcovy coach Kirk Hoffman said. “I think this program has really come on and it has gotten better faster than I thought it would. You can see that with our three guys signing today. I’m very proud of them, and I know they will be able to carry over their success to college.
“I hope that they’ve learned that success is earned through hard work,” he said. “They have done the right things in the classroom and on the field and success has been a work in progress for them. Today, they get to continue that.”
Godwin and Benton will continue their football careers with the Mountaineers after terrorizing opposing offenses this season.
At linebacker, Godwin finished second in total tackles for the Tigers in 2013, recording 80 total tackles.
Godwin tallied 53 solo tackles, while assisting on 27 others. Godwin also recovered a fumble for Alcovy, while grabbing five interceptions against opposing quarterbacks. The senior also finished with a team-high two scores on defense.
Godwin earned first- team all-region honors for his efforts this past season.
Along the defensive line, Benton amassed 96 total tackles.
The senior recorded 77 solo tackles, while assisting on 27 others. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound defensive end finished 2013 with an outstanding 25 tackles-for-loss, including 15 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Benton also received first-team all-region honors and was named The News Defensive Player of the Year.
“Today was great,” Godwin said. “Appalachian State is where I want to play at for the next four years. It’s close to home and has been good to Georgia players in the past. I also get to continue to play with one of my teammates. It will be good to keep that friendship going.”
Benton also said that the possibility to playing with Godwin played heavily in both of their decisions.
“I’m excited to go to App State and fight for playing time,” Benton said. “App State felt like home. Okon and I had planned to play together. We’ve been playing together since we were really little and we wanted to keep that going.”
The Mountaineers went 4-8 overall last season and 4-4 in Southern Conference play in their first year transitioning into Division I football. Appalachian State won three consecutive Football Championship Subdivision titles from 2005-07 and will be eligible for FBS postseason play in 2015.
Bullard also announced his intentions of joining the Falcons of the United States Air Force Academy.
The defensive back finished 2013 with 19 total tackles, including 14 solo takedowns. Bullard grabbed five interceptions this past season, while recording eight knockdowns. Bullard also had a touchdown on defense for the Tigers.
The 2013 first-team all-region member said that it was going to be an honor playing for the Falcons.
“It’s a great school and a great honor,” Bullard said. “They really seemed dedicated to my success. I get to play Division I football and earn a degree from a great establishment. It was a great fit for me.”
The Falcons went 2-10 overall last season.
Rams place five
Five Newton High School senior football players signed their National Letters of Intent in a ceremony held in front of family friends and coaches.
Dez Billingslea, Corey Thomas, Derek Greene, Toyous Avery and Robbie Wallace made their collegiate choices Wednesday, making the five the first signing class under coach Terrance Banks.
Banks said that the day was an important one for his program and his players, as they have the opportunity to now continue their careers after high school.
“This is one of the most important days and feelings for us at Newton,” Banks said. “Like I said when I got the job, there are only six state championships. There are over 300 high schools in the state of Georgia. Winning a state championship is something you want to do, but that’s not the most important goal.
“I would rather see our kids get a chance to further their education and play football at a university or college of their choice if I had to choose. Getting a chance to do that is a great, fantastic feeling and a great opportunity for them.”
Billingslea and Thomas committed to Kennesaw State University, where they will continue their football careers with the Owls. Greene committed to the University of Minnesota, Crookston. Avery committed to Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kan., and Wallace committed to Wingate University in Wingate, N.C.
These five players helped lead the Rams to a 5-6 record in 2013 and the second seed in Region 8-AAAAAA, which led to a second consecutive home playoff game.
Billingslea was one of the most intimidating players in Newton County this year. He led the Rams with 91 tackles, including 74 solo takedowns. Billingslea assisted on 17 other tackles, while recording five tackles for loss and three sacks. He averaged more than nine tackles per game, while also forcing one fumble.
“I had a great feeling when I went up there on my visit,” Billingslea said of his choice. “All of the other places, it didn’t really compare to the opportunities, the potential, the facilities and the people in the area are great. I took heed to that and pretty much fell in love with it and my decision was pretty much made after that.”
“Everybody’s saying they’re a startup program and they can’t do it, but our motto already is, ‘We can, we will.’”
Outside of football, Billingslea would also like to receive his degree in microbiology.
Thomas also had a standout season for the Rams on both sides of the ball as an offensive lineman and a defensive lineman.
“I chose this school because it is a brand new program,” Thomas said. “Since middle school, I’ve been going to a brand new middle school and also (a new) high school. Also, I will be going … with one of my best friends. I’ll have a big opportunity to become a captain as a freshman on this team.”
Greene will be going farther away than any of his fellow teammates after recording 44 total tackles, including 11 tackles-for-loss. But, the defender that finished with three sacks this season knows that his decision is a good one.
“When I saw the facilities, the coaches and the players, I just felt like it was the best decision,” Greene said.
Wallace led Newton’s defensive back unit with 54 total tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. Wallace finished the season with 40 solo tackles and picked up a pair of fumbles for the Rams while forcing two other fumbles. Wallace was also voted as the team’s defensive MVP.
“I chose Wingate because the academic program really impressed me and they’re a great football team and they have a nice campus,” Wallace said.
Avery’s season was cut short due to a shoulder injury, but he was a big part of the team’s biggest victory of the season at Lowndes.
Eagles' Chavis signs
Eastside senior track and field standout Nylah Chavis made her pledge to Georgia State University Wednesday on National Signing Day.
Chavis signed her National Letter of Intent in front of friends and family, officially joining the Panthers' program next season.
Chavis, a two-year Region 8-AAAA champion in the high jump, set a personal-best jump of 5-foot-6 at last year's region championships, besting Chestatee's Kristin Moroz by two inches.
Chavis helped the Lady Eagles to a fourth-place region finish last season before finishing seventh overall in the state high jump with a leap of 5 feet. Chavis finished fourth overall at the 2012 Class AAA state meet with a jump of 5-foot-4.
Chavis joins a program Panthers' program that in seventh place in the Sun Belt last season.