Prep stars from across the country put pen to paper on Wednesday for National Signing Day 2018, and several local standouts took part in the celebration by officially declaring their collegiate destinations.
Here's a rundown of the local signees from each high school:
The Blue Devils had senior defensive back Nate Daniels sign his national letter of intent with Wingate University on Wednesday afternoon following a stellar career on the gridiron under Bremen head coach Davis Russell.
Daniels helped lead the Blue Devils to back-to-back state playoff appearances over the past two seasons, including a trip to the second round in 2016. This past season he had 14 pass breakups and one interception for one of the top defensive units in Class AAA.
The Bulldogs compete in the South Atlantic Conference of Division II.
The Trojans had 10 senior football standouts take part in Wednesday morning's NSD festivities during a ceremony in the Mabry Center, where Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun addressed what this class meant to the Trojan football program on the heels of back-to-back state quarterfinal runs in Class AAAAA, as well as their character off the field and in the classroom.
"This day is about them. It's called signing day, but it should be celebration day. That's kind of how we treat it with our ceremony and the cake and the board office," Calhoun said. "Everything that they've poured into this community, this high school, this football program, this is the least we could do for them."
The Trojans officially had nine players sign on Wednesday, as wide receiver Jordan Bonner took advantage of the newly-instituted early signing period and signed his national letter of intent with Purdue University on Dec. 20 to become the first player in program history to sign under the new format.
Bonner was on hand for Wednesday's ceremony with his Trojan teammates, who signed their national letters of intent at the Carrollton Board of Education office following the ceremony at the Mabry Center.
Rounding out this year's signing class was tailback Jaylan Thomas (Elon University), offensive lineman Cole Williamson (Murray State), offensive lineman Khalil Crowder (Georgia Southern), kicking specialist Maxim Spruell (Highland CC), defensive back Isaiah Todd (Hutchinson CC), quarterback Mark Wright, Jr. (Ellsworth CC), tight end Tyler Harper (Lindsey Wilson College), defensive lineman Martez Hudson (Valdosta State) and wide receiver Nick Cade (Dean College).
"I just want to thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for letting these kids experience a day like this," Calhoun said. "I thank him for letting me be a part of it. They truly have been the turnaround for this program the last two years. Back-to-back Game 13s and signing double-digit kids back-to-back years. They're the reason for our success. It ain't got nothing to do with me. These kids buy in, these kids work hard, they've got good home lives and they do it in the classroom and they come out and do it on the field. I can't thank them enough for doing that every single day. I know that they're going to have awesome, awesome careers."
Along with the 10 football players moving on to the next level, Carrollton had softball star Ansley Barge sign with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and girls' basketball standouts Elexus Bell (Southern Union CC) and Taylor Brown (Arkansas-Fort Smith) sign their national letters of intent, as well, on Wednesday.
Barge, a three-sport athlete, is a four-year starter under CHS head softball coach Lisa Phillips, earning all-state honors this past season and helping the Lady Trojans reach the elite eight in Columbus twice during her career, including her senior season.
Brown and Bell have helped produce back-to-back runs to the state quarterfinals for the Lady Trojan basketball team under the direction of head coach Shon Thomaston and are currently gearing up for another state playoff push this month.
The Lions had three student-athletes sign on Wednesday with football standouts Fedarian Williams and Malcolm Brown both headed to Middle Georgia State University, while Dylan High of the CHS baseball team signed with Gordon State College.
Williams and Brown were key members of the turnaround campaign for Central on the gridiron this past fall under first-year head coach Darius Smiley. Williams, a senior linebacker, recorded 58 tackles with five sacks en route to Region 5-AAAA honorable mention honors, while Brown rushed for a team-best 883 yards and nine touchdowns on 142 carries, earning second-team all-region accolades.
Williams intends to study Medicine and work in the medical field following graduation and Brown plans on studying Engineering at MGS.
High is entering his senior campaign on the diamond this spring and will serve as one of the top pitching options for the Lions and head coach Wes Shiver. High plans on majoring in Computer Science at Gordon State.
The Braves had two gridiron stars who helped pave the way to a historic run to the Class AA state semifinals sign their national letters of intent on Wednesday during a ceremony at Heard County High School.
Wide receiver/cornerback Jaden Moreland signed with Georgia Southern, while tailback Damion Hart signed with Bluefield College.
Moreland was voted Region 5-AA MVP following a sensational senior season that saw him haul in 39 receptions for 1,187 yards with seven touchdowns. Defensively, he recorded 70 tackles with four interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Opposing quarterbacks didn't dare throw at the Brave ballhawk but 32 times in 14 games during his senior season, where he gave up a mere 14 receptions for 186 yards, most of which were on hitches or tunnels. He only gave up two receptions for more than 12 yards all season and zero touchdowns.
Hart endured a tough senior campaign that was cut short early due to injury, but he will have the chance to get back on the field with the Rams at the NAIA level in Bluefield, Virginia.
MZ had two gridiron stars and two softball starlets sign their national letters of intent on Wednesday to cap off tremendous runs in their respective sports this past fall.
On the gridiron, C.J. Ackles and Kareem Walker helped lead the Eagles to their best season in program history under first-year head coach Brad Gordon, reaching the Class A Public state semifinals for the first time ever and winning a school-record 10 games in the process.
Ackles, the Region 6-A and Times-Georgian All-Area MVP, will play at Samford University — a Division I FCS program — at the next level, while Walker signed with Birmingham Prep in Hoover, Alabama.
Ackles threw for 1,275 yards and 15 touchdowns to just two interceptions, while rushing for 614 yards and six touchdowns offensively. He had 49 tackles, five interceptions and eight pass breakups from his cornerback slot on defense. He also served as MZ's punter, averaging 41.3 yards per boot.
Walker was part of a deep and potent MZ rushing unit that proved to be an unselfish group, using a backfield-by-committee philosophy to keep defenses on their toes this fall. His bruising brand of running between the tackles and giving up his body as a blocking back served as a critical component to the Eagles' Wing-T attack.
Mount Zion's other two signing stars on Wednesday were literally cornerstones to the softball team's incredible run to the elite eight and third-place finish in Class A Public this past fall, as third baseman Jana Crews and first baseman Taylor Knight helped spearhead a late-season turnaround to key the postseason push.
Knight, who hit .489 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI, signed with West Georgia Technical College, while Crews, who had a .481 batting average with 50 base hits, signed with East Georgia State College in Swainsboro.
The Villa Rica High School Athletic Department also enjoyed a banner day on Wednesday that included four different sports being recognized with six football signees, three from softball and one apiece from volleyball and baseball.
The football signees included quarterback/receiver Kelvin Stevenson (Jacksonville University), linebacker Travis Taylor (Missouri Valley College), defensive end Izayah Shackleford (Missouri Valley College), linebacker Terry Joiner (ASA Miami), wing back Elijah Fluker (New Mexico Military Institute) and defensive lineman Josh Walker (UT-Chattanooga). Walker played his senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
From VR's state playoff volleyball squad, star middle hitter Mollie Goen signed with Point University, while the Lady Wildcats' softball team had center fielder Baylee Walls (Emory), pitcher/infielder Abbey Gamble (Berry College) and catcher Izzy Rohr (Southern Union) declare their college destination. Hurler Bryson Smith of the VR baseball team signed with Emmanuel College to round out VR's next-level talent.
Villa Rica Athletic Director and head football coach Rico Zackery was proud to see all of the student-athletes take part in Wednesday's festivities in the VRHS gymnasium and reap the rewards of their hard work over the past four years and beyond.
"We wanted to make sure we had a nice event to celebrate this deal because this is a big deal for all of these student-athletes for them to be able to further their education and be able to have an opportunity to go to college and get all or some of it paid for," Zackery said. "It's just a great opportunity for them. We're proud of all of them."
As for his own players and program, Zackery was especially excited to see this first class he coached have the opportunity to move on and play at the next level after everything they went through to reach this point. He expects to have three more guys signing over the next few months.
"I wish we had that senior group that we had last year for a couple of years or so because they were such good kids and they worked hard. They did everything we asked them to," Zackery said. "Sometimes you have to go through growing pains to get where you need to get to."
To that point, he wants the younger players in the program to take note of how hard this group of seniors worked and understand what it takes to reach the next level.
"It's huge for our program because these younger players get a chance to see exactly what it looks like. It gives them something to work toward," Zackery said.