As D.J. Avery told the gathering of his peers and teachers in the school’s gymnasium that he has decided to play football at Dartmouth College, he held a large photo of Catrenia Harvey, his late mother.
Seated next to the former Douglas County High running back/defensive back was his only sister, D’Etta Sumlin.
Harvey passed when Avery was in the fifth-grade, and that left Sumlin and her husband, Brandon, to raise her younger brother.
And from the looks of Wednesday’s National Signing Day celebration, they did an outstanding job.
The younger Avery had the choice of some of the top academic universities to chose from including Harvard and the Air Force Academy.
He chose Darthmouth after making a visit to the New Hampshire campus a few weeks ago.
“After my mother passed, it was very difficult,” Avery recalled. “I never thought anything like that would happen to me. I just kept praying. My desire to be successful is what I used as motivation. I just kept praying and working to be who I truly wanted to be.”
And Sumlin helped in the process.
“D.J. had all the chances to make excuses with the passing of his mother,” former Douglas County coach Jason Respert said. “It has been truly an honor for our coaching staff to coach him. He did everything we asked him to do.”
And Respert gives a lot of that credit to Sumlins, and so does Avery.
“My sister and I are real close,” Avery said. “She had to take on the responsibility of my mother and sister.”
Avery wasn’t the only athlete at his school or in the county to make their college decision known.
He was one of seven former football players that have a chance to play on the collegiate level. Avery teammates Germane Burroughs (Shorter), Aaron Cauthen (Tennessee State) and Yassar El-Amin (Samford) all participated in a National Signing Day celebration in the school’s gymnasium Wednesday afternoon.
In addition, three soccer players signed scholarships to play at the next level. Dishawn Cullen signed with Georgia Southern while Kathleen Scherer signed with The University of the Cumberlands and Kaitlynn Lewis signed with NCAA Div. II runner-up Columbus State.
Alexander got the day started with an early morning signing for its three signees.
Cougars tight end Leo Alysworth signed with FCS runner-up Jacksonville State.
Alexander had two Div. I soccer signees in Haley Worthy, who will be attending Kennesaw State and Tatiana Hawkins-Dabney with Western Carolina.
Angel Gray will join Lewis at Columbus State, where former Alexander teammate Brooke Nail is a starter for the championship-caliber program.
Dartmouth, an Ivy League school, is a Div. I Football Championship Subdivision member. The school doesn’t give athletic scholarship but financial assistant based on need.
Avery and his family entertained coaches from some of the top academic college in the country, something that his sister didn’t take for grant.
“I looked around and we had coaches from Harvard and Dartmouth in our house,” Sumlin said. “I told D.J. that that was all because of him. He put in the work to make this happen.”
He was one of the top student-athletes in the county. In addition to excelling on the football field, Avery was a standout in the classroom as he tackled the challenge of the school’s International Baccalaureate program.
He has a 3.88 grade-point average and scored 29 on the ACT.
“It was his own self-determination and sacrifice that got him to this point,” Sumlin said. “I really don’t have the words to describe all of this. I’m just extremely happy.”