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Wednesday May 6th, 2015 1:46PM

National Signing Day brings relief, joy, long road trips for area stars

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
Prior to the 2012 football season, it's doubtful that either Mason Borders, AJ Millwood or Paul Barker had ever even heard of Defiance, Ohio.

On Wednesday morning, however, the Johnson High trio committed their collegiate futures to the NCAA Division III program, located near Toledo.

"All three of us went up to visit two weeks ago, and we all loved it," Millwood said. "We drove up there together, and we talked on the way back -- we had a 12-hour car ride back -- and decided that was a good place for all of us."

"We're all excited," Borders added. "I've always wanted to leave and experience different things, and this is a great opportunity."

That, in a nutshell, is what National Signing Day is all about: opportunity. It is a day when hopeful, young athletes take the chance to make possibly the biggest decision of their young lives.

And, as prep athletics continues to develop, more and more of those hopefuls are right here in northeast Georgia.

Be sure to visit Access North Georgia sports on Friday to see our Signing Day special in which we present video highlights and comments from the athletes in attendance at the FCA ceremony.

In fact 50 athletes from Hall County-based schools gathered at Gainesville's Longstreet Cafe on Wednesday to simultaneously celebrate their successful high school careers while looking toward their collegiate futures in the Fellowship of Christian Athlete's Signing Day ceremony.

Some had already signed Letters of Intent in their respective sports, some were fresh off the exhilarating experience of seeing their signatures set down while yet others were still mulling weighty decisions.

"I've got three offers for football -- from Carson-Newman, LaGrange College and Berry College -- and I've also got an offer to come compete in weight lifting for East Tennessee," Chestatee football and weight lifting standout Johnathan West said. "It's tough to make that final decision. I've got a junior nationals weightlifting meet soon in San Francisco, and I'll come back and make decision then."

North Hall wrestler Tyler Kratzer has made his collegiate decision and will travel to Lexington, Va., where he will compete for Washington and Lee University, yet the Trojans standout must wait until the completion of his season until he can sign a Letter of Intent.

"I got a call out of the blue from the coach at Washington and Lee and he had seen a video of mine on (flowrestling.org) and wanted me to come up and visit," Kratzer said. "I loved it, and I knew right away that's where I wanted to be."

The rise of electronic and internet-related technology has been a boon to both player and coach -- though that doesn't always make the recruiting easy.

"I had to email a lot of coaches and programs and get my name out there a lot -- it was a pain at times," said Flowery Branch soccer standout Alex Lee, who will be competing for UAB -- one of seven Lady Falcons soccer players to ink Letters of Intent with various collegiate programs. "I had to do a lot of research. Once I got an offer from UAB I knew it was a perfect school for me. But I'm glad (the recruiting process) is over with."

Relief was certainly a key word from a number of the athletes in attendance on Wednesday, including Lakeview Academy baseball standout Dallas Deavers, who will play for East Tennessee.

"Everything started to come together for me this summer, but the summer before that it looked like my opportunities might have dried up, and I lost a little bit of faith," Deavers said. "The good Lord gave me another chance though, and I'm so happy to have it."

In the end the chance to continue an athletic endeavor at the next level engendered a sense of joy in all involved.

"It all feels like my birthday; there have been a lot of smiles from me and my teammates today," said Gainesville football standout Keyontra Harrison -- one of six different Red Elephants who will join the new program at West Georgia Tech in Carrollton. "This is great because it gives you a chance to complete your education. Somebody can take your ability to play away, but nobody can take a diploma away from you."

Like all football players, who had their first chance to sign Letters of Intent on Wednesday -- other sports feature early signing periods -- Wednesday represented the end of a long journey.

"Six months ago I had no offers and it was hard to stay positive," said West Hall offensive lineman Blake Manning, who signed with Stetson University on Wednesday. "It's been stressful, but my mom and my dad and my coach have ben huge for me. And I'm just glad it's over."

Even those who never wondered about their collegiate futures found the occasion a little overwhelming at times.

"I signed my letter of intent at 7:01 a.m., right when I could, went in to school and faxed it, and I was on my way back from that when it just hit me. I'm kind of in a state awe," said Flowery Branch offensive lineman Chandler Bridges, who turned a longtime commitment to Louisville into a binding agreement on Wednesday. "It's really great that all the hard work I've put in, all the workouts, early mornings, have all paid off. And I'm welcoming the start of something new."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many more signees will be featured in Friday's video special, in which we will include footage from every athlete who talked with us on Wednesday.

AREA ATHLETES THAT SIGNED ON WEDNESDAY OR WERE HONORED BY FCA:

NOTE: If you do not see a known area signees name here, please contact us via email: sports@jacobsmedia.net and let us know.

*Signees listed by school

Buford
FOOTBALL
Mikey Bart, University of North Carolina
Bryson Jordan, Western Carolina University
Jaylen Mize, Davidson College
Grant Hall, Duke University
Shawn Reynolds, Eastern Kentucky University
Dontravius Wilson, University of Central Florida

Chestatee
Johnathan West, undecided

Dawson County
FOOTBALL
Harley Vaughan, West Georgia

SOCCER
Jade Perry, Campbellsville University
Kenna Seitz, South Georgia State

Flowery Branch
BASEBALL
Keltin Devoe, Chattahoochee Valley
Chase Hulsey, Georgia Perimeter
C.J. Navin, West Georgia Tech
Brad Keller, Presbyterian

FOOTBALL
Darius Curry, Oklahoma State
Chandler Bridges, Louisville
Noel Padmore, Indiana
Kristopher Smith, Indiana
Kevin Tarr, Chowan
Jacob Allen, Northeast Oklahoma

SOCCER
Jacy Ramey, University of North Georgia
Kayla Robles, Valdosta State
Alex Lee, UAB

SWIMMING
Hudson Howard, undecided

Gainesville
BASEBALL
Hunter Anglin, Lipscomb University
Skyler Weber, University of Georgia

BASKETBALL
Shaquan Cantrell, University of North Georgia

FOOTBALL
Fred Payne, Western Carolina
Caleb Hayman, South Alabama
Conner Calvert, West Georgia
Michael Pittman, West Georgia Tech
Damian Grayson, West Georgia Tech
TK Mize, West Georgia Tech
Keyontra Harrison, West Georgia Tech
Lahius Leverette, West Georgia Tech
Quamon Peoples, West Georgia Tech

GOLF
Reeves Bell, Young Harris
Pep Brown, Wofford
Webber Wycoff, Methodist University

Habersham Central
Johnathan Long, Shorter College
Zach Rhyneer, Brevard College

Jackson County
FOOTBALL
Reno Messler, West Georgia

Jefferson
FOOTBALL
Bryant Shirreffs, NC State

Johnson
FOOTBALL
Cedric Harris, Lenoir-Rhyne
Paul Barker, Defiance College
Mason Borders, Defiance College
AJ Millwood, Defiance College

SOCCER
Jonathan Mendoza, University of North Georgia

Lakeview Academy
BASEBALL
Dallas Deavers, East Tennessee State

North Hall
BASEBALL
Adam Kelly, Georgia Southern
Zach Mize, East Tennessee
Colton Duttweiler, West Georgia
Griffin Olson, Piedmont College
Preston Smith, Piedmont College

BASKETBALL
Ebo Smith, University of North Georgia

FOOTBALL
Avery Easton, Liberty University

SOCCER
Zach Tibbs, University of North Georgia
Kelsey Underwood, LaGrange College

WRESTLING
Tyler Krazter, Washington and Lee

West Hall
CROSS COUNTRY
Ryan Sharry, Mercer
Taylor Long, University of North Georgia

FOOTBALL
Blake Manning, Stetson University

White County
SOCCER
Eddie Hurst, University of North Georgia
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