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National Signing Day: Dreams realized for hundreds of local athletes

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE -- Brenquez and Brenquese Dukes have been inseparable since birth -- so why stop now?

The Gainesville High football twins admit there was an occasional thought about heading their separate ways on the collegiate gridiron. But blood proved thick enough to keep the Red Elephants seniors united in football and education, as the Dukes brothers opted for a package deal to Middle Georgia State College on National Signing Day.

"We have a bond that is unbreakable, and when we're together on the field together we're unstoppable," Brenquese Dukes said. "Why would we want to end that?"

Hundreds of athletes throughout northeast Georgia were busy keeping their athletic careers going on Wednesday, putting pen to paper in inking Letters of Intent to play for the collegiate programs of their choice.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Check back later for Signing Day reflections from players from around northeast Georgia.)

"It was tough at times to find the right fit for both of us," Brenquez Dukes said. "But we found the perfect fit in the end."

While the Dukes' brothers situation was perhaps unique throughout the entire area, their efforts and journey shared much in common with almost every other athlete that committed their athletic futures on Wednesday.

For while the recruiting journeys of players like Deshaun Watson, Andrew Smith and Hunter Atkinson were filled with their own intrigue, the stars blessed to sign with Football Bowl Subdivision schools are more the anomaly. And of the near 50 athletes honored at the Hall County Fellowship of Christian Athletes signing day event on Wednesday in Gainesville, the majority pursued their futures, rather than the other way around.

"In track recruiting you have to reach out to coaches and get things going," said West Hall shot put standout Jarlissa Lattimore, who signed with Wingate University in Wingate, N.C. "It's a lot of work, but it started to pay off. And once you get interest from one school, others start to get involved."

North Hall soccer standout Alden Powell, who is headed to play at Shorter University in Rome, felt the added pressure of watching several teammates make early commitments while she held off to try and find the best fit.

"It was stressful," Powell said. "I felt like I was the last one to make a decision, but I finally found the school I liked best, and I'm glad I took the time now."

While their journeys toward Signing Day all took unique twists and turns one factor unified the entire signing class of northeast Georgia: Relief.

"I always had this dream, and I pursued it relentlessly," said North Hall football player Will Cape, who is headed to help start the program at Kennesaw State. "I worked out at CES (Competitive Edge Sports Performance) every summer and spent time with players like (former NFL and Atlanta Falcons standout) Ray Buchanan. And now it just feels awesome. I can't wait to get there and start working."

For those players staring at their final prep seasons, knowing their future beyond high school could prove enlivening.

"Knowing everything is set makes it so much easier," said Flowery Branch baseball player Dylan Gibeau, who is headed to play for Young Harris College. "Now I can just focus on being my best every game without having to worry about what happens if I have a bad game and if that will effect my future."

The future was very much on the collective minds of athletes, families, fans and coaches around the area -- and nation -- on Wednesday, whether it was majors, the thought of leaving home or the hope of playing time.

"As of signing today I'm the third string quarterback, so I'm going in knowing I have a chance to contribute immediately," said Flowery Branch quarterback Jackson McDonald, who is headed to Western Carolina University. "Right now it's just about how quickly I can adjust and work up to speed."

"I'm expecting a lot to be thrown at me," West Hall soccer standout and future Piedmont College player Kristen Newstrom said. "I don't think there will be a day off...

"But I'm looking forward to it. This is amazing, a dream come true."

And what is Signing Day if not a moment for the realization of dreams -- and adding a few new ones?
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