The big day for area football players arrived first for John Douglas on Wednesday morning. The Aquinas senior sat moments away from signing the papers that would bind him to Auburn on National Signing Day when he took some time for reflection.
He was about to become one of 16 area players to sign a Division I-A football scholarship this recruiting year.
But his mind went back to the first day of his 17 years he could say that he was a football player. He rolled the years back to when he was riding in a car on the way to Eisenhower Park when he was eight years old. His father, Pat, was at the wheel. They were heading to his first practice for the Babbitt Bulldogs.
"We're in the car and my dad said I had my helmet on in the car before we pulled up," Douglas said. "I got out with of the car with my helmet on."
Lee Malchow was there. Malchow, now a member of the Wake Forest team, was already his best friend.
"It's one of my greatest memories," Pat Douglas said. "Lee was a year ahead of John. He played the previous year and was already a pro at football practice."
Douglas said he told his son to "do good" and "have fun."
John gave his father a hug and headed off with Malchow.
"Lee had his helmet in hand when John told him to button him up," Pat Douglas said."
Malchow said it would be a while before practice started. Douglas insisted anyway.
So Malchow buckled the chin strap for his best friend.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pound fullback was just as ready on Wednesday. Douglas will be the first Aquinas player heading to big-time college football out of high school since Tony Daykin and Larry O'Hagan in 1973.
The ceremony began at 9 a.m. and it proceeded like a fullback with a full head of steam. Douglas had his papers filled out in five minutes. That was even after teammate Mike Cardwell signed up to play quarterback at The Citadel. The forms were faxed to Auburn less than 15 minutes later.
"Think Auburn will get the idea we are pretty serious about all of this?" joked Pat Douglas.
Aiken High made a splash less than an hour later. The Hornets signed a swarm of five players. Darien Crawford and Jimmie Holmes both signed up with Division I-A programs led the area Wednesday. Crawford penned his name to a scholarship to catch passes at Troy.
Holmes had a story behind his signature that was a familiar theme. He did not sign a scholarship after his senior year in 2005.
"I had to take a little detour," he said. "It was kind of depressing. I wanted to go big time right out of high school."
The 6-foot-3 defensive end had to spent two years at Mississippi Delta Community College polishing up his academics in order to accept his dream scholarship.
"Some people think the athlete part will get them wherever they need to go," he said. "I had to find out the hard way the student part of student-athlete comes first."
That was the same route Glenn Hills alumnus Brandon Williams took to South Carolina this year. Holmes and Williams roomed together at Mississippi Delta. They are two of the seven area players on the way to college football after going to a junior college or a prep school out of high school.
That's the route Aiken's Taikwon Paige saw up close by sitting next to Holmes. He's hoping the next two years of his life pay off the way it did for Holmes and Williams.
"I could've signed with North Carolina today if I had my grades," Paige said, who signed with Georgia Military College. "I could've been going anywhere in the ACC or the SEC. But my day will come in two years. I've still got the dream of going to Division I-A ball and playing with the best of the best."
Lincoln County also had an impressive crop of signees.
The Red Devils sent Georgia Military College product Jarius Wynn to Georgia in January. Senior quarterback Brandon Barden also enrolled at Virginia Tech after graduating early from high school in December.
Darell Norman signed with Alabama-Birmingham on Wednesday to give the Red Devils an area-best three Division I-A signees this year.
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AREA DIVISION I FOOTBALL SIGNEES
Brandon Barden - Lincoln Co. - TE/WR - Virginia Tech
James Carpenter -Hephzibah - OT - Iowa State
Darien Crawford - Aiken - WR - Troy
John Douglas - Aquinas - FB - Auburn
Chris Drayton - Lakeside - DB - Kentucky
Shaquan Hicks - Wash. County - OG - Fla. I'national
Jimmie Holmes - Aiken - DE - Miss. State
Corvey Irvin - Laney - DT - Georgia
Tim Nelson - Jefferson Co. - LB -W. Kentucky
Darell Norman - Lincoln Co. - RB - UAB
Dwight Smith - Swainsboro -DT -Mid. Tenn. St.
Ronnie Tyler - W.-Salley - WR - Maryland
Gary Wilburn - Wash.-Wilkes - CB - Connecticut
Brandon Williams - Glenn Hills - DT - S. Carolina
Kelmetrus Wylie - Wash.-Wilkes - RB - Connecticut
Jarius Wynn - Lincoln Co. - DE - Georgia