Matt NeSmith would prefer to be in the middle of the fairway with a golf club in his hand.
The North Augusta senior, out of his comfort zone but excited as family and friends watched him as he sat on stage, signed with South Carolina and was one of a handful of area athletes to make their collegiate decisions official Thursday.
“I’m excited to go up there,” said NeSmith, who is No. 5 in the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo Rankings. “It should be a good time.”
NeSmith said Clemson and Georgia also recruited him heavily, but South Carolina started recruiting him first, even before he started high school.
NeSmith wasn’t the only local golfer to sign Thursday: Greenbrier’s Evan Usry signed with Mercer and Lakeside’s Jack Gibbs signed with Virginia.
Along with the allure of playing Division I golf – Mercer plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference – the university’s academic reputation attracted Usry, who carried a 38 nine-hole stroke average as a junior and shot 72 in 2010 to help the Wolfpack finish second in Class AAAAA.
“Mercer stuck out because it’s awesome academically,” he said. “Plus, the golf team is building, and there’s a new coach. It’s going in a really good direction.”
Gibbs helped Lakeside win the Class AAAA state title in 2010, shooting 77, the second-best score for the Panthers.
On Thursday, Gibbs said it was a little hard to concentrate, knowing he would be signing.
“I got through it,” Gibbs said. “All my hard work has paid off, I guess.”
SOFTBALL: Lauren Masters remembers being at a national exposure event and having a college softball coach approach her after a game.
“She told me that if there were 10 of me, she could start a team,” the Greenbrier senior said.
As it turned out, the North Carolina State coaching staff liked her, too.
On Wednesday afternoon, Masters signed a national letter-of-intent to play for the ACC school.
Masters started on the varsity team as a freshman at Greenbrier, then suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery as a sophomore.
After recuperating, she decided to focus 100 percent on travel ball, playing with the Southern Force out of Watkinsville, Ga., in hopes of playing Division I softball.
Across the Savannah River, North Augusta’s Sydney Seigler signed with Presbyterian College. The senior went 23-6 with a 1.92 ERA and hit .413 with 47 RBI this season to help North Augusta win the Class AAAA Lower State championship.
“I’m excited. I’m ready to go to college,” she said.
BASEBALL: North Augusta’s Trevor Hutto sees a future in medicine, so he selected Francis Marion.
The Yellow Jacket said he was also looking at USC Beaufort, USC Upstate and junior colleges, but the combination of athletics and academics helped him choose the Florence, S.C., school.
Staff writer Justin Williams contributed to this story.