The Burke County running back/defensive back had always wanted to play college football, but now it seemed his dream would come true at the highest level.
On Wednesday, Kitchens finalized his college future when he signed with Troy (Ala.), a member of the Sun Belt Conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Troy has made a bowl game in four of the past six years.
Kitchens said his team’s Georgia High School Association Class AAA state championship run was a main reason why such a signing was possible.
“I think that was a big factor,” said Kitchens.
Kitchens said Troy is “a threat to go to a bowl game every year.”
But Kitchens, who scored 22 touchdowns this season, was just one area athlete to make a collegiate decision official on National Signing Day, and he wasn’t the only one to sign with an FBS program.
Thomson’s John Atkins, a nose guard, signed with Georgia, the school he committed to back in September. Thomson went 9-2 this season and lost to Burke County in the Region 3-AAA title game.
Atkins asked his friends and fans in Thomson to watch his career at Athens, Ga.
“Just keep on riding me until I get better,” he said.
In Columbia County, Greenbrier’s Thomas Brown signed his national letter of intent with the Air Force Academy.
“I decided last month that I wanted to go to Air Force,” he said. “They were my first offer, they offered me at the end of my junior year and it just seemed right. I heard a lot of good things about them so I decided to make the decision.”
Many other players signed with Football Championship Subdivision schools, including Lakeside quarterback Mark Weidenaar, who signed with Georgia State.
Weidenaar sat out all of his junior year due to injury but returned to lead Lakeside to the Class AAAA state playoffs. He scored 27 touchdowns, threw for almost 1,700 yards and rushed for 887 more yards this season.
The Panther initially committed to Coastal Carolina but Georgia State provided a better chance for him to remain at quarterback. Coastal Carolina had expressed interest in using him as a wide receiver with some snaps as a quarterback.
“Coach (Bill) Curry told me he has had quarterbacks that started one year, two years and three years,” Weidenaar said. “Then he said, ‘Why not four years?’ ”
Elsewhere in the area, a few players signed with other FCS schools.
In Hephzibah, quarterback Terry Robinson will be with his brother, Gary, at Furman. Teammate Wayne Wingrove heads out west to Idaho State of the Big Sky Conference and Lavorius Beasley will go to Dean College (Mass.).
Other signees include Washington-Wilkes’ Da’Quan Heard, who signed with Georgia Southern. The
receiver/tight end recorded 635 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this year. Heard selected the Eagles over fellow Southern Conference team Appalachian State.
“Went to camp there three years straight and kind of liked it there,” Heard said of Georgia Southern, which advanced to the NCAA Division I Football Championship semifinals the past two seasons and holds six national championships.
“I liked the atmosphere and felt comfortable there,” he said. “Always wanted to play football there and it’s close to home.”
Over in Richmond County, Westside wide receiver/free safety Tre Isom penned his named with Savannah State.
Isom, who sports a 3.9 GPA, said he had interest from Georgia State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina State and Tennessee.
“I’m just happy to get all this recruiting over with and finally find a home,” Isom said. “It starts off fun, but then it gets kind of old. You’ve got to figure out who really wants you and who doesn’t.
“Savannah State is an up-and-coming program. They struggled a little bit last year, but I’m ready to help them.”
At Richmond Academy, three Musketeers came together to sign, with Montrell Wood choosing Tennessee State and Marvin Davis going with Mercer.
The third, Diquan Washington, heads to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas. Washington expects to be there for two years before moving on to a bigger school. Washington said Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina were looking at him.
Though Wednesday was the big day for most, other athletes will be signing in the coming weeks.
That includes up to three more Burke County football players. Bears coach Eric Parker, like Kitchens, said the state title and playoff run to the Georgia Dome brought his players more attention from colleges.
“No doubt the playoff run made it kind of wild,” Parker said.
Staff writers Donnie Fetter, Chris Gay, Jenna Martin, Scott Michaux and Garth Snow contributed to this story.