WAGENER, S.C. - To some, signing ceremonies might just seem as if they're dog-and-pony shows, trumped-up rituals to pump up the egos of talented, young athletes.
That's not the case here today.
Just after noon, when Wagener-Salley High senior Channing Schofield officially signs his intention to play football this fall at Wake Forest, it'll be a celebration.
It will be a victory of sorts in the political battle that dominates virtually every conversation on this end of college football recruiting.
"We talk a lot about how tough it is for a single-A school to get guys into bigger colleges," said Steve DeRiggs, the school's football coach. "It's tough, no doubt about that. Exposure is hard to come by."
That much is evident when you consider where this community is located, at the crossroads of South Carolina highways 39 and 302.
It's 20 minutes from Interstate 20 and 45 minutes from Columbia and Augusta, the closest airports.
In other words, it requires serious effort on the part of college assistants to find Wagener-Salley.
But Wake Forest located Schofield, who is thought to be the first Division I-A athlete Wagener-Salley has ever produced.
Now Wake might come back. Now it might bring friends.
Consider Schofield, who will play cornerback for the Demon Deacons, the first domino to fall in big-time recruiting at Wagener-Salley, with others, at least potentially, to follow.
Or, as he said, think of him as the school's initial Division I-A carpenter.
"I laid the groundwork for the younger guys," Schofield said. "It's up to them to build the house."
GIVE THE FIRST HAMMER and a piece of drywall to junior Ronnie Tyler.
Tyler is the state's No. 4-rated running back prospect for the class of 2006.
That lofty rating is courtesy, DeRiggs said, of scouting services and coaches seeing Tyler when they came to watch Schofield.
Tyler said he certainly recognizes what Schofield - mostly inadvertently - has done for him and the school's other future recruits.
So much that if he winds up signing next year with a school comparable to Wake Forest, the first person he'll thank will be Schofield.
"No doubt I'll thank him," Tyler said. "He's opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people. A lot of doors."
Schofield hit most schools' radars with his lightning-fast speed. He runs a 4.35-second 40-yard dash and is blessed, DeRiggs said, with excellent recovery speed, helpful at cornerback.
Vanderbilt gave Schofield his first scholarship offer in the spring. Wake Forest came on soon after. Georgia Southern wanted him to play quarterback in its option offense.
South Carolina courted Schofield to play receiver in Steve Spurrier's wide-open scheme.
That particular offer was intriguing at first, he said, but he couldn't shed his roots as a Clemson fan in the end.
He stuck with Wake because of its academic prowess and the opportunity to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But if the sun had come out one afternoon this past March, things might have been different.
GEORGIA ASSISTANT coach Jon Fabris had come to watch Schofield with the purpose of offering him a scholarship by day's end.
Fabris had told Schofield a month earlier that the offer was all but imminent, pending one more evaluation.
A spring thunderstorm derailed Schofield's track to sign with Georgia. Given the sloppy field conditions, Fabris said he couldn't properly evaluate Schofield's speed and agility.
He never got around to returning, even though Schofield said he probably would have committed to the Bulldogs if that offer ever materialized.
Schofield chalks that day's events up to fate, a divine sign that he should go to Wake Forest.
"Maybe it happened for a reason," he said. "Everything happens for a reason, I think."
Then he stopped himself. The 'P' word crept into his mind.
"Maybe if I was at a three-A or four-A school, it probably would have worked out for me," he said. "I think all of it plays out on politics, coming from a small school."
ANTAVIOUS COATES NOW understands the political landscape of recruiting.
Coates, a senior at Greenwood (S.C.) High, met Schofield at Clemson's football camp two summers ago.
The first thing he noticed was "the guy could play," he said, not that he was from a small school.
The two stayed in contact, and Schofield was thrilled for his friend when he decided to commit to Georgia.
Coates, who will play safety, said he had no doubt that Schofield would be offered by Georgia and join him in the Bulldogs' defensive backfield.
He said this week, months after the storm-induced spurn, that he still can't believe it's not going to happen.
"He definitely could have played in that secondary," Coates said. "It's just one of those obstacles."
One he said he realizes prospects from larger schools never really have to worry about.
"Being from Greenwood, you don't have to do much to get their attention," Coates said of higher-profile college coaches. "I think it'd be a little harder from a smaller school."
SCHOFIELD DID WHAT he could, though.
He was happy to accept an invitation in early 2004 to Nike's high school combine in Atlanta, where he was able to wow coaches and scouts with his speed and lockdown ability.
"I was stacking up to the others. Even better than a lot," Schofield said. "In one-on-ones, I was locking up receivers, getting interceptions and batting down balls. They couldn't overlook me."
And they couldn't dismiss what he was able to do at Wagener-Salley, leading the War Eagles to playoff appearances the past two years.
When the War Eagles made the playoffs Schofield remembers opponents scoffing at their unheard of foe.
"They'd look at us and go, 'Wagener-Salley? What's that?'" he said.
Because of Schofield, now they know. And so do a lot of other people, college coaches included.
"I think," Tyler said, "coaches are going to want to come and see what kind of talent Wagener-Salley has."
Reach Travis Haney at (706) 823-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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