Many of the athletes had actually signed their letters of intent in mid-November, during the early signing period for their respective sports. Athletes in football, soccer, cross country and track and field were permitted to officially sign for the first time Wednesday.
Etowah, by far, had the largest number of signees with 23 recognized. Among them were football players Ayden Bonilla, John Oliver, Ben Rowell and Chandler Steele — a group that made up a little more than half of the football players from the county who have signed thus far.
The football coaches at Cherokee, Creekview and Etowah expect more of their players to sign before the commitment period ends April 1.
Following Etowah in the number of total commitments was Creekview (11). Sequoyah had eight athletes sign, but if the three players invited to be preferred walk-ons for the Kennesaw State football team — C.J. Collins, Peter Rohan, A.J. Brown — are taken into consideration, that number would rise to 11.
River Ridge had six athletes recognized, while Woodstock had three and Cherokee two.
Not only did Etowah have the largest number of signees, it also had the largest number of athletes who will be going to Division I programs.
Bonilla, who missed his entire senior season because of an injury, will be going to North Carolina, while Rowell signed with Davidson, Steele with Stetson and Oliver with Air Force. Others going to Division I programs include Stephanie Newman, who will run cross country at Troy; Savannah Smith, who will run cross country at Memphis; Bridgette Flaherty, who will play softball at Louisville; Taylor Weiss, who will swim at Arkansas; and Megan Young, who will swim at Georgia Tech.
Etowah coaches said that helping athletes extend their careers into college is just part of the job. Principal Keith Ball said it’s the result of producing well-rounded students.
Baseball coach Greg Robinson, girls basketball coach Bob Westbrook and boys basketball coach Don Hurlburt are among the coaches who expect to have more athletes sign in April. They all agreed that recruiting is a year-round process that, for the elite athletes, begins prior to their sophomore years in high school.
Westbrook said that even when he was on stage Wednesday with Taylor Kimber, who signed to play basketball at Alabama-Huntsville, he received a phone call concerning a player who is a junior.
“(Tuesday) night, after we played Lassiter, I went home and had three phone calls for 15 minutes each,” Westbrook said. “Coaches have to be willing to do that for their players.”
Football coach Dave Svehla said that, at the end of the day, it’s the student-athletes who have to put forth the effort, although a coach can do a lot.
“I know guys, not in this county, but out there, that don’t put in the work that they need to for their kids,” Svehla said. “It isn’t just sending stuff out. It’s being on the phone and being involved.”
Among the other Etowah players recognized was Nathan Parrott, who became the first Cherokee County student to go to college on a bowling scholarship. Parrott, who recently bowled a perfect game, will compete for Cumberland University.
Meanwhile, Kevin Mendes (tennis) will be going to Carson-Newman.
Etowah also had four lacrosse players sign — including Will Sheridan and Zach Lord, who are both going to Wingate University — as well as three baseball players, two softball players and a soccer player.