A couple inches of snow canceled schools throughout Southern Maryland on National Signing Day, but that didn't stop 13 DeMatha seniors from signing their national letters of intent. On Wednesday afternoon, the Stags finest -- decked out in burgundy sport coats and pressed khakis -- made their way to the school's library for a special Signing Day celebration in front of more than 50 parents, well wishers and reporters.
After watching their fellow track and soccer players sign, the football stars sat at the front, blue pens in hand, college caps in front of them. With a simple signature, they signed their lives over to their university of choice.
"I want to congratulate each and every one of these boys," said DeMatha coach Bill McGregor. "Now they have a chance to get a great education and play the game they love."
Each player said they were just a tad nervous and a ton excited. Where does this rank among great life moments? Beings that none of them are married or have children yet, it was right at the top.
"It's in my top one or two best moments ever," said Jake Geiser , DeMatha's center who is heading to Delaware. "I can't even explain how great this day is."
Neither could many of his teammates.
"This is just a great day," said Kyrrel Latimer , a defensive back who signed with Virginia and proudly displayed his Wahoo's tie. "All the emotion, all the excitement -- I couldn't wait for this day to come. Now it's here. It's just such a good feeling to finally be signing."
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time," echoed linebacker Michael Coley , a California signee. "It feels good to get this over with and start the next stage of my life."
A few of these nationally broadcasted events feature top-rated players pulling a surprise college hat from under the table. But there was no such drama in Hyattsville.
Almost all of the players had their minds made up well before the ceremony. Only two, left tackle Arie Kouandjio and running back Michael Meriwether waited until the last minute. Ultimately Kouandjio picked Alabama and Meriwether chose Indiana (Pa.) the day before the ceremony.
"It was crazy," Kouandjio said. "A lot of things were going on yesterday [Tuesday]. It was really hard to make a decision. But at the end of the day I made it and I feel good about it. I'm really happy to be part of the Alabama family. Roll tide!"
DeMatha produces more scholarship football athletes than almost any school in the country. In fact, they currently have more alums (7) playing in the NFL than any other high school. On this day alone, nine of the 13 signees are heading to Division I schools, one is going I-AA and the other three are off to Division II.
Of the nine Division I players, several of them have a good chance to earn significant playing time next year. Kouandjio will have an opportunity to start at tackle for Alabama. Lorenzo Waters could play safety right away for Rutgers. And Jeff Knox Jr. has a fighter's chance to be lining up at safety for Pittsburgh.
"I'm definitely ready to knock some heads next year man," Knox said. "I'll be on the field and I'll be playing early. And in four years, I'm definitely going to be ready to go to the league."
Excuse Knox for being just a tad cocky. After all, this was a day for optimism, fresh starts and hope for the future. Each of these players now has a chance to carve out a new legacy in college now that their high school careers are over.
"To me this represents the beginning, not the end," said running back Marcus Coker , who signed with Iowa. "It's another chapter opening up."
The players all acknowledged it would be tough to leave DeMatha, however. Many of them have played together for years. They've experience much success (multiple Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships) and also failure (losing the title this season to Good Counsel).
"It's tough leaving my team; it's been a great four years," said DeMatha's big left guard, Shane Johnson . "But I'm going into a good environment at Pitt. They will be my new family."
But McGregor reminded his players: Once a Stag, always a Stag. The DeMatha brotherhood runs deeper than blood.
After the ceremony, the baker's dozen posed for pictures, hugged family members and chatted with teammates. Better yet, no school meant they didn't have to go back to class. Which meant party time for the signees and their families.
"As soon as I'm done I'm taking all this [sports jacket, tie] off, I'm putting on my Pitt stuff and we're all going to Buffalo Wild Wings to celebrate," Johnson said.
As the players and their families filed out, McGregor congratulated each and every one of them. He's been through this same process 28 times before, but he beamed like a father watching his first son being born.
"It really is my most proud moment as a coach," he said. ""I've been head coach for 28 years and this doesn't get old. The kids have done so much to get where they are.
"To get to sign the papers today is absolutely wonderful. It's a great celebration for everyone. You can't lose today. Everybody's a winner."
The 13 signees:
Austin Bailey FB/DE (Akron) Marcus Coker RB (Iowa) Michael Coley WR/DB (California) Alex Copeland TE/DE (Carnegie Melon) Jake Geiser C/DT (Delaware) Pat Harbeson RB/CB (Virginia) Shane Johnson OL/DT (Pittsburgh) Jeff Knox RB/DB (Pittsburgh) Arie Kouandjio OT (Alabama) Kyrrel Latimer WR/S (Virginia) Michael Meriwether RB (Indiana Pa.) Daniel Tapscott QB/DB (Gannon) Lorenzo Waters WR/S (Rutgers)
Think 13 scholarship players is a lot? At DeMatha, this is considered an "average" class. In fact, 2011 could surpass this year's class with all the talent the Stags have coming back.
"I expect to have double digits [signing] here again next year," McGregor said. "That's how it seems to play out every year."
Here are some names to keep in mind for 2011:
Cyrus Kouandjio, OT (6-7, 332) Darian Cooper, DT (6-3, 275) Darien Harris, DB (5-11, 205) Kelby Johnson, OL (6-8, 265) Michael Williams, DB (5-11, 175) Elbie Williams, LB (6-2, 212) Jestin Hamm, WR (6-2, 185) Jordan Lomax ATH (5-10, 185) Kendall Patterson, DT (6-2, 272) Michael Moore, WR (6-2, 235) Delonte Morton, LB (6-4, 240) Sam Collura, TE (6-3, 260)