Daniel Kramer / Times-Enterprise
Bill Shaver’s 20-year résumé at Thomas County Central includes three state championships and a 13-2 record over inner-city foe Thomasville, yet the Yellow Jackets coach set another benchmark on Wednesday when he oversaw a program record seven players secure collegiate football scholarships.
Among the signees were Caleb Autrey (Point University), Deondre Cooksey (Garden City Community College), Adam Choice (Clemson), Jarell Jones (Point University), Malcolm McClinton (Valdosta State), Austin Parmer (Carson-Newman University) and Gavin Wilson (Murray State).
Central has had high profile commits before – ala Ray Drew, Charlie Ward et al – but no collective that matched the watermark set Wednesday.
“I can’t remember a time where we’ve had this many,” Shaver said of Central’s past Signing Day ceremonies. “I think that’s a nice, big number and gives us a great sense of pride for our program. Every year we want more but obviously it’s going to be hard to over-do seven."
Choice was the headliner as the only Yellow Jacket headed to an automatic qualifier conference (formerly BCS). He expects to be at full health by late June when he treks to Clemson, and could compete for early playing time. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told Choice that there is no initial intent to redshirt the 1-AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year despite Choice’s transition to running back.
“I’m not opposed to [redshirting] at all but I’m not going there with that mindset, either,” Choice said. “And that’s what they told me: to come in ready to compete and try to earn a job. I’m going to go in there and try to earn a spot on that field.”
Should all come to fruition, Choice could play his first college game in Georgia – Clemson opens in Athens against the Bulldogs on Aug. 30. Shaver, who was Choice’s position coach at quarterback, said he’ll be between the hedges regardless.
“I’ll probably wearing orange for the first time in my life,” Shaver said.
The coach is also excited to watch McClinton’s defensive development at nearby Valdosta State. McClinton shifted from receiver to a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive back this year and thrived enough to snag a scholarship offer from the Blazers and coach David Dean.
“We almost signed him as a wide receiver but he played so well at linebacker and safety that that’s where we’re going to play him,” Dean told reporters on Wednesday.
Added Shaver: “They’re getting [a player] that I think is just scratching the surface of where he is right now as a defensive player. … He’s aggressive – he’s not like some wide receivers that don’t like contact. I just really think [he has] unlimited potential. Of course, Valdosta State always does a great job of putting out some great defensive players.”
The two Point players are excited to encounter their college excursions together. Autrey, the all-region offensive lineman, and Jones, the linebacker, plan to room together at the liberal arts institution near Columbus.
“One of my biggest fears was always going off and not knowing anybody, but having Jarell there – someone from Thomasville that I can talk to and relate to – that makes it a lot easier,” Autrey said.
Cooksey signed with Garden City Community College in Kansas on the heels of his 27-point basketball outing on Tuesday. He’s excited about Garden City and its reputation of developing and resurging talent to the Division I ranks, most recently Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.
Parmer will bring to Carson-Newman (Jefferson City, Tenn.) a swarm of prep honors after being named to the GHCA, AJC and Georgia Sportswriters all-state teams. He shifted from defensive end to tackle last year, though Shaver said he could play either or both at the next level.
Wilson will be making one of the furthest trips to Murray State in Kentucky, but will nonetheless find many Georgia ties. Head coach Chris Hatcher was formerly at Valdosta State and Georgia Southern, and receivers coach Russ Callaway grew up in Athens before coaching under Nick Saban at Alabama.
By the end of the ceremony, Shaver reflected on not only what these programs are getting, but also what he’s losing.
“It’s great for our program because it shows our kids that if they come and work hard in the classroom and on the field, then their dreams of continuing that and going on to the next level, there’s a chance to do that,” he said. “Obviously we like to see them close to home so we can go watch them play. But we have them all over and I’ve driven a lot of miles to go and see them. It is good to have some local but also good to send the Central brand out to other states, too.”