After a year of uncertainty, standout senior high school football players put their college futures on solid footing when they signed scholarships on National Signing Day Wednesday.
N. Pike has four signees
It was all smiles inside the North Pike gym Wednesday during National Signing Day as four Jaguar senior football players put pens to the papers and signed letters of intent with Southwest Mississippi Community College.
Long snapper Jackson Fortenberry, running back Damuriyon Montgomery, linebacker Fred Lewis and wide receiver Jacoby Matthews all donned SMCC hats afterwards, thrilled to be a part of new head coach Cliff Collins’ revitalization of the Bear program.
For Fortenberry, going to Southwest is something that he had his sights set on for a while. He won’t be the first in his family to attend SMCC.
“I think that it is a fantastic opportunity that I have been blessed with, I thank God for it every day,” he said. “I’ll be a fourth generation Bear that has played at Southwest. My Mom (Erin Fortenberry) was in the band, my grandfather (Boogie Tolar) played football at Southwest and my great-grandfather (Jerry Fortenberry) played baseball and basketball at Southwest and I am going to play football and baseball.”
Joining Fortenberry on the gridiron is running back Damuriyon Montgomery. Like Fortenberry, he is grateful for the opportunity to play for a junior college program.
“First off, I want to thank the man above and my coaches for helping me get here,” he said. “I want to thank everybody who I played with and everyone who tagged along and helped me get through this.”
He said Wednesday’s signing ceremony was a special moment because he got to share it with friends and teammates that he has had not only at North Pike but since playing youth baseball.
“I played with them ever since we were five years old, playing ball together,” he said. “It is a dream come true.”
Montgomery, who starred as a running back for the Jaguars, said that he will play the same position at SMCC but may also move around a bit in the system and possibly play some at wide receiver.
Joining Montgomery on the Bears offense is receiver Jacoby Matthews. SMCC was the lone offer for Matthews but it worked out well for him.
“I like the way that he carries himself and represents his program,” Matthews said, also thanking his mom (Jessica Matthews), grandparents (Kenneth and Mamie Matthews) and uncles.
Fred Lewis chose Southwest over different offers, including the University of Missouri and Murray State. Lewis said both Missouri and Murray State were preferred walk-on offers, not full scholarships, and he was more comfortable with the decision to sign with SMCC.
“It has been a hard recruitment and I just got the offer yesterday,” he said. “I was going to go to Missouri but I want to go to Southwest where I can get a full ride.”
In addition to the several parents, siblings and friends in attendance showing their support, the North Pike coaching staff also witnessed the occasion. Head coach Matt Mock was especially proud of watching four of his top players sign.
“It is a special day for these guys,” he said.
The offense he implemented in his first year in Summit is similar to the one Collins plans to run at SMCC.
South Pike has 5 players sign
The South Pike Eagles have found immense success over the past few seasons, and now five of their top players will get the opportunity to do the same in college after signing their letters of intent.
The five players who signed were Kam Reynolds (Jones College), Chris Royal (Mississippi College), Tyger Bateaste (Coahoma CC), Brennan “Buddy” Felder (SMCC) and Brandon Johnson (Birmingham Prep).
Reynolds chose the Bobcats over offers from other JUCO programs.
“I picked Jones over Southwest and Holmes,” he said. “When I went to Jones, it felt like home. I verbally committed in January.”
Reynolds lined up at both running back and slot receiver for coach Brinson Wall. However, when he gets to Ellisville, he said that he will play mostly from the slot position.
Another key to the Eagles’ offense over the past few years will also get the opportunity to shine in college. Brandon Johnson will go to tiny Birmingham Prep in Hoover, Ala. Johnson sees it as an opportunity to thrive and help him reach a destination further down the road.
“I am just trying to go put on for Magnolia and try to go to a four-year after this,” he said.
Like Reynolds, Johnson will get the chance play at either running back or receiver for the Cardinals.
Chris Royal is thankful to share the moment of signing with his teammates,kids that he grew up with.
“It is great seeing us grow up together and now we will get the chance to play ball,” he said. “We are going to different places and it is kind of bittersweet but I am happy for these guys.”
Two big parts of the South Pike defense also signed Wednesday in linebackers Bateaste and Felder.
Bateaste said he made the decision to sign with Coahoma a while back.
“When I went on campus, it felt different, it felt like I was home,” he said. “They showed love and let me try on all types of jerseys.”
Bateaste chose the Tigers over a preferred walk-on opportunity with Mississippi College. SMCC also showed interest, he said.
Fellow linebacker Buddy Felder is staying local after signing with Southwest. Felder chose SMCC over offers from Co-Lin, Jones and Pearl River, to name a few. Felder said his decision was made easier after talking to coaches.
“Coach Collins was a big factor,” he said.
Felder will make the move to the defensive secondary for the Bears, lining up at safety and nickel back.
Pair of Pioneers sign
Parents, students, friends and coaches witnessed two Parklane Pioneers sign letters of intent to two community colleges.
Offensive lineman Elijah Burns signed with SMCC and tight end Scott Burton signed with Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Burns received offers from Millsaps, Clarke University, Oklahoma Panhandle State University and Concordia College, but said going with the Bears was an easy move.
“I just love with what Cliff Collins is doing with the program,” he said. “I am just really excited for what he has going and I just want to be a part of what he has going in the future.”
Burton said choosing the Bulldogs means that he follows in the footsteps of his brother Hayden.
“My brother went there and I went up there a lot and it felt like home to me,” he said. “I know the coaches and I know the coaching staff. They will be able to help me.”
Two Tigers sign with SMCC
The McComb Tigers continued their tradition of having key players sign their letters of intent on National Signing Day with a pair staying local and committing to SMCC. Defensive back Kharel Coney and Chris Roberson signed with the Bears Wednesday in front of several friend, family, current and future teammates inside the McComb High gym.
Coney said he’s thankful for the chance to keep playing.
“I’m ready to get back to work. I know that coronavirus really messed up our season,” he said. “To be able to get a scholarship is truly a blessing.”
He said getting the chance to share the stage with Roberson, who he has known for most of his life, is special.
“I played with him since I was 8 (years old),” he said. “We always thought of these moments but to truly live in them, it is unbelievable.”
Coney played cornerback for the Tigers and is slated to do the same for the Bears.
Also signing with SMCC was Roberson, who has started at quarterback for the Tigers for the past three years. However when he gets on campus in Summit, he said he is open to change.
“I just want to play ball,” he said. “As long as I am on the field, helping my team and helping my teammates, that is all that matters. I don’t care where I am at as long as I am on the field.”
Another reason he chose SMCC is the desire to turn the program around after one win in the past three seasons.
“We are just trying to change it around,” he said. “Southwest hasn’t been too good and we just want to give the people something to be proud of.”
McComb head coach Willie Brown was elated to see two of his key guys sign with SMCC, adding that they made quite an impact on his club.
“It seemed like yesterday when I got here and we had a 10th-grade quarterback and a 10th-grade defensive back and linebacker,” Brown said. “Time has passed so fast. They are two good ball players and we are going to miss them.”