COVINGTON—Newton County High School’s auditorium could hardly fit friends and family, plus the smiles of the Rams’ five athletes signing their National Letters of Intent Wednesday morning.
The packed-out auditorium shook with thunderous applause and cheers as each student-athlete went on to realize their dreams were becoming a reality.
The first to put pen to paper, donning a Knights hat and white shades, was Alex Jackson signing with Georgia Prep Academy, located in Snellville, Georgia.
“It’s a one in a lifetime experience,” Jackson said with a grin. “There are no words to really describe how I’m feeling right now. No one can kill my mood right now. I’m very, very excited to get with the Knights. I’m ready to get started, get some pads on and hit somebody.”
The Georgia Prep Academy, founded in 2018, is coached by Chad Randolph and serves as a two-year post-graduate academic and athletic program.
“The Knights offered me a day after Birmingham Prep offered me and I went up there on a visit,” Jackson said. “It felt like home, it felt like family. Of course they treat you like a recruit, but it’s just family. They talk to you like family, they treat you like family. It felt like home, plus it’s close to home. So there really wasn’t any decision to make. I already knew my heart was already in it.”
Jackson will transition from defensive end, where he played at Newton, to linebacker for the Knights and is also listed as a defensive captain which he says, “is an honor.”
The next to sign was an unconventional one for National Signing Day, but special to the Newton Rams family nonetheless. Kendall Belcher made his plans to attend the University of Kentucky official.
“Kendall is an excellent student,” Newton Head Coach Camiel Grant said. “He’s always wanted to attend the University of Kentucky and he’s in our ROTC program here and done an excellent job in that program. His scores were so high on his asvab that he earned an ROTC scholarship to where ever he wanted to go to school, full ride.”
Belcher was sidelined much of his junior and senior seasons with injuries, but was an active participant in every Newton practice, game and team function.
“For us as a staff, we thought it was important because he’s a part of the team and he wanted to be involved in this signing day,” Grant said. “It’s not a traditional signing like we look at on the first Wednesday in February, but for us he’s a part of the program, he’s one of the Newton boys, and this was his way to be able to share that with his family publicly. There was no way we were not going to involve him in that process.”
Dejuan Brown soon followed Belcher, signing his letter to play in Kansas at Highland Community College. Highland is a regular opponent of Independence Community College who became famous through the Netflix show, Last Chance U.
Brown, who finished his senior year with 62 tackles, two interceptions, and a pick-six, will play safety and nickel corner based on his skills shown while a Ram.
“It was a great fit for me,” Brown said. “I like the program and the coach’s told me I’ll have a chance to come in and compete for the starting spot right away. I think that’s really the reason I committed. They reached out and offered last Saturday and the DB coach said he liked my film and he thinks I’ll come in and play right away as a freshman.”
Following Brown, in metal-studded loafers, reminiscent of Lamar Jackson at the Heisman Trophy presentation, was running back Adarius Thomas. Thomas is leaving the Rams to join a respected JUCO program at Butler Community College.
Butler is a well-known stepping stone for college athletes and for their NFL products like Falcons Ryan Schrader, Cowboys Michael Gallup, and Demarcus Lawrence.
Thomas finished his senior season at Newton with over 1,000 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns.
“It’s a good day and it’s a sad day,” Grant said reminiscing on his players. “The sad part is because you know those guys are leaving and they’re no longer a part of your program. You have a little bit of nostalgia when it comes to that and you know you’re going to miss them. So that part of the emotion is there, but it’s a great day because they set a goal.”
Wrapping up the festivities for Newton was the lone Division-I student athlete, wide receiver Mike Mathison. After de-committing from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Mathison decided his talents were best served in Lebron James’ birthplace, the University of Akron.
“Akron reached out to me after I decommited,” Mathison said. “Basically, just telling me that they want me, and nothing has changed. They felt like they had a steal. They expect me to be a guy that comes in and plays immediately but I guess that will depend on how well I adjust to things and learn the system.”
With the Zips having a new head coach, Mathison knew there would be a level playing field learning the playbook, but something more important was what Akron offered off the field.
“On my visit, of course education is first,” Mathison said. “And I want to major in sport management and a lot of the schools that were recruiting me did not have that program and I would have to major in business. Also, with Cleveland nearby there is a lot of pro teams in the area which I would have the opportunity to intern with.”
Mathison also added that he liked Akron’s campus layout being closed off away from the hustle and bustle of major interstates. With that the new Zip will be able to focus on the student part of his new opportunity which he greatly values.
“It’s a blessing to go to school for free and not have to come out of pocket and being in debt your whole life.” Mathison said. “A lot of players don’t realize how lucky they are and don’t take advantage of it. Regardless of if you ever play a college snap that degree will take you farther. Other than that, I just want to able to make a name for myself on the football field and I have a perfect opportunity to accomplish that at Akron.”