Wednesday couldn’t come soon enough for Florence linebacker Erroll Thompson.
The 6-foot-2, 253-pounder made his college destination official when he signed to play football for Mississippi State University. The talented three-star recruit headlined a group of 16 area players who signed letters of intent throughout the day.
Florence led the area with seven signees, while Muscle Shoals touted four. Brooks, Colbert County, Deshler, Hamilton and Russellville each had one.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for this day,” Thompson said. “It’s something I dreamed of as a kid.”
Thompson, who finished with 117 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and three sacks, said he spoke with some members of the Mississippi State coaching staff about his decision during the morning and is already eager to start playing.
“I talked to my coaches before I sent my letter of intent and just told them how excited I am and they told me how fired up they were. I’m really fired up and this is just a blessing and I’m ready to get to work.”
Union College picked up three signees with Florence kicker/punter Edson Casarrubias and defensive linemen Dequese Seay and Kyler Madden coming aboard. Defensive lineman Creighton Lynch signed with Western Illinois, while Ethan Burbank represented the offensive line after signing with Murray State. Fullback Malik Arnold rounded out the offense after opting for Alabama Prep Sports Academy.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun because I was afraid I would go down there and nobody would be there with me, so I’m happy to know people there,” Casarrubias said.
Added Seay: “When I found out Edson was going to commit and Kyler was going to commit to Union — it’s great playing with teammates you’ve been with for five-six years growing up.”
Florence coach J.B. Wallace said he’s proud of his players and hopes they succeed on the field and in their studies.
“It’s amazing,” Wallace said. “It’s something we talk to them about when they’re freshmen. For them to be able to live it and have the opportunity to do what they do, and most importantly get an education, is exciting.
“We’re just blessed with a great community. These kids that we have right here have great parents and a great background and we’re very excited for that. … We have several guys that are going to sign academic scholarships that were a part of this group, so we’re just very excited for that.”
Muscle Shoals quarterback Landon Smothers and cornerback Dwain Smith will continue as teammates at the University of North Alabama, while linebacker Caleb Felton inked with Middle Tennessee State after finishing the year with 141 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and three interceptions and defensive lineman Wil Kilpatrick opted for Faulkner after posting 121 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Felton said choosing Middle Tennessee State was an easy decision since that’s where he wanted to play football for the past two years.
“It’s a great town and there is a great atmosphere there,” Felton said. “It feels like home. It’s not too far and not too close. It’s just a perfect fit for me. I wanted to (attend) Middle Tennessee for the first time when I was in the 10th grade and I knew then that’s where I wanted to go, so it wasn’t a tough decision for me to make.”
Kilpatrick said visiting Faulkner solidified his decision and is ready to get to work.
“It feels amazing and it is a blessing from God. I love football and I’m just honored to be able to keep on hitting people in the head and getting sacks.
“Faulkner, the visit was big for me. It felt right. It’s not too far away, but it’s not too close. It’s a Christian school, which is a big part of it for me. It just felt right there.”
Russellville running back Deyon Hill, who rushed for 1,661 yard and 23 touchdowns and had 8 receptions for TDs, signed with Gulf South Conference member West Alabama after considering various offers. He made the decision Monday.
“I started thinking about college football about the third game of my senior year,” Hill said.
“I never really thought about it that much my junior year. Three games into my senior season I started thinking, ‘it’s about to be over, what am I going to do?’ Colleges started sending me letters and I thought, ‘Man, I really have a chance to go play somewhere and continue my career.’ ”
Russellville coach Mark Heaton said Hill has a chance to be an impact player for the Tigers.
“He is going to a place where offensively will fit what he is built for,” Heaton said. “Playing in the Gulf South Conference will literally give him a chance to be an All-American and all-conference before he graduates from there. I’m excited for him. He’s a great kid. He’ll grow a lot there too.”
Standout Hamilton running back Denzel Mitchell will start his career at UAB as a walk-on and is expected to become a member of the Blazers’ 2017 signing class. Mitchell had an injury-plagued 2015 season, battling shoulder, knee and Achilles’ problems. He said the Blazers, who will return to competition in 2017 after having their program shut down after the 2014 season, will give him a chance to get healthy with no pressure.
“Signing day means a whole lot to me, going through the injuries and everything I have been through,” Mitchell said. “You would think that I wouldn’t be able to go to a bigger program like UAB. It’s a blessing.”
Mitchell said UAB offered him before his junior season and he remained in contact.
“It’s a good deal for me. It’s what me and my parents looked at,” he said. “This is almost like me being able to redshirt. UAB doesn’t open till 2017, and that will give me an opportunity to get back to 110 percent like I am used to.”
Hamilton coach Rodney Stidham said deciding to go to UAB was the best decision for Mitchell.
“He has all the ability in the world to play college football,” he said. “The injuries took their toll and he needs that year to rehabilitate his body back to where he’s a college athlete.”
Deshler defensive lineman Josh Nix signed his letter of intent to play for Central Arkansas after recording 100 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Nix is an athlete who can also play H-back and tight end and should provide Central Arkansas with versatility.
“Since the first time I came in this building (the Winston Home) and watched somebody sign a scholarship I’ve wanted to one day be one of those guys,” Nix said. “I didn’t know if it would happen, but I’ve made it happen. My goal was to play Division I and I’m proud to have achieved that.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment for me. A lot of people have told me that in college you go from hero to zero, but I understand that.”
Colbert County quarterback Tyler Jeffreys with join other local talent after he signed with UNA. Jeffreys threw for 2,182 yards and had 23 touchdowns to captain the Indians to the Class 3A semifinals.
Brooks quarterback Tyce Thomas, who threw for 2,197 yards and 26 touchdowns, signed with Olivet Nazarene University after turning down some Division II offers.
Thomas said the chance at early playing time in a spread offense, paired with a strong relationship with the coaching staff was too much to pass up.
“It’s relief knowing where I’m going and knowing that it’s done,” Thomas said. “… These guys were the first to call me and they’ve talked to me the whole time. They gave me the best scholarship offer and … it’s mainly somewhere I was wanted and I could see myself going.”
Brooks coach Brad Black said he expects Thomas to make a name for himself at Olivet Nazarene.
“I think he’s got a great opportunity,” Black said. “I talked to their coaches and what they’re seeing out of him is what we saw out of him. … I feel like they think a lot of Tyce and value him as a player and as a kid. He had a great visit this weekend and said it felt like home and I said that’s where you want to be.”