Tobia Qualls

Colbert County standout wide receiver Tobias Qualls gets a hug from his mother Keia Oates and three sisters Justice, Quadria and Nasjah after signing a national letter of intent to play for UNA.

Twenty-eight area football players achieved something most never get to experience, signing an athletic scholarship on National Signing Day.

Florence, which boasted a record 15 signees, has four players headed to Division 1 FBS schools, as linebacker Keaton Anderson signed his letter-of-intent with Alabama, offensive lineman Chandler Brewer and defensive lineman Malik Manciel both signed with Middle Tennessee State and safety Dee Smith signed with Louisville.

“I’m very excited for them and very proud of them,” Florence coach J.B. Wallace said. “They worked hard and the things that they worked for they achieved. They set records here at the school and I’m excited for them.”

Lauderdale County tight end Zach Davis, who signed with South Alabama, became the school’s first Division 1 signee since James Haney signed with Alabama in 1978, according to coach Bob Grisham.

“It’s a dream come true,” Davis said. “I’ve been waiting on this my whole life and I’m finally glad that it’s here.”

Five Muscle Shoals players signed, as kicker/punter Rhett Morrison signed with Murray State, linebacker Corey Beckwith and defensive lineman Hollis Abernathy signed with Lincoln (Missouri) University and offensive lineman Nick Deluna and defensive back Dylan Montgomery signed with North Alabama.

“It feels great; this is something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little kid, but I never thought I would get an opportunity to actually do it,” said Morrison, a punter who signed with Murray State. “It’s a dream come true. ... It’s going to be a big challenge for me, but I’m a very competitive person and I feel like I can play there.”

Abernathy, a defensive tackle, and Beckwith, a linebacker, said the appeal of getting early playing time swayed them to Lincoln.

“I like the coaches there and I feel like Lincoln is a good place for me to play and get my education,” Abernathy said. “They told me I will have the opportunity to play quickly if I come in and work hard. It’s a blessing to be able to do something I’m dreamed about all my life.”

Added Beckwith, “They need some linebackers, so I feel like I have an opportunity to get some early playing time, if not start. I may play some safety as well. I’ve got to beef up a little and get faster, but I feel like I can go in and play.”

Deshler’s LaDrelin Cheatam, a linebacker, signed with Mississippi Valley State University of the Southwest Athletic Conference.

“This is a blessing to me,” he said. “I’ve worked my butt off all four years I’ve been here. “It was a hard choice at first because I wasn’t sure about it. It’s a really rural area, and I wasn’t sure it would be a good fit for me. In the end I think I made a good decision.”

Cheatam said he was nervous when it came to signing in front of a packed Winston Home audience filled with teammates, students, faculty and friends

“I was nervous,” he said. “I ain’t going to lie, my hand was shaking. I kind of messed up my signature. I wish I had practiced my signature a little more.

Interim Deshler coach Michael Statom said MVSU is getting a good player.

“To see LaDrelin, one of our team leaders and what he went through and accomplish what he did, he’s a pretty good player,” Statom said. “They are tickled to have him. They can’t believe they signed him. To have a guy come out of here and sign a Division I scholarship is pretty amazing. Those guys think he can come in and play pretty quick.”

Wilson running back Jason Futrell and tight end/defensive end Blake Wood are headed to North Alabama.

“This is a big day for Wilson High School, Wilson football and these players,” coach Scott Brown said. “It’s exciting that they get to play locally.”

Futrell, a 1,000-yard rusher, said the opportunity to sign with UNA is unbelievable.

“Without this, I’d probably have to get a job,” he said. “I’m excited to get this chance.”

Wood, a tight end/defensive end, said he is ready to get started with the Lions.

“This has been a goal of mine for a long time,” he said. “They won’t regret it.”

Lawrence County had fullback/linebacker Robert Beaulieu and running back/defensive back Jacob Lovelace sign with Bethel.

Colbert County receiver Tobias Qualls signed with North Alabama and Russellville linebacker Jacob Hamilton signed with Huntingdon.

Florence athletic director Byron Graham said the program has continued to develop collegiate athletes over the last three years.

“That’s the direction we’re trying to go to,” Graham said. “We want to keep improving every year. We went from eight (signees) to 10 and 15. So, that’s a milestone for our school and I think that’s a record for our school as far as signees. So, at the end of the day it’s a testament to Coach Wallace and the type of program he’s running and I’m proud of all our players.”

North Alabama inked six of the Florence signees, as receiver Dillon Fredrick, quarterback Blake Hawkins, defensive end Blake Kasmeier, linebacker Cody King, cornerback Lamar Lee and BJ Oakley signed with the Lions.

Florence running back Roland Adams signed with Samford, defensive end Jordan Dollerson signed with Elon, defensive end Edwin Johnson signed with Cumberland, cornerback Malik Jones signed with Nassau and offensive lineman DaQuwan Polk signed with Kentucky Wesleyan.

Sports editor Gregg Dewalt and assistant sports editor Jeff McIntyre contributed to this report.

Contact John McWilliams at 256-740-5730 or john.mcwilliams@timesdaily.com. Follow him at TD_JMcWilliams.

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