Moultrie Observer

Local Sports

February 6, 2013

Seven Packers set to extend their careers

MOULTRIE —  Seven Colquitt County High football players were the focal points of National Signing Day ceremonies at the high school on Wednesday with each honored for the opportunity to continue his football career.

Bobby Hill, Octavius Jackson and Johnny Ward honored their long commitments to Football Bowl Series (Division I) programs; John Gray and Garrett Pearce signed with Division II National Champion Valdosta State; snapper Britt Jones will be a preferred walk-on at Georgia Southern; and Will Bannister is likely to get a chance to kick at Georgia Tech or one of three Ivy League schools.

“Playing college football is hard to do,” Packers coach Rush Propst said. “But these guys are blessed with the ability to do that.

“And it doesn’t matter where you play. Getting a scholarship is a huge feat.”

Hill, who will leave Colquitt County as the school’s all-time leading receiver, committed to Ole Miss last summer and will head to Oxford after signing his national letter of intent on Wednesday.

And he is a member of one of the nation’s best – and perhaps most surprising – recruiting classes.

Also on Wednesday, Ole Miss signed Grayson’s Robert Nkemdiche, regarded as the nation’s top prospect, and Lake City tackle Laremy Tunsil, one of the nation’s offensive line prospects. Hill said he had been contacted by several other schools, but is looking forward to going to Ole Miss.

He said he expects to start his career with the Rebels as a defensive back, a position he played rarely for the Packers.

Hill, and All-State selection, caught 84 passes for 1,115 yards and seven scores the Packers in 2012 and had 121 receptions for 1,706 yards and 15 touchdowns in his outstanding career with the Packers. Hill was selected to play in the GeorgIA Athletic Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star game played in December in Columbus.

Jackson had not returned to Moultrie from Austin, Texas, for Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony.

The All-State offensive tackle played a half as a member of the USA team that defeated the World Team 42-10 on Tuesday in the International Bowl in Austin on Tuesday night.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pounder signed with the University of Florida on Wednesday morning in a breakfast ceremony in Austin and then repeated the signing for the cameras at the Colquitt County field house Wednesday evening.

“I watched the game and he was one of the better players on the field,” Propst said of the Packers two-year starter at left tackle.

Propst said initial reports were that Jackson would likely redshirt at Florida next season, but he now may figure into the Gators plans for 2013.

South Florida has changed head coaches since Ward committed to becoming a Bull, but he, too, honored his pledge.

 Willie Taggart was named the head coach at South Florida in December, replacing Skip Holtz, who left for Louisiana Tech.

Ward, who was a two-year starter at cornerback, has two career interceptions, 131 total tackles and six sacks as he prepares to go to Tampa to enroll the one of the nation’s largest universities and play in the Big East.

“It’s a great school and great place to live,” Propst said.

All-State selection John Gray, a three-year starter at linebacker and the Packers leading tackler in 2012, heard from several schools but likes the idea of playing for a National Championship-caliber program near enough for his family to watch him play.

In 2012, the 6-foot-1, 238-pound Gray led the Packers with 163 tackles, including 67 solos. He also had two sacks, caused a fumble and had an interception.

As a junior, he was second on the team with 146 tackles. He had 86 tackles, including a sack, as a sophomore.

This time last year, no one would have imagined Pearce earning a scholarship to play football. In fact, Pearce had not played football since the ninth grade when he decided to give the sport one more shot last season.

Both he and the Packers benefited.

He earned a starting position during the season and became a favorite of the fans and his coaches with his sure and hard-hitting tackles.

“He came out of nowhere,” Propst said of the 6-foot-2, 170-pound safety. “But he’ll be a scholarship player.”

Pearce said the chance to play for a winning program close to home was too hard to turn down and he is looking forward to joining Gray and several other former Packers at Valdosta State.

Four former Packers — Quin Roberson, Davis Durham, Amel Magwood and D’Amonte Ridley — are members of the national champion Blazers.

Jones, a three-year starting snapper for the Packers, will follow the route to Statesboro taken by older brother Carter.

Carter Jones walked on Georgia Southern and earned a scholarship.

Propst said he expects Britt Jones, who was flawless during his career, to do the same.

“Being a preferred walk-on is a great opportunity,” Propst said.

Bannister, who is perhaps Colquitt County’s top student this year, is expected to attend Georgia Tech, Yale, Princeton or Brown. That decision will come in the next month or so, he said.

“And having a perfect score on the ACT or SAT does not guarantee you spot,” Propst said. Admission to one of the nation’s premier universities is based on extracurricular activities, including athletics.

And Bannister, whose work on his mechanics and repetitions paid off this season, was one of the top contributors to the Packers 10-4 record and berth in the state semifinals.

His persistence, and help from Packers coach Shawn Sutton and kicking coaches Andy Gibbs and Carol White in Albany led the long-legged Bannister to convert 38-of-41 extra points attempts and 6-of-8 field goal attempts.

Bannister said he will work on a degree in mechanical engineering at whichever school gives him an opportunity.

And he wants to continue to put the ball through the uprights as well.

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