Signing day at Wake Forest High School is no big deal.
The Cougars are used to having star players continue their football careers, with athletes signing with Stanford (Bryce Love), Clemson (Dexter Lawrence) and Ohio State (Jaden McKenzie) in recent years.
But never during their period of football dominance has the school had a day when so many players inked their names on the dotted line. That all changed on Wednesday, National Signing Day.
Wake Forest had a record nine players commit to play college football, the biggest signing day class ever for the Cougars, who have won three straight 4AA state titles and are riding a 45-game winning streak.
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Some players earned full scholarships, while others were invited to programs as preferred walk-ons. Their destinations range from the ACC (running back Demarcus Jones and kicker Nolan Parris, N.C. State), to the American Athletic Conference (linebacker/defensive lineman Tagg Bullock, ECU), to the MEAC (offensive lineman Micah Speed, NCCU), to the CIAA (linebackers Nate Qualls and Devon Grant, Johnson C. Smith and Virginia Union, respectively).
Quarterback Seth Hillman will continue a family tradition, attending Concord University, his mom’s school. Isaiah Dickens will start a tradition after signing with Barton College. The Bulldogs will field their first football team next season.
Some went the Junior College route, including defensive lineman Isaac Foster (Louisburg college).
In addition to McKenzie, Mateo Sudipo (Coastal Carolina) and Traevon Kenion (South Carolina), who signed in the fall, head coach Reggie Lucas expects 15 players from the 2018 championship team to have signed by the end of the school year.
“I pinch myself every day, obviously with the championships, with the win streak, but this is what it’s all about,” Lucas said. “Having kids sign and go to college, and have an opportunity to continue dreams and I think this is what these guys wanted when they came here and they got that opportunity to do that.”
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
The Cougars have nailed high-profile signings, starting with Love in 2015, and Lawrence the following year. But those players sat on stage alone on their signing days. Some of their teammates would sign to smaller schools later on, but it didn’t come with much fanfare.
Last year, however, might have been the beginning of a new wave.
Devon Lawrence and Javon Terry both signed with UNC, and defensive back Drew Homschek joined the Tar Heels as a preferred walk-on. That same class saw Seth Williams (preferred walk-on at N.C. State), Lex Goodwin (Campbell) and John Jiles (For Scott Community College) continue their playing careers.
Lucas couldn’t put his finger on exactly why it took so long for him to have multiple players get offers.
“I’m still trying to figure out what college coaches are looking for,” Lucas said. “I think we still have kids that maybe don’t get offers, or get big offers, that are maybe more deserving, maybe I’m just biased towards those kids. It’s definitely nice to see.”
Convincing kids to take a look at smaller schools or accept a preferred walk-on offer also helps. The current commits were freshmen when Lawrence sat on stage in 2016 and donned Clemson hat. Every kid can’t get offered by Clemson, but most kids dream of playing at the big-time programs. This group, Lucas said, had a mindset of playing anywhere they got the opportunity.
“I try to tell the guys that the main thing is you’re going to get a higher education,” Lucas said. “If you walk away from any school with a degree, then you did the right thing. Going to school for four years, that’s tough alone, but to go there and play football and follow your dreams, that says something about the kids we have at Wake Forest.”
LAST TEAM STANDING
For three straight years, the Cougars have played into early December. That’s what happens when you make three consecutive title games. That means more exposure.
Late November, early December is when the college football regular season ends, and teams are either done, or have weeks to practice before their bowl game. That’s when college coaches hit the road recruiting, and since the Cougars are usually still practicing and playing around that time, more coaches have had a chance to get an extra look.
“The longer you play, the smaller number of teams that’s out there for colleges to watch,” Lucas said. “When colleges are still on the road and you are still out there practicing, they don’t have many places to go to, so fortunately they get to come over here and see our kids.”
Before Wake Forest won its first state title in 2016, there were doubters. The Cougars were the team to beat in the east, but that meant nothing if they couldn’t beat the teams from out west, especially the teams from Charlotte.
They’ve done that in their last two state title victories, outscoring the Charlotte-based schools 30-7 in two games. So Lucas and Wake Forest was able to check that off the list.
“Over the last three years,” Jones said, “I feel like we were the class that was doubted the most.”
Wake Forest outscored opponents in the playoffs 154-31. The next question, Lucas anticipates, is if they can continue the streak.
“People are going to question,” Lucas said. “You can’t get caught up on that. Right now it’s a time to be proud of these guys.”
Jones, surrounded by his eight fellow signees, had one message for anyone outside of Wake Forest who questions the Cougars’ success.
“Not much they can say,” Jones said. “If you say something, I guess you have to beat us.”