The pen, the paper, the prospect, the parents.
All four grace the majority of National Signing Day ceremonies.
Not Jacob Nesmith’s.
For starters, the Forsyth Central senior didn’t ink a national letter of intent like most of his fellow Bowl Subdivision signees did Wednesday.
He scribbled his signature on a nonbinding certificate to play at the Air Force Academy. His commitment won’t be finalized until he receives an official appointment to the school in Colorado Springs.
There was no extravagant gathering as Nesmith pledged his allegiance to the Falcons program. He signed the letter in his room. Alone.
The typical late push from other suitors followed his verbal commitment in early January.
Coaches from Georgia Southern, Presbyterian and other colleges attempted to woo him away from the rigors of military life.
But Nesmith is set on being an airman.
“They were just like, ‘I don’t believe you’re that kind of person. It’d be way too hard,’” Nesmith said.
If only they knew.
Glenn Nesmith worked long hours, bringing in just enough to get by. His wife, Diane, stayed home.
For as long as their children can remember, their parents used illicit drugs. Marijuana and cocaine, specifically, though Christi, Nick and Jacob Nesmith aren’t sure what all went on inside their home.
“It was a well-kept secret for a very long time,” said Christi, who graduated from Georgia Tech last May and works as a software consultant. “They never did anything in front of us.”
With nowhere to turn but toward each other, Jacob and his brother and sister grew extraordinarily close. They managed to stay on schedule with school, and together vowed to stay away from the lifestyle their parents practiced.
“Seeing them go through these bad decisions and living out the consequences really drove us to not have to do that,” said Nick, a walk-on offensive lineman at Georgia State.
Two car accidents within a year of each other further rocked the family’s state.
The first left Jacob’s mother with mental damage that took years to recover from. The second eventually landed his father in prison.
The wreck, which claimed the life of a passenger involved, wasn’t ruled to be Glenn’s fault, but investigators found an illegal substance in his system.
In February 2008, he was sentenced to 15 years. Christi said he expects a parole date next January. He’s been denied once so far.
Glenn now calls a Waycross prison cell home. Nick talked to him recently, and said his father is committed to staying away from drugs upon his release.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Diane didn’t characterize herself as an addict.
“It was not a habit,” she said from a house in White County. “It was on occasion.”
The one varsity game Jacob missed at Central wasn’t due to injury.
As a sophomore, he was ejected for throwing a player to the turf after the whistle. Bulldogs coach Chris Bennett made him sit out the next contest.
“I did have anger issues,” Jacob said. “I still struggle with them.”
Diane and Glenn split up on Christmas day in 2005 and filed for divorce shortly thereafter.
Christi was in the process of being accepted to Georgia Tech, and Nick had just wrapped up his season of freshman football at Central.
Jacob and his siblings’ conditions quickly went from tenuous to deplorable.
They bounced around between their parents until Diane moved to Newnan with a boyfriend. By then, Christi had left for college.
At one point, Glenn was living in a camper while the rest of the family occupied a house. Acquaintances of Diane’s who Jacob described as “shady” began showing up.
After their father’s sentencing, Jacob and Nick moved in with a family friend.
Nick did his best to steer his hardened brother in the right direction before enrolling at Georgia State.
“It was just me and Jacob,” said Nick, now 20. “I was the bigger brother, but I also had to be the father figure. I had to tell him what to do, what not to do, and look out for him in more of a strict way. It was hard.”
The first time Jacob tried football, he quit after a week.
“[The coach] threw footballs at our head if we did something wrong,” said Jacob, who was in third grade at the time. “I wasn’t having any of that.”
As a seventh-grader at Otwell Middle School a few months removed from his parents’ divorce, Jacob put on pads on again.
Raw but strong, he developed quickly, earning varsity minutes as a freshman two years later.
His sophomore and junior seasons both gleaned all-region honors. He’s played eight different positions, specializing at both tackle spots.
This year, he tallied 51 knockdowns and 23 pancake blocks en route to a 96 percent offensive line grade from Central’s coaching staff. On defense, he produced 52 tackles and 12 quarterback hurries.
“He was a dominant player for us for three years,” Bennett said. “It sure didn’t happen overnight. He’s just put in a lot of hard work all four years.”
The Bulldogs went 7-23 during Jacob’s three full varsity seasons. That didn’t stop a handful of Bowl Subdivision and Championship Subdivision schools from expressing interest, starting before his junior year. Working two jobs to pay for school, Christi sent him to a few team camps that summer.
Off the field, life didn’t get much easier. Jacob moved again twice, and his father was transferred last summer from an Atlanta prison to Waycross, about five hours away.
Glenn has never seen his son play football. Diane, who resides in White County, has twice.
“It’s kind of tough because everyone’s like, ‘There’s my dad in the stands,’” Jacob said. “… They get mad when their parents are annoying them because they’re asking them questions about the game or try to be a part of it. I’m like yeah, that must be really annoying.”
Glenn is usually able to talk to his children on the phone once a week. They check in with Diane periodically.
Through all his struggles, football has kept Jacob grounded.
“To me, it’s a great regimented thing,” said Jacob, who received early attention from Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Vanderbilt and Central Florida. “Outside of football, my life was very disoriented, and you never knew what was going to happen next.
“Football keeps my mind focused on something and it just helps me to release a lot of anger that I’ve had built up over the years.”
If Jacob Nesmith was looking for a continually structured lifestyle, he found it at the Air Force Academy’s picturesque campus nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Immediately following Jacob’s junior year, former Air Force recruiting coordinator Charlton Warren — he was promoted Wednesday to defensive coordinator and associate head coach — presented Jacob his first and only FBS offer, asking him to play defensive end.
The military aspect wasn’t an issue. After seeing Christi graduate from Tech last May and Nick rolling through his college coursework, Jacob was determined to follow suit.
If that meant becoming a serviceman to help him offset the cost of tuition, then so be it.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 245-pounder made up his mind in early January. His siblings accompanied him on his official visit two weeks later, and his decision was immediately confirmed.
“When we’d visited a couple other schools, he hadn’t shown that much excitement about going to college,” said Christi, who also took Jacob to Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Presbyterian College.
Nick went along on the trips, too.
“When we visited Air Force, I could just see the excitement in his face, and that was really cool.”
While most signings Wednesday marked the end of a long process, Jacob’s was just another step. He took his physical test Thursday, and medical evaluations and interviews will follow. Most appointments are handed out during March.
With high grades throughout high school and a qualifying SAT score, Jacob is well on his way.
When he gets to Colorado Springs, a rigorous daily routine awaits him. He’ll wake up about 5:15 a.m., attend classes in the morning, train in the afternoon, go to football practice, study, sleep, repeat.
After graduating, five years of active duty await.
By all accounts, he’s more than ready.
“When you make a decision like the Air Force, it’s not a four-year decision,” Bennett said. “Jacob’s committing to a lifetime decision, and if there’s someone who’s cut out for it, it’s him. That’s what’s so exciting about it.”
Said Jacob: “There will be pain, but I’ve dealt with that. It’s going to be a breeze compared to some of the things I’ve gone through.”
Friday, inside the conference room above Central’s D.B. Carroll Complex gymnasium, Jacob will have his signing ceremony.
As he pretends to write his name on a dummy sheet of paper, the man and woman that raised him will be there.
“My brother and sister, and my faith in Jesus,” Jacob said. “That’s what’s been my rock.”