Hankins, Cesario, Watson ink NLIs at Central's signing day ceremony
Forsyth Central's Ethan Hankins signs his National Letter of Intent to play baseball at Vanderbilt at Forsyth Central High School on Nov. 15, 2017. - photo by Brian Paglia
They’d waited long enough for this day, so Ashley Cesario, Ethan Hankins and Morgan Watson fretted over every detail of their scholarship signing ceremony in Forsyth Central’s cafeteria on Wednesday.

Cesario made sure every possible photo was taken with family, with friends, with teammates and with her grandparents, including the grandfather whose passion for swimming and collegiate background turned her on to the sport she’ll continue at Gardner-Webb University.

Watson brought decorations for her photos — a glove and a softball, helmets from her travel teams, balloons and flowers, and a Lander University sweater to hang over the front of the table. 

Hankins’ decor was simpler but no less intentional. The senior pitcher brought a glove, a Vanderbilt University baseball hat and a bat painted in the black and gold colors of the Commodores.

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Ashley Cesario signed her National Letter of Intent to swim at Gardner-Webb University on Nov. 15, 2017 at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Brian Paglia
Cesario had the shortest wait from the time she committed to Gardner-Webb this past July to Wednesday. 

“I was just ready to sign as soon as I was committed,” Cesario said. “But it wasn’t really bad, because I knew I was so excited to go there.”

Watson is coming up on almost a year since she committed to Lander as a junior in January. Softball players often make verbal commitments as early as freshman year, so Watson felt behind her peers. But it was still enough time to get comfortable with her choice.

“I built a really strong relationship with my coaches,” Watson said, “and I got to go to the school a lot of times and go to camps and really know that my decision was right.”

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Morgann Watson signs her National Letter of Intent to play softball at Lander University on Nov. 15, 2017 at Forsyth Central High School. - photo by Brian Paglia
Hankins had the longest to wait. He committed to Vanderbilt during the fall of his sophomore year, though there was little reservation about making a choice so early. Hankins had dreamt of playing for Vanderbilt since he was 11.

“That’s just been a dream school of mine,” Hankins said. “The record, the track record of pitchers coming out of there is ridiculous. Their whole player development side of things is pretty crazy.”

Of course, Hankins made his commitment to Vanderbilt before he developed into a pitcher who is now ranked by Baseball America and Perfect Game as the No. 1 high school prospect for next summer’s MLB Draft. It calls into question whether Hankins will ever play for Vanderbilt.

Hankins said his focus doesn’t stray too far from right in front of him. He’s most invested in his final season with Central and helping the Bulldogs win a region championship. 

He’s willing to wait some more to see what his future holds.

“Obviously, what’s going to happen next summer will change my life,” Hankins said, “whether it be Vanderbilt or playing pro baseball somewhere. It’s all surreal, and I try to put my focus on one thing at a time.”