Two Lambert administrators guarded the door to the school’s media center, letting in only players, teammates, family, and, well, media. Inside, the scene was still chaotic—it was a little-known rule that everyone in attendance had to be in the background of at least one cell phone picture—as 17 Lambert athletes signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday morning for baseball, softball, lacrosse, golf, swimming and gymnastics.
Lambert baseball didn’t go 36-2 and win the Class AAAAAA state championship last season without its fair share of future college players. On Wednesday morning, three Longhorns—the first of many—made it official.
All three seniors signed with the schools to which they had verbally committed: outfielder Jeremy Johnson to Auburn, infielder Eric Furphy to Georgia Southern, and shortstop Nick Guimbarda to Presbyterian College. Will Dunavant, who is committed to Wofford, did not sign but has until next Wednesday to send in papers to the Terriers. Ben McCurley has not verbally committed to a school or signed papers as of Friday.
Johnson chose Auburn over Alabama baseball and a host of football offers from schools like Marshall, Furman and Mercer.
“I saw baseball as a possibility beyond college,” Johnson said. “It’s easier on your body. I started leaning that way after last season and it was more of just a dream. Now, it’s turned in to a goal.”
Auburn was the first offer Johnson received from an SEC program. He visited in early August and committed to Tigers head coach Sunny Golloway while still on campus.
“Every time I go there, everyone on staff is so friendly,” Johnson said. “The office staff remembers who I am, even though I’ve only been a few times. It feels like a small school in a big school’s body.”
Johnson said he’s excited to play for Auburn associate head coach Tom Holliday, the father of St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, a six-time MLB All-Star. In 30-plus seasons of college coaching, with stops at Oklahoma State, Texas and N.C. State, the elder Holliday has been to the College World Series 15 times.
“He knows so much about baseball, and more importantly, just about life in general,” Johnson said.
Eric Furphy, a middle infielder, couldn’t turn down what Georgia Southern offered, both financially and from a baseball standpoint. The Eagles have been maybe the best college program in Georgia the past two years and start play in the Sun Belt Conference, a step up from the Southern Conference, during the 2014-15 season.
“When I took my unofficial visit last year, they took me around campus as soon as I got there and it just felt right away like a place where I’d love to spend my next four years,” Furphy said. “It’s one of the top baseball programs in the state and the southeast and I’ll get plenty of chances to play against SEC and ACC teams.”
When the University of Georgia didn’t work out, Southern jumped in with a strong scholarship package, on top of the HOPE Scholarship. It could just work out for the best—Furphy gets to play for Eagles assistant Chris Moore, a two-time All-American middle infielder at Western Carolina.
“I love coach Moore, and we’ve developed a connection just from playing up the middle,” Furphy said. “He’s worked with me a ton. [Head coach] Rodney Hennon has been around the game forever.”
Furphy knows there’s one area of his game that has to take a major jump this season for Lambert: hitting the baseball.
“In college, you’re stepping up against stronger pitching and stronger defense,” he said. “Everything’s better, so you’ve got to be better.”
Nick Guimbarda, the Longhorns’ utility outfielder last season, signed for Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., 160 miles from Cumming.
“I saw myself going to a smaller school in a small town like that,” Guimbarda said. “The coaches are so personable and outgoing and they develop their players really well.”
Guimbarda looked at Lipscomb and Wofford—both small, private schools—but settled on the Blue Hose in the upstate of South Carolina. He said Presbyterian coaches have not said whether they plan to keep him at shortstop, his natural position, or move him elsewhere on the diamond, but Guimbarda said he’s willing to play wherever needed.
The Longhorns begin preparations for the 2014 campaign over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend in late January. Head coach Jamie Corr is gone, but Lambert brings back almost every major piece from a team that was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today.
“The goal is to win another state championship,” Guimbarda said. “We went 36-2 last year and we want to do that again.”