North Forsyth football coach Jason Galt finished his part of the signing day festivities. Now, it was the players’ turn.
“As men, you’re going to have to learn how to speak in front of people,” Galt said. “It’s time for a little initiation.”
One by one, they walked up to the podium – first Harris Roberts, then Josh Petz, Jerret Paige, Payton Holbrooks and Clay Barton, a group that first formed as the Bennett Park Broncos when they were 7 years old. A black sign with ‘EXPECT TO WIN’ written in bold white letters hung behind them in the school’s weight room.
By the time North’s national signing day ceremony started Wednesday afternoon, Roberts, Petz, Paige, Holbrooks and Barton had already signed and faxed their letters of intent to play college football.
“All five of these guys were big contributors to our success,” Galt said. “They were able to achieve goals to play at the next level.”
Roberts, a quarterback who missed the final half of his senior season with a broken collarbone, signed with Furman. Holbrooks, a running back and linebacker, signed with Tusculum. Paige and Petz, both second-team linebackers who led North’s stingy defense, signed with Berry College and Kennesaw State, respectively. Barton, a center and long snapper, signed with Army.
“Today is really a dream come true,” Roberts said. “Everybody wants to play college football at a high level, and at Furman I’ll get a chance to do that. A very great moment.”
“This is something that as a little kid I always dreamed about,” Paige said. “It’s pretty cool.”
Together they endured turbulent times at North. Galt was the group’s third different head coach since they entered the program as freshman in 2010. The Raiders went 1-9 and 3-7 in 2011 and 2012, respectively, losing 12 straight region games at one point.
This past seasons was no exception. North started the season 4-0, but a 14-13 loss to Lambert on a botched two-point conversion portended adversity. Roberts went down for the season in North’s 45-6 loss to Alpharetta the following week. A third straight loss – 28-7 to rival West Forsyth – damaged the Raiders’ playoff hopes.
Yet, the group rallied, winning three straight games to end the regular season and reach the Class AAAAAA playoffs for the first time since 2010.
“We had to handle a lot of adversity,” Paige said, “but we’ve gone through a lot as friends. All the hard work, going through all the coaches, going through all the new offenses and defense, it all pays off in the end.”
“It’s just a culmination of all the hard work we’ve been putting in since we were just 7 years old,” Barton said. “It’s awesome.”