West Forsyth head football coach Frank Hepler was all smiles — with good reason.
Of the 11 football players from Forsyth County schools who signed National Letters of Intent Wednesday morning, seven were sitting in the West media center.
Linebacker Mohammed Camara headlined the group with his ticket to the University of South Carolina, while quarterback A.J. Erdely signed to play for (Div. I) Middle Tennessee State University.
Also signing was Wolverines tight end Ty Anderson with (Div. I FCS) Jacksonville State University, inside linebacker Josh Salo with (NAIA) Faulkner University, wingback Jake Wieczorek with (Div. I FCS) Holy Cross and offensive tackle Zach Bradbury and inside linebacker Connor Vandenbos, both with (Div. II) Tusculum College.
"This is a great day in these guys’ lives," Hepler said. "To come and kind of culminate today and watch them sign a Letter of Intent to go off and play college football; it’s a big day — a real big day.
"It says a lot [for West]. The support that the administration has given ... all the way down to the education provided. They have given us the ability to have a great athletic program. It’s a real honor to have something like this in place in this county."
At South Forsyth, quarterback Jantzen Jeffrey accepted an offer from The Citadel (Div. I FCS), while all-state punter Brandon McKee signed with South Alabama — a young Div. I program that began in 2009. Elsewhere in the county, North Forsyth offensive lineman Colby Gossett signed with Appalachian State (Div. 1 FCS) and Pinecrest Academy quarterback Jimmy Strom signed with Northwood University (Div. II).
Camara racked up nearly every accolade possible for West during his senior year. The Rivals.com three-star recruit was named first team All-Region 6-AAAAAA, Defensive Player of the Year, Forsyth County Defensive Player of the Year and second team all-state.
He tallied 94 tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Camara is now eager to test his abilities against Southeastern Conference offenses.
"I’ve been looking forward to this day since last April when I committed to the University of South Carolina," Camara said. "It’s been a long journey, but I’m glad it’s here.
"The SEC has the biggest and fastest players. I wanted to play against the best competition and have the best coaching staff and that’s why I looked mostly to the SEC."
Erdely felt comfortable with Middle Tennessee State and plans to make an impact with his new team. The quarterback was named first team all-region, all-state honorable mention and was the Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year.
He threw for 2,373 yards and 18 touchdowns and proved to be effective on the ground with 888 rushing yards and 15 rushing scores.
"It’s a big sigh of relief and I’m happy to get [the recruiting process] over with," Erdely said. "I’m excited about getting up there. The coaches and going up there and all of that; I just fell for it, especially [for] the coaches."
Though injuries limited him to six games this season, Jeffrey still came close to tallying 1,000 yards of offense for South, passing for 638 yards and rushing for another 312 yards en route to 10 total touchdowns.
He didn’t seek out a military college when he started on the recruiting trail, but he was pursued by The Citadel and Air Force in addition to Presbyterian College. He visited all three schools, but it didn’t take long for him to feel that The Citadel was the right fit.
"My first visit to The Citadel I went to a home [football] game and I told the coach this the other day, ‘That game I went to was the first time I’d ever felt that that was where I needed to go and I could really see myself at that school,’" Jeffrey said.
"The thing about The Citadel, there is no commitment to serve [in the military], but if I do decide to while I’m there, I [would] go in as a commissioned officer when I graduate."
McKee was a special teams ace for the War Eagles last season, going 8-of-9 on field goal attempts and putting 40-of-45 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. Those stats earned him a spot on the all-county first team and All-Region 6-AAAAAA first team, but he received an even bigger honor when he was named to an all-state first team as a punter after averaging 44.8 yards per attempt with eight pinned inside the 20-yard line.
McKee’s best days may be ahead of him at South Alabama, as he did not play football his first two years of high school and had never kicked or punted at any level prior to his junior year.
After anchoring North’s offensive line last season, Gossett chose Appalachian State over Samford, Elon and UAB. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound tackle was named to the all-region first team and all-county first team last season.
Pinecrest’s Strom signed with Northwood after taking a visit to the school, located in Midland, Mich., over the weekend.
Strom earned first team all-county and first team All-Region 8-A honors following a season in which he broke the Pinecrest school record for most rushing yards in a game, most touchdowns in a game and most touchdowns in a season.
He finished with 1,007 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns in the Paladins’ triple-option offense and added 524 passing yards and five scores.
West’s Bradbury has high expectations for himself and is pleased Vandenbos will join him Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn., where the two plan on rooming together.
Bradbury (three-year starter) and Vandenbos (68 tackles, four forced fumbles and one interception) were both second team all-county and all-region honorable mention selections.
"[Tusculum] had my [nursing] major and they have everything to go make my major great," Bradbury said. "They go over and beyond for it.
"They want to win, and that’s what I came to do is try to win. I’m just grateful I’m able to play college football."
Anderson finished the season with 40 receptions for 630 yards and five touchdowns and was named to the first team all-region and honorable mention all-state list.
Salo boasted 72 tackles and three interceptions. His performance earned him second team all-region and second team all-county.
Wieczorek had an impressive season with 1,195 yards, 895 receiving yards and 333 kick return yards to total 25 touchdowns. The senior is just as successful in the classroom, where he touts a 5.0 grade-point average and is leaning toward a biology major.
"[Holy Cross] has an excellent football tradition and the academics are great," Wieczorek said. "It just fit everything I was looking for.
"My goal my first year is to start and just go from there. It’s a relief that the [recruiting process] is over so I can relax and enjoy the rest of my senior year."