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Southern set to play football UGA; 18 from West sign National Letters of Intent
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Eighteen student-athletes from West Forsyth signed Thursday to continue their athletic careers collegiately. - photo by Jacob Smith

It was at Moe’s Southwest Grill where West Forsyth senior Drew Southern had his life changed forever. 

“I got a call, so I stepped outside," Southern said. "They said, ‘You’re a Georgia Bulldog if you want to be.’ Everything accelerated from there. It was pretty crazy.” 

Southern, along with 17 other Wolverines, signed his National Letter of Intent on Thursday at West Forsyth High School to continue his athletic career collegiately. Southern said that he credits playing quarterback his first two seasons to his recruitment starting slowly, but his play on defense helped him land the preferred walk-on spot at UGA. 

“I think it was probably really important,” Southern said. “7A football in Georgia ... I think Maxpreps had the schools number one and two in the nation. It really shows that guys like us can play with some of the best teams.

“I didn’t have a ton of film, but moving positions senior year gave me a lot more film. We played on TV a couple times and some people started to take notice.”

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Southern said UGA first contacted him after their first televised game against Mays in the Corky Kell Classic. Southern joins Dylan Fairchild as the Wolverines joining the Bulldogs football team in the fall.

“I’m excited to just be able to continue and play football,” Southern said. “You never want it to end. I’m excited to go make new relationships, meet new people and get to work.” 

Three other members of the Wolverines’ football team signed on Thursday: Kobe Haynes [Mars Hill], TJ Jennings [Erskine College] and Dalton Tjong [Ohio Northern]. 

Haynes was a staple of the Wolverines' defense this past season, leading the team in tackles [112] and tying for the team lead in tackles for loss [20] at linebacker.

“He’s probably not just the best leader on the football team, but one of the best leaders we have walking the halls at this school,” West football coach Dave Svehla said. 

Jennings led all of West's wide receivers in receiving yards in 2021 and was behind only tight end Oscar Delp in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Jennings had to work his way up the receiver depth chart, but Svehla credited Jennings’ hard work to his success. 

Tjong returned kickoffs and played defensive back for the Wolverines. He finished second on the defense in interceptions with three and finished fourth on the team in all-purpose yards. 

“Dalton overcame a broken hand and missed some games, but came back and played a key role for us, including setting the tone for us beating North Gwinnett in the Sweet 16 of the playoffs,” Svehla said. 

Four girls soccer players signed to continue their athletic career. Tori DellaPeruta currently leads the state of Georgia with 47 goals scored as a junior. She plans to leave West Forsyth a semester early and become an early enrollee this winter at the University of North Carolina. 

“I would like to thank my parents, my sister and my amazing club coach,” DellaPeruta said. “I’m very excited for this opportunity of getting to play soccer at UNC.” 

After leading the flag football team to the state's first-ever 6A-7A state championship in the fall, Haylee Dornan signed to continue her soccer career at Piedmont College. 

Dornan lettered in four sports during her time at West. Along with soccer and flag football, Dornan played on the basketball team and even kicked for the football team. 

Last year, Courtney's JeBavy's older sister, Katie JeBavy, signed to play college soccer at Georgia Southern. This year, Courtney JeBavy joins her sister as a member of the Georgia Southern soccer team. 

“First, I’d like to thank my family for being my biggest supporters,” JeBavy said. “I’m just super excited to get to play with my sister again next year." 

Head soccer coach Jason Galt gave one word to describe each of his athletes signing on Thursday. Sarah Harrell’s word was ‘boom.’

“I think we know why,” Galt said. “Whenever she kicks that soccer ball, it’s like a boom. If you’ve never watched her play, some of the goals she scores are just unbelievable.”

Harrell signed to continue her soccer career at the University of West Georgia. 

Four lacrosse players also signed, including Cami Merkel who will continue her lacrosse career at Liberty University. Merkel finishes her career at West with the most goals scored by a Wolverine. 

Morgan Tate will play at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. She’s made All-County twice and head lacrosse coach Chris Kiefer said he would nominate her for the All-State team this year. 

On the boys team, Connor Daughtry signed to play at Emmanuel College and Tiernan Pepple signed to play at Limestone College. 

“He was built more like a tackle than what you see today,” West head lacrosse coach John Laden said when asked about Daughty. 

Laden said that Pepple would have been the first All-American in West Forsyth history had he not been plagued by injury throughout his time as a Wolverine. 

Harrison Kim and Bri Laidman both signed from the Wolverines tennis team. Kim will play Division 1 tennis at Georgia State University. West head coach Neil Womack said that he was most impressed by Kim’s leadership, when so many freshman and sophomore players asked to speak at Kim’s signing. 

Laidman has competed on the varsity team for all four years and moves on to play at Piedmont College. 

“She took on a leadership role this year, which is a big reason why we are hosting the Elite Eight later next week,” West tennis coach Steve Kolka said.

For the Wolverines track and field team, Tyler Doty signed to the University of South Alabama and Brooke Shaw signed to Reinhardt University. 

Track head coach Clayton Tillery said he grew up around Mobile, Alabama, where USA is located and warned Doty about how different life will be just a state away. Doty was a three-time GHSA track team member. 

Shaw cut her two-mile time from 13:13 to 11:44 since her sophomore season. Tillery said he expects Shaw to be a big part of the Wolverines appearance at the track state tournament. 

Luke Heindl was the lone baseball player who signed Thursday, and he is set to become a Pirate at Pensacola State College. 

West head coach Jim Ernst said the coaches noticed how powerful Heindl’s swing was as a freshman, but has been plagued by injury throughout his tenure at West. 

Representing West's swim and dive team, Conor Hubbard signed his National Letter of Intent alongside his mother and grandparents to swim collegiately at Catawba College in Salisbury, North Carolina. 

“He’s someone who gets better every year,” West swim coach Scott Frederick said. “He’s a great teammate with even better talent. He’s a great example of someone who has great dedication and hard work, they can accomplish their goals.”