February 7, 2013

Four Mountaineers will play at next level

CHATSWORTH — North Murray High School quarterback Brady Swilling wanted to play on a bigger stage. Mountaineers wide receiver Jacob Mays parlayed a stellar summer in which he grabbed headlines with his seven-on-seven play into an athletic scholarship.

The duo were a big part of their team’s offensive production in 2012 — North Murray went 5-5 under first-year coach David Gann, the best record in its three season of varsity competition — and they were also two of the four Mountaineers who celebrated with family, teammates and school administrators Wednesday morning on national signing day.

Mays and defensive end/linebacker David Martin signed athletic scholarships. Mays signed with Charleston Southern — an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision school that competes in the Big South Conference — while Martin will play at West Georgia Tech, a junior college in Carrollton that won’t begin competition until 2014.

Swilling has been invited to walk on at Georgia Tech, and safety Tino Hernandez will play at LaGrange College, which as an NCAA Division III institution does not award athletic scholarships.

Swilling, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards and threw for more than 1,500 yards last season in Gann’s option attack, said he had scholarship offers from Charleston Southern and Carson-Newman, a Division II program in Jefferson City, Tenn. In the end, he decided Georgia Tech and coach Paul Johnson’s option offense was the best fit for him.

“I could have signed an athletic scholarship somewhere, but I figured this choice of Tech would be the best thing for me in the long term,” Swilling said. “I want to be an engineer, and Tech is a great academic school. They invited me to be a walk-on, and it means they think I can help the team in some way.”

He said he has been told by quarterbacks coach Brian Bohannon that he will be given a chance to compete at that position, but Swilling said he is willing to help out the Yellow Jackets in any way possible. Swilling also played defensive back for the Mountaineers, for whom he has been the only starting quarterback since the program started as a junior varsity team his freshman year.

“(Bohannon) told me they want to see me at quarterback, and that is what I would like to do since I have been running the option all my life,” said Swilling, who made The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team as a quarterback this past season, when he also earned honorable mention for The Associated Press/Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 3A All-State Team.

“But whatever position they have that opens up, I intend to jump in and try to compete with all that I have.”

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson has a history of giving preferred walk-ons scholarships when they become available. During the 2012 preseason, Johnson awarded grants to safety Coray Carlson, defensive lineman Ben Keith, A-back Jamal Paige and kicker David Scully, all of whom joined the team as walk-ons.

Swilling is happy to have gone through the recruiting process but was glad to see it end.

“It was a little stressful at times, but now that the decision is made, it feels pretty good,” he said. “Plus, I don’t really have to change my wardrobe a whole lot since I have a lot of gold shirts.”

Georgia Tech’s official school colors are white and gold, while North Murray’s colors are black and gold.

Mays earned all-area honors as a junior, but he burst onto recruiting radars when he was selected by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to be a member of his all-star team at the Madden IGN 7-on-7 Champ-ionships last summer. Mays had offers from Presbyterian and Lenoir-Rhyne and even committed to the latter at one point during the  recruiting process.

His visit to Charleston convinced him to become a Buccaneer, though.

“I like Lenoir-Rhyne a lot, but I just really liked the coaches at Charleston Southern,” Mays said. “Charleston is a great city, and I am looking forward to getting there and seeing what I can do.”

Charleston Southern recently hired Jamey Chadwell as its new coach to replace Jay Mills, who retired after 10 seasons at the school. The Buccaneers were 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the Big South last season. Chadwell was 25-21 in four seasons as head coach at Delta State and North Greenville, a pair of Division II schools.

Martin heads to a school that is in the beginning stages of building its program. The Carrollton junior college announced its intentions to start football less than a year ago, and coach Walter Dunson hasn’t named his staff. The Golden Knights will have practices throughout the summer and into the fall despite not having a schedule this year.

Dunson grew up in Carrollton, played collegiately at Middle Tennessee State and was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1993, according to the West Georgia Tech website. Martin hopes his new coach’s contacts will be a big selling point in three years when it comes time to try to find an offer from a four-year school.

“I just want to get there and do what I have to do academically to qualify for a bigger school and perform on the field,” Martin said. “The sky is the limit.”

It has been an interesting football journey so far for Martin, who played his first two varsity seasons at Dalton before moving to Sweetwater, Tenn., for his junior year. He moved back to the area and played for the Mountaineers as a senior. In addition to West Georgia Tech, Martin had offers to play at Georgia Military, Chattahoochee Tech and Snow College in Ephraim, Utah.

Hernandez, a free safety, received an academic scholarship and will play for the Panthers, who were 3-7 last season. He said LaGrange coaches expect him to compete immediately.

“They lost their starting safety to graduation, so I want to go see what I can do,” he said.

While he is grateful to have a chance to play college football, Hernandez said he had even bigger responsibilities: setting an example for his younger siblings — Rebecca, 16, Jennifer, 14, and Austin, 11. He is the first in his family to attend college.

“It makes me feel proud and excited to lead the way for my family,” he said. “It is special, and I am truly blessed to have the coaching staff help me out. I never would have imagined this would happen for me.”

Gann is optimistic Hernandez won’t be among the last of the Mountaineers going to the next level.

“This is a great day, and these young men have worked extremely hard to get the opportunities they have in front of them,” he told the crowd gathered in the school’s media center. “We want to make this a regular celebration here at North Murray, and hopefully the younger players will see that their hard work will pay off.”

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