Large signing class validates Lovejoy’s success

State runner-ups send 19 on to college ranks

Photo by Dennis Thomas
After signing his letter-of-intent with South Carolina State, former Lovejoy linebacker Zane Fields says a brief prayer.

Photo by Dennis Thomas After signing his letter-of-intent with South Carolina State, former Lovejoy linebacker Zane Fields says a brief prayer.

HAMPTON – In what coach Al Hughes called the largest signing class that he can remember, Lovejoy saw 19 former players sign letters of intent to play college football Wednesday during National Signing Day.

“This (class) was just unbelievable,” Hughes said. “The kinds of things these kids did over the last four years. The region titles, the shots at championships. I think we were something like 37-4. That speaks highly of what these guys were able to accomplish here.”

This senior class was largely instrumental in the Wildcats’ success in their first season playing in Class AAAAAA — the state’s largest. And according to Hughes, six other student-athletes may sign over the next couple weeks.

Hughes said that while he’s excited to see his latest signees move on, he also has mixed emotions about it.

“It’s bittersweet,” Hughes said. “All of these guys are moving on and are going to be great. But all of these guys are leaving, and I’m going to miss them. I hope these other guys coming up are watching and taking notice of what they could become.”

Headlining the class was tight end Arshad Jackson who signed with Ole Miss after being formerly committed to Auburn and pursued heavily by Florida State. Jackson joins Grayson High defensive end and the nation’s No. 1 high school player Robert Ndkemdiche in helping to formulate one of the strongest recruiting classes in the SEC.

“I just feel like with such a big recruiting class, we really have a chance to make a difference in SEC football,” Jackson said. “Having (Ndkemdiche) sign played a bit of a factor, but mostly I just felt like I had a comfortable relationship with the coaches and players there.”

Said Hughes of his former tight end: “A.J. is just a special player. He doesn’t even know how good he can be yet. He’s no longer that gangly looking kid he was when he first came. He looks and plays like a real man now.”

JuMichael Ramos, who switched his commitment Sunday from Georgia Tech to N.C. State, made his final choice official Wednesday as he donned a red North Carolina State baseball cap while signing his letter of intent paperwork.

“I just felt what the coaches (at N.C. State) were giving me was real,” said Ramos who will major in Sports Management in college. “It wasn’t really about the offense or anything like that. I know I can make plays in any offense.”

Nose tackle/linebacker Nathaniel Norwood switched his longtime commitment from Jacksonville State to Appalachian State, joining defensive back Tyrell Brown. Defensive end Zane Fields signed with South Carolina State despite getting heavy attention from Indiana.

Meanwhile, other Wildcats honored their longstanding commitments with their schools. Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, who is headed to the Tennessee-Chattanooga, said he was excited to begin preparations to make as immediate an impact with UTC as possible.

“They’ve only got two quarterbacks, so I’m hoping to come in as second string and try to compete for that starting job as soon as I can,” Bennifield said.

Defensive end Zane Fields, who signed with South Carolina State, apparently made a great impression with the citizens in Orangeburg, S.C. Fields said that when he walked into a restaurant during a recent visit to Orangeburg, they were playing one of his highlight tapes.

“I don’t know how they got that,” he said. “It’s just a family environment up there just like Lovejoy. Everybody already knew who I was and that just made me feel like I belonged.”

All-state running back Travis Custis stayed true to his April 2012 commitment to Georgia Tech, despite being hotly pursued by Tennessee, Wisconsin and Florida.

“In the end, I stayed pretty much solid with Georgia Tech because they kept giving me 100 percent (attention) all the way through,” Custis said. “To get to this point feels like a dream come true.”

Hughes, used to giving orders and directions to this group for the last four years, had one more command for his successful seniors.

“Go make us proud,” he said.