Patrick Smith, left, and wife, Essie, look on as son, Rodney and his Mundy’s Mill teammate Jonathan Celestin sign their national letter-of-intent to attend Minnesota on football scholarships. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
JONESBORO — It has been a season of firsts for the Mundy’s Mill football program, and Wednesday’s National Signing Day added to the historical season.
When Rodney Smith and Jonathan Celestin signed their national letters-of-intent at 9:37 a.m. to Minnesota, it marked the first time in the program’s history that any players had signed with a major college.
“This is a very special moment for me,” Celestin said. “I’ve been waiting my entire life to sign a football scholarship. It is definitely a relief not to have to worry about recruiting any more.”
Mundy’s Mill football coach Greg Manior said this could be a turning point in his program following a record-setting season on the field. This past season, the Tigers won a school-record eight games, all in a row, to reach the Class AAAAA quarterfinals with Smith and Celestin leading the way.
Smith, who rushed for a school-record 2,201 yards and 26 touchdowns, was named to the Georgia Sportswriters Association’s first team all-state and was chosen the Clayton News Daily Clayton County Offensive Player of the Year. Celestin was first team
all-region and the Clayton News Daily Clayton County Defensive Player of the Year.
“I’m definitely pleased with my decision,” said Smith, who chose Minnesota over offers from East Carolina and Southern Mississippi. “Now its time to get back to work, and get ready for college.”
But before he arrives at Minnesota, Smith will play his final season on the baseball team. He is one of the top infielders in the state, and will likely be drafted in the June Major League Baseball draft. If drafted high enough, Smith might forgo college for a professional baseball career.
But for now, he is happy being a part of the Minnesota program, which has become a contender in the Big Ten Conference.
“I’m relieved this is over, but this has been a blessing for our family,” Smith’s mother, Essie, said. “It was a blessing to go through the process. I’m very excited for Rodney because his hard work has paid off. I’m glad this process is over with, and now it is time to move on to the next level.”
Both Smith and Celestin have unique stories in attracting attention from the Big Ten school.
The biggest question for Smith would be how his knee would respond after having major surgery after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in Game 9 of the 2012 season. He missed all of last baseball season while going through rehab.
As he began to pile up big yardage this season, several schools, including Minnesota began to take interest. He committed to Minnesota on Jan. 24. He is one of three running backs to sign with the Golden Gophers program, which included Minnesota’s top running back prospect Jeff Jones.
Only a few weeks ago, Celestin had offers from Division II Valdosta State and Western Carolina, but the Golden Gophers began to show interest. After flying up for an official visit a couple weeks ago, he committed to Minnesota.
“It has always been his dream to play Division I football,” Celestin’s mother, Eunice, said.
“It is great that I’m going to be up there with my best friend, Rodney,” Celestin said. “I have an instant friend at the school already.”