Just a handful of days ago, Jay Jay Smith boarded a plane for the first time in his young life, bound for Texas-San Antonio with a new offer in his back pocket.
On Wednesday, the cornerback was one of 14 Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College football players who signed for the next level, securing his pledge with the Roadrunners. Five more are expected to sign in the near future.
“It’s a big day,” MGCCC coach Chad Huff said. “This day started a year and a half, two years ago in their homes and showing them the vision we have here at Gulf Coast. To come here and play for some championships and at the end of the day get their education with an opportunity to graduate and move onto a four-year school... We’re just excited to see these guys’ dreams come true and move on to the next level.”
Smith’s former Gulfport High teammate, Jonathan Nance, took the scenic route of sorts to signing day, originally enrolling early at Southern Miss before opting to transfer to Gulf Coast. The wide receiver signed with Arkansas on Wednesday.
Never miss a local story.
“It has been a while ride,” Nance said after posing with Smith for a photo. “I know I made the right decision to come here and I’m going to make the best of it at Arkansas. Everything was worth it. The whole process and everything I went through is paying off.
“It was probably one of the best decisions I made in my whole life.”
Smith said UTSA coach Frank Wilson sealed his commitment over the weekend while he was visiting San Antonio.
“Frank is a wonderful coach,” he said. “He’s funny. … They just made me feel at home down there – like I’d known him my whole life.”
For the most part, Gulf Coast’s signees had already made their decisions public. Only receiver Brandon Martin, who signed with LSU out of high school and later briefly committed to Auburn, remained uncommitted. The 6-foot-4 receiver opted to wait and sign Thursday with his family at home in Monroe, Louisiana. He told the Sun Herald he’ll sign with Arkansas over LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State.
“I felt like it was the best fit,” Martin said. “It’s official now; I’m just going to sign tomorrow.”
While Southern Miss commit TRod Daniels will graduate from MGCCC this month, he’ll wait until February to sign with the Golden Eagles.
Like Martin, former East Central standout Dylan Davis is waiting until Thursday. He’ll sign with Arkansas Tech.
Defensive lineman Marquand Thornton is undecided but expects to sign during the current signing window. Quarterback Kalen Whitlow is a Grambling State commit who is also expected to sign soon.
Players have until Jan. 15 to sign during the current signing window. The Bulldogs anticipate having several other signees in the spring.
In the last week or so, kicker Joshua Rowland (Texas), offensive linemen Kevin Haas (Ohio), Rishard Cook (UAB), and D’Marcus Hayes (Georgia), along with defensive ends Isaiah Buggs (Alabama) and Carson Jordan (Western Kentucky), announced their decisions on Twitter shortly after taking official visits.
Rowland opened last weekend with a visit to UTSA, but he landed a Texas offer while he was in Austin. Within a few hours, he was new coach Tom Herman’s first commit.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions,” he said of the recruiting experience. “I probably made it more stressful than I needed it to be. Being a kicker, all these bigger schools came in late. I’m glad I waited and held out for the right school.”
Texas Tech swooped in a few weeks back and swiped the signature of defensive back Vaughnte Dorsey, who 247Sports ranks as the No. 125 JUCO athlete nationally.
“There were a lot of emotions. Love the coaches I have right now but it’s time for bigger and better,” he said, adding the Red Raiders expect to use him all over the secondary.
Jordan, who starred at Hancock before landing at Gulf Coast, said Western Kentucky’s coaching change wasn’t a deterrent. Several hours after Jordan signed with the Hilltoppers, WKU announced Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford as its next coach.
“They’re a winning program in Conference USA and I want to be a part of that. When I went on my visit it felt like home with the small town feel,” Jordan said. “I’m going there because I like the place and I’m excited to see who they hire.”
247Sports’ composite rankings listed Buggs as the No. 2 JUCO prospect in the country. His commitment Tuesday, selecting Alabama over his home state school of LSU, caught plenty of attention. Buggs visited Tuscaloosa over the weekend. He said he mostly had his mind made up heading into the visit. Long thought to be a LSU lean, the Ruston, Louisiana, native cited the Tigers’ coaching shuffle as a big reason for his decision.
“At Alabama, I feel like they have a secure coaching staff with all of the coaches coming back. I know the DC and my D-line coach personally. I know who I’m going to be playing for,” Buggs said. “As for LSU, I didn’t know who was coming back and who was going to be there.”
Buggs was one of the country’s fastest risers after arriving in Perkinston. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive end’s only offer out of high school was from MGCCC.
“It’s the best day of my life,” Buggs said of signing day. “Growing up, I didn’t think I’d be able to play for Alabama and have the opportunity I have today so it’s just a blessing.”
Buggs takes his final exam Thursday and is eager to join the Tide in the spring and begin battling with other four- and five-star recruits for playing time.
“They expect me to come in and be an impact player right away,” Buggs said. “Nobody recruits junior college players to come in and sit on the bench. You have to come with it or be left behind.”
Hayes is considered one of the top recruits in the country and held offers from TCU, Arkansas and others before choosing the Bulldogs.
“They said I’ll get a lot of reps with the ones,” Hayes said. “It’s just up to me to come in and earn a spot.”
Like Buggs, Hayes was lightly recruited out of Madison Central, making Wednesday a humbling experience.
“I didn’t get this kind of attention out of high school,” Hayes said. “Coach always said this would happen. It kind of took me by surprise for a little while but it reassured me I’m still a great athlete.”