Liberty County football players Jordan Harper, Tavoris Lewis and Tucory Rhodes signed letters of intent to Carson-Newman, Valdosta and Albany State, respectively, during National Signing Day on Feb. 2.
The ceremony took place at the school’s media center, where the boys were surrounded by their family and friends.
Panther Jovan Bennett signed to play at Tuskegee, joining his two older brothers at the historic university. Lady Panther Jana Jones is headed to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette on a track scholarship.
Harper was a two-year starter at center for Liberty County. During that time, Harper played a key role in helping the team rush for more than 3,600 yards, according to Panthers offensive coordinator Ryan Glazer.
Harper was named the team’s best offensive lineman in 2010 and also won the team academic award all four years. Additionally, he served as the Panthers’ long snapper.
Harper said the Eagles are looking at Harper as a long snapper but also have plans to move him.
"(Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks) wants to change my position to tight end," Harper said. "I feel comfortable and I can adjust."
Harper decided to become an Eagle because, "I like that it’s a Christian school and that it’s a small college where I can get one-on-one attention. They have an awesome football program and they like to win and so do I," he said.
Harper plans to study biology and pre-med. Knowing he has to compete against a class of 41 other signees at Carson-Newman, Harper said he is speed training and lifting weights to help avoid being red-shirted the first year.
"I would get a chance to start my sophomore year, but it all depends on how everyone else plays and how I play my freshman year," he said. "I’m working hard to get ready for college."
Harper said competing at the college level is something he has wanted to do since he began playing football in seventh grade.
Harper’s mother admitted she has mixed emotions about her son moving on to college.
"I’m happy, but it’s hard for me," Lisa Harper said. "He doesn’t like me to say this but I call him my baby. He is my youngest and it’s going to be kind of hard letting him go, but he won’t be too far away.
"I knew this day was coming and I thought I would be more prepared, but I guess you are never really prepared until it hits you in the face. Jordan has always persevered. He’s always set a goal and worked hard to accomplish it."
Tavoris Lewis played at Wayne County High School before he became a Panther last season. At Liberty, Lewis played on both sides of the ball as a wide receiver and running back and defensive back. He also returned kicks.
Lewis had 774 all-purpose yards, including 14 catches for 369 yards and four touchdowns and a two-point conversion. He averaged 26.3 yards per catch.
Defensively, Lewis registered 38 tackles, 10 pass deflections, one interception and forced one fumble as a Panther.
Lewis was selected to the All-Region first team in both his junior and senior seasons. He was named Liberty County’s best wide receiver in 2010.
He said the Blazers’ coaching staff is looking to play him at safety and he could start right away.
"If I show them I’m a good player they are looking to start me my first year so I plan to work hard at it," he said.
Lewis said he was about 13 when he was influenced by his older brother Tracy Lewis, who plays for the Hinesville Hurricanes semi-pro team. The Hurricanes were this season’s Southeastern American Football League Conference Champions.
"My brother was better in sports," he said. "I saw how he garnered a lot of attention and I told myself I was going to work hard to be the same in athletics. I followed right behind him."
He plans to study criminal justice and become a law enforcement officer.
Lewis’ mother said she is proud of her son.
"I am excited and other than that there are no words right now," Vanessa Shuman said. "This was something he always talked about and it has come to light. I am looking forward for him to go farther than just college and hopefully go pro."
Rhodes was a four-year starter at Liberty County High School and rang up 255 career tackles. During that time, he had 25 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks, five forced fumbles and recovered three fumbles. He also scored a touchdown, recorded a safety and had an interception as the Panthers’ outside linebacker.
On special teams, Rhodes blocked three punts, two field-goal tries and a two-point conversion attempt.
He was awarded the team’s defensive MVP in 2010 and in 2009 was named the team’s most versatile player. In 2008, Rhodes was Liberty’s best defensive back. Rhodes’ play against powerhouse Statesboro gained him local media attention after his 10 tackles helped LCHS to a 29-0 win.
Rhodes also plays on the Panthers’ basketball team.
He said he plans to study computer science while playing football for the Golden Rams and was completely overwhelmed after signing his name.
"It feels good right now and I really don’t know what to say," he said.
Rhodes said the Rams are looking to switch him from a linebacker to a free safety or cornerback.
"I have to work on getting my feet work faster so I can cover the players, and I’m working on improving my speed," he said. "They are planning to start me my first year."
"He has worked real hard and tried hard out on the field and he’s made the coaches happy," mom Cora McClendon said.
Rhodes’ mother said she is happy to see her son play at the next level and hopes Rhodes’ younger sister, Courtney, who is a Long County basketball player, will follow suit.
"I played basketball but I didn’t really go out for it because I had a heart murmur at the time," McLendon said. "They are doing what I wanted to do and it feels good."