Tigers will always be Tigers and Panthers will always be Panthers unless, of course, a Panther becomes a Tiger and a Tiger becomes a Panther. Confused yet?
To explain it simply, Wednesday was National Signing Day and five local athletes penned their names to football scholarships.
Liberty County Panther linemen Jevon Jones and Aaron Bennett, who play both sides of the line, signed with Tuskegee University, morphing from Panthers to Golden Tigers.
At Bradwell Institute, Tigers Sheldon Barnes and Darvean Herron remained Tigers when they signed to play at Savannah State University. BI Tiger center Ulrick John will turn in his Tiger stripes for a Panther uniform and join Georgia State University’s inaugural football team.
Leading the LCHS Panthers in combined tackles, solos and assists, with 60, Jones said, "It felt like all the weight was lifted off my chest," after finding out Tuskegee wanted to sign him. The future biology major said he plans to up the ante and work on his speed and running game to earn a starting position soon.
Ricardo and Janet Jones, Jevon’s parents, were both ecstatic and surprised.
"He told us he wanted to play football and we said go ahead," Ricardo Jones said. Already sporting Tuskegee T-shirts, the couple said they plan to buy
tickets as soon as they are available.
"We are blessed and happy," Jones’ dad said.
Bennett was second in combined tackles with 59 for the season. He will have the added benefit of joining his brother, Trier, who signed with Tuskegee last year.
"It’s going to be a good experience for both of us," Bennett said. He will study mechanical engineering and plans to focus on his career.Bennett’s father, Aaron Bennett Sr., said he and his wife are excited, especially since they’ll have to make only one trip to see both children play.
"It feels good to know they are going to get a good education," Bennett’s mother Martha Bennett said. "Also, having them together so they can take care of each other is a blessing."
The duo was part of the defensive core that helped the Panthers reach the second round of the state playoffs this season.
"Both kids have been a part of the program for four years and both were hard workers," Panther football coach Kirk Warner said. "It’s a testament to their work ethics. Both are gym rats. They got stronger, bought into what we were telling them and it’s paid off now."
At 6’7", Ulrick John’s height got him noticed. Tiger football coach Jim Walsh Jr. said the athlete’s size caught the attention of the coaching staff at Georgia State University. But, he added, it was John’s versatility playing both sides of the line that sealed the deal.
"I’m really excited," John said.
The coaches at Georgia State are also looking at him to slide into the tight end position as well as the line. John said he plans to study sports medicine.
"I’m super excited," John’s mother Jay-J Kesner said, wiping away tears of joy. "He has worked so hard for this, since he was 9. He’s a good kid and deserves this."
As a Tiger, Barnes rushed for more than 3,000 yards and in his junior and senior seasons, accumulated 34 touchdowns. The 5’10," 217-pound running back said Savannah State made him the best offer.
"The respect the coaching staff showed me and my experience at the official visit was nice and I was sold on their program," he said. "Hopefully, they won’t red-shirt me and … If they put me in the game, I’ll cause havoc."
Anjanette Howell, Barnes’ mother, said she’ll be trading in her BI blue and gold for SSU blue and orange soon.
"I have butterflies and I’m happy for my son," she said. "He’s done well for himself academically."
Barnes described Herron as his brother. The two have known each other since the fourth grade. Herron led the Tigers in combined tackles with 85.5 for the season and said he chose SSU because they will keep him on track for college graduation. Herron said he is still deciding whether to study mass communication or homeland security.
"He has exceptional speed," Walsh said. "And he will definitely hit you on the field."
Herron’s father Charles played defensive end in college in Memphis, Tenn.
"I always knew he had it in him," Charles Herron said. "He just had to grow into it and he is a fine young man."
"It’s a sad day for us coaches," Walsh said. "But it’s a very happy day for these kids and their families."