Columbia County high school seniors Travis Reese and Adi Filipovic took different paths, but they shared the same dream.
Their journeys converged last week on college football's National Signing Day.
On Wednesday morning at Lakeside High School, Filipovic signed a letter of intent to attend Furman University on a football scholarship next fall. The 6-4, 240-pound offensive tackle was dressed for the occasion - a purple-striped tie signified his new alliance with the Paladins.
Reese sealed a deal with Carson-Newman College by signing Wednesday afternoon at Harlem High School. The 6-3, 256-pound senior played offensive tackle and defensive end for Harlem, and he's willing to take on either position with the Jefferson City, Tenn., program next season.
"Both positions are a blast to play," Reese said. "It wouldn't bother me to play either one. It's all football, and I love the game."
Reese has fostered an affinity for football from an early age. As a Harlem sophomore, he began working harder in the weight room in hopes of one day playing collegiately.
"It's always been my dream to play college football. I thought I had the skills, but I didn't know if the opportunity would actually come about," he said. "I don't think it hit me until the recruiters started calling."
Filipovic, meanwhile, first played football in his freshman year at Lakeside, and it wasn't his true calling.
"The only reason I started playing football was to stay in shape for basketball," he said. "As a sophomore I began liking the game somewhat, but I never dreamed that I could play in college, because I was average, at best."
Filipovic is a native of Bosnia, which became engulfed in a civil war in 1992. After the conflict claimed two relatives, he and his parents fled to the United States in 1994.
During his prep career, teammates grew to admire Filipovic's friendly - yet focused - attitude. He said he believes his background helped forge those leadership skills.
"I take a lot of pride in leading by example," he said. "I think I've lived through some of the hardest things a person can go through in life. Everything else has been easy."
For Reese, the easy part is to strap on gear and step on the gridiron.
"He didn't want to come off the field at all," Harlem football coach Jimmie Lewis said. "He loves playing on both sides of the ball and on special teams - it doesn't matter to him. He gave us everything he had on the football field."
Reese was courted by Presbyterian College but opted for Carson-Newman, a Division II program which has claimed five national championships.
"I think I can get a quality education at Carson-Newman as well as playing for an excellent football team," he said.
Filipovic received other scholarship offers but selected Furman for specific reasons: the Paladins regularly challenge for the Division 1-AA national championship and the Southern Conference title; former Lakeside teammate Brian Bratton now plays football for the Greenville, S.C., school; and he was attracted by Furman's strong academics.
While several top prospects in Columbia County did not secure college scholarships last week, it should be only a matter of time before more seniors sign to play at the next level.
Lakeside football coach Ed Koester pinpoints why Filipovic was holding a pen on National Signing Day.
"Today, when a college recruiter talks to you, number one, they're looking for speed. The number two qualifier is academics," Koester said. "A player has to have those two things, which Adi does - he has good feet and great grades; he's fifth in his class and made over 1300 on the SAT. He definitely put himself into an elite pool."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.