A crowd gathered Wednesday at Lakeside High School, just to see three students sign their names.
Of course, the signatures were a bit more significant than most. With a few strokes of a pen, Lakeside seniors Toya Coard, Galen Jones and Justin Otis sealed athletic scholarships to compete at the college level.
Family, friends, coaches and teammates were there to offer support and a proper send-off.
"I like having all these people here," Jones said. "Signing day is exciting. You get nervous, but it was fun."
Jones signed a letter-of-intent to attend Coastal Carolina University on a track-and-field scholarship, Coard signed to play basketball at Albany State University and Otis signed with the wrestling program at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
"These are three seniors that have worked hard and they've come a long way," Lakeside athletic director Randy Hill said. "They've been dedicated to their sport, and it's paid off in the end."
LaToya Coard hugs her friend Candace Garnett as her teammates from the Lakeside High School basketball team look on. On Wednesday, Coard signed a letter of intent to play basketball on a full scholarship at Albany State University.
Photo by Jonathan Ernst
Before Coard put pen to paper, she helped put Lakeside basketball on the map.
As a senior, she led the Lady Panthers to a school-record 19 wins. Coard was the team's top scorer and three-point shooter, and also was Lakeside's inspirational leader.
"We tried to set a standard this year," she said. "We beat a lot of good teams and we took Lakeside basketball to another level."
Coard's play against tough Region 3-AAAA opponents caught the attention of college scouts, and that was her plan all along.
"When you're little, you really look forward and say, 'I'm going to do this,' or 'I want to do that,"' Coard said. "Right now I'm following my dreams to play basketball and hopefully go pro out of college."
The Golden Rams, a Division II team which competes in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, finished with a 10-19 record last season.
Coard plans to major in computer science at Albany State, and she has high expectations on the court next season.
"I'm looking for freshman of the year, right off the bat, and then just try to progress from there," Coard said. "I'm just really excited and looking forward to the fall."
At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Jones fits the mold of college football prospect. He was an all-region tight end for the Lakeside football team, and he always thought the gridiron was his ticket to college.
But after Rick Jones sent Coastal some clips of his son competing in track and field, the Chanticleers came calling. Subsequently, Jones visited the Conway, S.C., school and decided his future was in track.
"I've always been a good thrower, and I realized I could do something with it in college," he said.
Jones considered playing football for Coastal Carolina, but decided to devote all of his energy to track. He will throw the discus, shot, hammer and javelin for the Division I-AA program.
"I like track a lot," he said. "You don't have to rely on anybody else. Improvement is up to the individual."
During his junior season at Lakeside, Jones placed fifth in the discus at the Class AAAA state meet.
Jones wants to cap his prep career with a strong showing at state, and then he will work on reaching his fullest potential at Coastal Carolina.
"The coach there seems to think I'll be pretty good once I start getting full-time practice and coaching," Jones said. "I could make it pretty far in the sport in the next couple of years. It's just going to take time."
Lakeside Seniors Galen Jones (left) and Justin Otis join friends and teammates after a signing ceremony at the school. Jones signed a track and field scholarship with Coastal Carolina, and Otis signed a wrestling scholarship with the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Photo by Mike Howell
The next step
Otis didn't waste any time in his two-year stay at Lakeside. Before moving to Columbia County, he won a state high school wrestling title in South Carolina, and as a junior and senior at Lakeside, he established himself as the best wrestler in school history.
With the Panthers, Otis placed third at state as a junior, and won the Class AAAA state crown in the 152-pound weight class as a senior this past season.
Those credentials led to several scholarship offers, but Otis settled on Chattanooga. The Mocs, a Division I squad, simply had the most to offer.
UTC's new coach is Terry Brand, a two-time World Freestyle champion and bronze medalist at the 2000 Olympics. Another draw was the Mocs have a strong recruiting class arriving this fall.
Otis expects to red shirt as a freshman, and hopes to crack the starting lineup for the rest of his college career.
And he knows his prep resume won't earn him any points on the college mat.
"College wrestling is a lot different than high school. In college, everybody is a state champion, and some of the ones that never placed at state become all-Americans," Otis said. "I'll just keep working hard, listen to my coach, and follow God's will."
While Otis is about to take the next step, the path is perfectly clear.
"Wrestling teaches you about life," Otis said. "From practicing, to eating right, lifting, running ... all the things you don't want to do, but have to do in order to succeed."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.