After a photo shoot Tuesday at Gordon Central High School's Ratner Stadium, defensive lineman D.J. Prather flashed his biggest smile when asked how excited he was about signing with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Prather, who turned 17 in December, was clearly excited about his future with the Mocs. He was perhaps just as enthused about putting the recruiting process behind him.
"Once in a lifetime is good enough for me, man," he said. "I had been waiting all my life to get here, and I believed I would get here."
Prather committed to UTC after his official visit in December. He said he knew before he visited that he wanted to join the Mocs -- "The coaches and I just had a great relationship, and I knew," he said -- but his commitment wasn't the end of his recruitment.
The same was true for linebacker T.J. Jenkins of Plant High School in Tampa, Fla. A Rivals two-star recruit like Prather, Jenkins thought his decision had been made when he committed to the Mocs.
"I thought everything would be over," the 6-2, 210-pounder said.
Prather and Jenkins are two of the 15 players who signed with the Mocs on Wednesday. Along with offensive linemen Hunter Townson and Channing Smith, who already are enrolled, UTC will have 17 new players on its roster in the fall. Eleven were rated two-star prospects by Rivals.com.
For Prather, Middle Tennessee State and Georgia State picked up their recruiting efforts and made offers after he committed. For Jenkins, who had turned down an offer from Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech came in late with an offer. Those are all Football Bowl Subdivision programs (Georgia State is moving up to the Sun Belt Conference next season).
"FBS and [Football Championship Subdivision], yes it's different, but to me it's basically the same thing," Prather said. "If you play well enough, you'll get a ring and win a championship."
The Louisiana Tech offer had some appeal for Jenkins -- the Bulldogs were ranked in the Associated Press and coaches' polls in October, and he played high school ball with Tech coach Skip Holtz's son -- but his relationships with UTC's coaches made a huge difference.
"UTC was in the lead the whole time. It was never really [that close]," he said. "It's more about the relationships. I feel like I had a better relationship with the people at UTC than I did at Louisiana Tech. The relationship I had with UTC, it's been built over months."
Whether it was players such as Prather and Jenkins who spurned late pushes by FBS programs, or numerous other signees who turned down FCS schools, including many Southern Conference rivals, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said he was very happy with the class and the job his staff did putting it together.
Keeping Prather and Jenkins seemed to mean a little something extra, however.
"I'd say 95 percent of the kids in the country take the [late FBS offer] and go," he said. "At least 95 percent. T.J. Jenkins and D.J. Prather didn't. They didn't take the flash. They took the relationships, they took what they felt about Chattanooga and made that commitment and hung in there. I'm proud of those guys."