TRENTON, Ga.-For Dade County High School, the fact that three football players signed to play for college teams on the same day was historic.
And if football coach and athletic director Bradley Warren is correct, Thursday was the first of many such days to come for a boys' athletic program that until the past couple of seasons was off the recruiting radar.
"When you begin to have success like we're starting to have, college athletic programs take notice, and we are beginning to see some fruits of our labor within our football programs here in the Dade County school system," Warren said after watching lineman Nick Lawson (Tusculum), defensive back Chris Little (LaGrange) and punter/wide receiver Blayton Bethune (Pikeville) sign college paperwork. "We are in the beginning stages of something special here within the football program."
Warren has had seven players in his three years as coach sign scholarships, and four other players turned down offers. After going 10-2 last season, schools are starting to take notice of northwest Georgia's most geographically isolated school. Before Warren's arrival, the program recorded 10 wins in the previous seven seasons combined.
"Everybody knows our program has been down, and there's been a lot of hard work to get this thing turned around," said Warren, who played at Northwest Georgia High, Dade's predecessor. "There has been a big change in work ethic in part because guys can now say, 'I've got a chance to play college ball.' And they know we will help them get into school."
The success isn't relegated to football. The boys' turnaround began with Glen Hicks' basketball team, which has made four consecutive playoff appearances, the only ones in school history. The baseball program, previously the most successful boys' team, hasn't made the playoffs since 2005 but is 9-4 this season with several impressive wins.
The golf (Taylor Mai, Wallace State) and wrestling teams (Joey Tamburello, Middle Tennessee) also have had college signees this year.
"It's pretty simple," Hicks said. "People like winners. I know when I was coaching in junior college, I wanted kids from winning programs. The more you win the more you're noticed.
"The biggest problem when I got here was the mindset. Our guys were told so many times they couldn't compete with the Calhouns, the Coosas and Adairsvilles, and they believed it. They looked at themselves and kind of second-class athletes. We've got more talent now, but we had kids with talent before. We just couldn't get them to buy into what we were trying to tell them."
Travis Core will soon become the latest Hicks player - following Jesse Moore and Andrew Houts - to sign a basketball scholarship. As a key member of each of Hicks' playoff teams, Core has seen the Dade boys' programs evolve from irrelevance to contenders. He's also a part of baseball team as a starting pitcher and outfielder, and he strongly believes winning in one sport has rubbed off on the others.
"Male athletes here have heard so long that they can't make the playoffs that they didn't think they could," said Core, who is considering several schools for his next destination. "We've got several football and basketball players on the baseball team and we've all won, and you can tell the difference.
"This team could have easily taken the traditional, 'We never make the playoffs approach,' but we want to make this season special. It would be the best thing that's happened to our program, especially to make the playoffs in three sports."
Warren has every reason to believe this is just the beginning. The Dade football teams last year, including junior varsity and middle school, were a combined 28-3-1. None of his players have signed Division I deals yet, but as Hicks said, the more you win, the more you get noticed.
"Our players are also beginning to be invited to some of the upper-echelon tryouts in the spring and summer months that really help them to gain added exposure to colleges and universities across the country," said Warren, who estimates he has helped put 90 former players into college. "Even if these kids get only partial deals, it's still making it more affordable for them to get into college. That's a good thing all around."