Mac Bryan was trying to hold back the tears Wednesday morning as nine of his Ooltewah football players signed letters of intent to continue their athletic careers in college.
"I almost broke down a couple of times," Bryan said. "I'm very happy for them. They have a chance to move on to the next part of their lives and the challenge of the next level, and they'll do very well with it."
Three Owls are joining new Austin Peay coach Will Healy, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant — Tyler Reid, Nick Putman and Dylan Mahoney — and Jeremiah Jackson and Aidan Panni will be going to Tennessee Tech to play for Marcus Satterfield, another former UTC assistant. London Elrod and Peyton Oliver are going to Berry College and Robbin Garren to Bethel.
Their signings also reminded him of the work facing Ooltewah's staff. "We've already started," Bryan said. "We have a great group of coaches and a great administration. We try to outwork everybody else and we'll work hard, but there's no doubt it's hard to replace that experience."
The nine signees are part of a group that has won 30 games and consecutive region championships the last three seasons.
"The impressive thing is the consistency (we've had). It's hard to do in high school football, and even more impressive is that these young men bought into the academic side of it," Bryan said. "They've been really good students and worked hard in the classroom. It's just been a very positive group."
Bryan's agony will probably be eased as he recalls that his freshman and junior varsity teams went through 2015 undefeated.
Nothing for Darras, yet
Alex Darras, Notre Dame's quarterback, punter and kicker the past four seasons, is still looking for a next-level football home. He has a 4.0 grade point average and already has earned academic money from a scholarship through Notre Dame.
"It's incredible. He was on a lot of big schools' boards, but it seemed like there was always somebody better," Irish coach Charles Fant said. "And then some of the smaller schools started telling us they didn't think they had a shot at him."
There's still a shot at walking on at Vanderbilt, an academic/athletic scholarship at Furman and possibly an academic scholarship at Alabama, with a possible shot at walking on. Darras also plans to visit Sewanee this weekend.
Thomas signing official
Howard defensive back Jahmani Thomas said he never thought about playing college football until his junior season, when new Hustlin' Tigers coach Mark Teague gave him the confidence he needed.
"He really opened my eyes when he told me that I had the talent to play somewhere and could use that to get a scholarship for school," Thomas said. "That really helped me a lot, just to have somebody like that believe in me.
"He told me to seize the moment when I had the chance, and that's what I tried to do."
The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Thomas signed with Trinity International University in Deerfield, Ill., adding that he was excited about the chance to go to a school away from home.
"I loved the sense of brotherhood on the team and the Christian atmosphere at the school," Thomas said. "The campus is a long way from home, but that's OK."