Red Bank High School football coach Chris Brown has no doubt the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is getting a star in lineman BJ Ragland — on and off the field.
As a standout on both offense and defense, the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Ragland helped pave the way for the Lions' success the past three seasons. He is gifted with unique athleticism for his size — he can dunk a basketball — and has exceptional footwork to go with speed, strength and the ability to change direction quickly.
As he made an official commitment to another level of competition Wednesday, the beginning of the three-day early signing period for college football, Ragland took a moment to look at the steps that took him to that point.
"Hard work, my parents, coaches, teammates and God. That's what got me here," said Ragland, who celebrated signing with the Charlotte 49ers in front of friends and family at Brainerd United Methodist Church.
"Your character and work ethic is important because seeing somebody off the field and how they work, act and move translates to how they play on the field and how they are as a person. You have to be disciplined and keep pushing to be the best you can be in all areas."
Ragland's recruitment this year included 26 offers from Division I programs, with the Red Bank star choosing Charlotte over Coastal Carolina — the Chanticleers are 11-0 this season and were No. 12 in the College Football Playoff Rankings released Tuesday night — Central Florida, Marshall and Tulane among others. A two-time all-state selection, Ragland graded out at better than 80% this season while helping the Lions go 11-1 and reach the TSSAA Class AAA semifinals behind a rushing attack that averaged 255 yards a game.
He is excited to play for Will Healy, a former Boyd Buchanan standout who was a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga assistant for seven years before setting program records as a head coach with Austin Peay (2016-18) and now the 49ers, who compete in Conference USA.
The big man was a rock for the Lions in more than just his ability to provide the lead block on a touchdown run or blowing up a play in the backfield.
"Charlotte is getting a top-notch football player, but more importantly a high-character and introspective young man," Coach Brown said of Ragland, who is graduating early. "He really put the team on his back when they needed him the most as he helped keep us together through COVID shutdowns.
"If you were going to pick a pathway as a young student-athlete, I think BJ has provided the blueprint. You go to class on time, get your work in and make the A instead of B and B instead of C. He has been committed all the way, and we couldn't be more proud of him."
Ragland was one of at least 10 players from the Chattanooga area who signed Wednesday.
Two of those are going to Atlantic Coast Conference program Virginia Tech: McMinn County offensive lineman Bryce Goodner and Baylor running back Elijah Howard.
Goodner (6-3, 300) was one of the state's most dominant blockers as he led the way for a Cherokees offense that averaged an area-best 330 rushing yards per game this past season. Howard (5-11, 180) rushed for 738 yards on 116 carries and 10 touchdowns over his final four games as a Red Raider after coming back from injury.
Tennessee State University also landed a local duo: McMinn County running back Jalen Hunt and Walker Valley quarterback Tucker Pope signed with the Ohio Valley Conference's Tigers. Hunt (5-10, 180) had 227 carries for 2,451 yards and 27 touchdowns in 11 games for the Cherokees, while Pope (6-2, 210) threw for 1,820 yards and scored 32 total touchdowns in 10 games for the Mustangs.
The Burke brothers of Bradley Central both made college football dreams come true. Javin (6-1, 200), a quarterback/defensive back, signed with the ACC's Virginia, and Javon (6-0, 180), who played running back for the Bears this past season, chose UTC of the Southern Conference after totaling 2,412 yards and 16 touchdowns in 12 games.
McCallie outside linebacker John David Tessmann (6-2, 215) signed with Davidson of the Pioneer League after helping lead his team to a second straight state championship by posting 54 solo tackles (13 for loss), four interceptions and three sacks this year.
Baylor free safety Riley Jenne (5-11, 170) will play in the Ivy League for Harvard. He had two 100-yard receiving games and a pair of interceptions in 2020.
In northwest Georgia, Heritage quarterback Nick Hanson (6-3, 200) signed with Reinhardt, an NAIA and Appalachian Athletic Conference member. He threw for 5,266 yards and 48 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter.