CENTRAL — D.W. Daniel coach Randy Robinson thought he was set with college pennants for display during the school’s National Signing Day ceremony on Wednesday. But he searched high and far for a North Greenville University pennant to no avail.
Never did Robinson think a small Class AAA school like Daniel could produce 12 signees headed to seven different schools in one season.
Yet there they sat waiting for their names to be called to the table to sign national letters of intent in front of their families and classmates, posing for photos and news cameras. Division I and Division II programs took notice of the state runner-up Lions, scooping up as much talent as they could find.
And there was enough to go around.
“Proud isn’t even the word to describe it,” Robinson said. “Eight years ago when I went before that committee and interviewed for that job, I said that’s one thing this program lacks. We haven’t been near the top and we’re not getting kids into college. Our teachers prepare our kids and help them academically. Coaches push them into playing on the field. Put those two together and you have scholarships.”
This same group of seniors who led the Lions to a 14-1 record last season, coming close to the program’s first state crown since 1998, were the same ones who had won at every level before heading to varsity. Robinson ruffled some feathers within his coaching staff when he decided to keep them together on junior varsity during their freshmen season.
It was all part of a well-executed plan.
Running back Jae’lon Oglesby, who rushed for over 6,000 yards in his prep career, headlined the class as he stuck with his commitment to Clemson, extending Daniel’s pipeline down the road of blue-chip prospects. The Shrine Bowler and Offense-Defense All-American dazzled with his foot speed and versatility for three seasons en route to breaking several school records.
“A once in a lifetime talent,” Robinson said of Oglesby. “I said that when DeAndre Hopkins left and I didn’t think I’d see another one, but Jae’lon did it at a different position. He was a difference maker no matter where we put him. He was a matchup problem for anybody, anywhere, any time from his sophomore year on.”
Despite being committed for nearly two years and being as close to a sure thing in the Tigers’ 22-player class as there was, the two-time Independent Mail Player of the Year admitted he considered taking his 4.38 40-yard dash speed elsewhere.
“I felt like there was too many running backs,” Oglesby said of Clemson’s 2014 recruiting class. “I thought I’m a running back. I didn’t have the mindset that I could catch, I could run, I could do different things. There was a point in time I was going to look into other schools. I felt like they had too many running backs and I wasn’t going to get enough playing time.
“Now a lot of people are telling me that isn’t the case. Coach (Dabo) Swinney told me if I get in there he’ll handle that.”
Oglesby will be joined on campus by teammates JD and Judah Davis as well as place-kicker Christian Groomes, who kicked the Lions into the state championship game in November.
The Davises are the sons of former Tiger great Jeff Davis and will enroll in January 2015.
Groomes will be a preferred walk-on.
Meanwhile, linebacker Solomon Brown and defensive end Tyrell Fleming waited until last week to make their decisions. The heart of Daniel’s stingy defense signed to play together at Charleston Southern.
Brown, a Shrine Bowler, and Fleming, a North-South all-star, combined for over 200 tackles and 15 sacks this season for a unit that gave up 11 points per game.
“I really liked the city. I saw it as a home away from home for me,” Brown said of Charleston. “It was a really good fit.”
Meanwhile, all-area linebacker Michael Peppers, who racked up 71 tackles in 2013, is headed to Division II Catawba College where he’ll play in the South Atlantic Conference against defensive tackle Lee Eddleman (Newberry) and punter Andy Fowler and preferred walk-on Daulton Pilgrim at North Greenville.
Linebacker Neil Monaghan passed on a scholarship offer at a smaller school to be a preferred walk-on at Wofford.