By Ryan S. Clark
WEST PALM BEACH -- For all the weights that have been lifted getting to this day, picking up a one-ounce pen was really the only heavy lifting left.
Cardinal Newman receiver Travis Rudolph was the first of many Wednesday in Palm Beach County to sign a letter-of-intent on National Signing Day. More than 40 football players throughout the county finalized their college plans with various schools across the nation.
Rudolph started the day by signing with national champion, Florida State.
"It feels great," Rudolph said about signing his offer. "Just to get that commitment. It means that I am basically a 'Nole and I cannot [wait] to be a part of that."
Rudolph, who was the Sun Sentinel Class 5A-4A-3A-2A Player of the Year, brought an end to a pursuit that included all three Florida schools. He was initially a Miami commit before decommitting in March. It opened up his recruiting which saw the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Michigan State and Oregon come after him. But he chose Florida State in December despite a late January push from the ever present Florida.
He walked into the school's cafeteria with nearly every head in his direction.
Joined by his parents on stage, Rudolph donned a black velvet blazer, black pants, a black shirt and a garnet tie. He then wore a black FSU hat before signing.
Making entrances, of course, is part of what comes with Signing Day.
Village Academy's Kevin Bronson and Tre'Quan Smith, a receiver who signed with Central Florida, were no different. Bronson, who signed with Virginia Tech, also wore all black.
Bronson, like Rudolph, was a highly-sought prospect. Yet where they differed is in how they were pursued. Rudolph was a constant. Bronson was a start-stop-start again process predicated on his academics.
"I just have to take care of what I need to in the classroom," Bronson said.
Bronson scored off the charts at a camp last February and that's when the cavalcade of coaches came in, said Village Academy coach Donald Hanna. Hanna said schools were big on the 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end until learning of his grades. That's when they disappeared.
Academics became a priority after Bronson's sophomore year when he was disqualified.
Hanna said Bronson took a regular, seven-course load in school and then took a seven-course load through online courses. It was enough to boost his grade point average.
"When his grades got better," Hanna said. "That's when schools started coming back around."
It made Bronson the winner of arguably the most frenetic January recruitment in the area.
Though Dwyer had a few players who saw some late attention. Defensive back Shawn Boone was visited by Arkansas, offered by Penn State but signed with N.C. State.
Boone's teammates – Ezra Saffold, Alonso Smith and Clint Stephens -- were all players who committed in January. They were able to celebrate being part of Dwyer's eight-player signing class tying a school record.
An empty chair and a placecard was held for receiver Johnnie Dixon, who enrolled early at Ohio State. Because Dixon was already enrolled there was no paperwork for him to sign. Dwyer coach Jack Daniels said defensive end Mark Kelly and linebacker Jarrad Ward could sign in the coming days.
"It is kind of bittersweet," said Daniels, whose team won the Class 7A title in December. "You have kids that have played so hard for you and they don't get a scholarship."
ACC programs were highly successful with half of the Sun Sentinel's Top 10 prospects signing within the conference. Miami signed Palm Beach Central offensive lineman Kc McDermott and Park Vista defensive back Marques Gayot.
McDermott was ranked No. 2 while Gayot was No. 6. Miami also picked up Santaluces receiver Darrell Langham.
NC State added Palm Beach Lakes receiver Stephen Louis while Syracuse got Atlantic receiver Adly Enoicy.
Sports | February 6, 2014 | Page 1C, 7C
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