It was a calm February morning outside the gymnasium at North Jackson High School. On the inside, it was a different story. A table and chairs sat underneath the basket closest to the entrance, the stands were filling with students, and mid-court was crammed with reporters setting up cameras.
Tana Patrick, a five-star recruit, entered the gym with his family and North Jackson coaches and administrators. Hats representing the three finalists for his signature, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee sat in front of him.
He was long predicted by recruiting gurus to be Alabama bound. But former North Jackson head coach Phillip Lolley’s addition to the Auburn coaching staff a couple of months earlier made the Tigers an appealing choice. Then newly hired Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin came calling, too. Many of you recall seeing him, with his father, the renowned defensive coach Monte Kiffin, sitting in the stands at Skyline during the 2009 Jackson County Tournament.
Decision time, however, had arrived. Patrick reached into a bag and produced an Alabama straw hat that Nick Saban wears during practices. Cheers ensued and cameras flashed.
Patrick, who won two national titles at UA, received more recruiting attention than any athlete I’ve been fortunate to cover in my 11 years at The Daily Sentinel.
But there have been many athletes that have gone on to productive college careers in various sports. And I’m proud to have covered those athletes as well, no matter how much or how little fanfare their recruitment received.
Our athletes work hard, and I’m thrilled when they receive their chances. There were seemingly more college scholarship signings this past school year than any in recent memory. It seemed like every week I was at one or two signings.
That coincided with a college sports year in which local athletes represented us well.
Currently, several local athletes are picking up scholarship offers from well-known schools. College coaches are they’re taking notice of our athletes. And our athletes are proving they belong on those big stages.