Seven Columbia football players signed national letters of intent Wednesday morning. Pictured are Latrell Williams (from left), Tennessee; Matthew Lee, Albany State; Alfonso Battle, Highland Community College; Michael Jackson, Georgia Southern; Roger Cray, Western Kentucky; Laqavious Paul, Coastal Carolina; and Joseph Caputo, Averett (photo by JORDAN KROEGER/Lake City Reporter).

A new journey

Seven Columbia Tigers sign national letters of intent Wednesday morning.

Entering National Signing Day, all seven Columbia Tigers were verbally committed to schools.

But what transpired on stage in the school’s gym Wednesday morning yielded two big surprises.

Just hours earlier, receiver Michael Jackson received an offer from Georgia Southern. It was his dream school and he didn’t hesitate to sign with the Eagles last minute.

But what came next was an even bigger surprise.

After verbally committing to Miami just two weeks earlier, receiver Latrell Williams flipped his commitment and signed with Tennessee. Williams visited the school two weekends ago, and as it turns out, it made a big impression on a Tiger that will now bleed orange and white.

“This is a big one. This is our first SEC receiver in the history of our program,” Columbia head coach Brian Allen said. “It’s kind of a big deal so I’m proud.”

Laqavious Paul killed any drama with his announcement despite visiting Akron over the weekend. Although Akron defensive coordinator Chuck Amato — who also coached Columbia head coach Brian Allen at Florida State — made a strong push for Paul, the Columbia linebacker stuck with his commitment and signed with Coastal Carolina.

“When I went to visit Coastal Carolina, it felt like family instantly,” Paul said. “They reminded me so much of my coaches, the city reminded me so much of Lake City, just bigger, and I just loved it. It just felt like it was my place.”

Cornerback Roger Cray had been verbally committed to Western Kentucky since August. His commitment was so firm that other schools even backed off of the talented Tiger, so it came as no surprise that Cray stuck with the Hilltoppers.

“When I made my commitment I wanted to make sure I was 100 percent sure where I wanted to go and that’s where I wanted to go so I stuck with it,” said Cray, who will play cornerback and return punts for the Hilltoppers.

Columbia’s other cornerback, Alfonso Battle, signed with Highland Community College. It’s a prestigious JUCO in Kansas and one that wanted Battle from the start.

“This is truly a blessing,” Battle said. “Not everyone gets to do this. It means lot to be playing something you’ve been doing all your life.”

Offensive lineman Joseph Caputo signed with Averett University in Danville, Virginia while offensive lineman/defensive lineman Matthew Lee signed with Albany State in Georgia. Twenty-seven players have now signed scholarships in Brian Allen’s five years as Columbia’s head coach.

He’s not only proud of these seven players for having the chance to continue their football careers but also for having the chance to get a college degree to prepare them for life after the game.

“The things that they’ve learned in this program and the hard work and all that stuff is going to prepare them for what’s up next,” Allen said. “But I think when you can walk across the stage with a degree, that makes the stakes of this so much bigger than what it is today because there’s kids that go to college and still don’t finish … one of those things that I always say is, when you have a degree, that stays with you. That’s the conversation I have with them all the time.”

It’s a dream come true for all of Wednesday’s signees, most of whom have been playing since they were little kids.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I was like four years old,” Paul said. “I’ve wanted to be a college football player and it’s a great feeling because we’ve put in a lot of hard work and now we’re here.”

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