[Editor's note: This blog post initially included Joshua Davis as one of six Dunbar football players signing national letters of intent to play football on scholarship. Davis, who will play at Morgan State, is not receiving an athletic scholarship. He is receiving need-base financial aid, which allows Morgan to not use one of its football scholarships on him, Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said.]
Dunbar football coach Lawrence Smith is getting used to sending a lot of players to college, but he continues to make signing day an special event for the Poets.
Wednesday, five Poets – Deon-Tay McManus, Terrance Williams, Ernest Hawkins, Charles Brown Jr. and Lavar Highsmith -- signed letters of intent to accept full scholarships to Division I or Division II football programs. Joshua Davis has also commited to play at Morgan State, but he will receive financial aid rather than an athletic scholarship.
The Poets have won six of the last eight state Class 1A championships, but Smith said that’s not enough to consider his program a success.
“This is what it’s all about,” Smith said. “We expect to win here, but if we’re winning championships and kids are not going to college, we’ve got a problem. For kids to go to college, this is what we do.”
Several trophies were lined up in front of the table and each player was announced individually before a large crowd in the Dunbar lobby revved on with a thunderous performance by the Poets marching band.
Davis, a 6-foot-3, 365-pound lineman, signed first with his great grandmother, Maglene Pannell, by his side. Over the last 19 months, Davis has lost his mother and his grandmother, so he opted to sign with Morgan for its football and so he didn’t have to go far from his great grandmother.
Highsmith will join Davis at Morgan. His ecstatic grandmother, Jeanette Nealy, put the punctuation on his signing with a cheer of “College, yeah!” A 6-foot, 220-pound two-way player, Highsmith was recruited for both sides of the ball, but he opted for Morgan where he will be a running back.
“They really don’t have a lot of young running backs,” Highsmith said. “They had a lot of injuries, a lot of seniors, so it’s a place where I can come in as a freshmen and learn the system. I think they’re moving to an I now, a lot of zone runs, so it just fit my style of play. It feels comfortable.”
Brown, a 6-foot, 215-pound running back/linebacker, signed with D-II Shepherd in West Virginia where he said he would play halfback. He might try to walk on to the baseball team too. He plans to major in pre-law or dentistry.
“It’s a pretty good opportunity and they showed a lot of interest in me,” Brown said. “I had other offers. Morgan and Liberty looked at me, but my whole thing is education and they had great programs for me. And they’re a pretty good football program down there too. They had a winning season last year and over the last four years.”
Brown said Shepard coaches are also looking at his brother Paki, a junior running back, and he hopes coax his brother to follow him.
All-Metro second team cornerback Terrance Williams, 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, and linebacker Ernest Hawkins, 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, are headed to the University of Texas-El Paso. Williams committed first and tried hard to get Hawkins to go with him, especially during their official visit the weekend of Jan. 20.
“When we went on our visit I was telling him we can go down here and make history and he listened to me,” Williams said with a grin.
Williams appears to be the signing class clown. The other players donned baseball caps once they told the crowd where they were headed, but Williams pulled out a knit UTEP hat with a pompom on top.
Hawkins said he was considering some other schools, but “once I took my official (visit) down there, it just won me over. I fit in with all the players, coaches. Everyone just showed me love down there and it felt like home.”
The long distance from home wasn’t daunting to either player.
“It felt good,” said Williams of his signing.
“It’s a relief to know that you’re going to college for free,” Hawkins said.
The last one to sign was the Poets’ marquee player last fall. McManus, a two-time All-Metro defensive back, also stood out as a speedy 6-foot-2, 212-pound wide receiver.
McManus, who had 51 scholarships offers, said, “I’m going go join one of my big brothers Tavon Austin,” as he donned a West Virginia hat.
Austin did play a small role in McManus’ recruiting, but McManus said there were a lot of reasons he decided to become a Mountaineer when he committed last summer.
“Everybody thinks, ‘He going up there because Tavon up there.’ He being from Baltimore and the same school,” McManus said. “Tavon played a little part. He just kept in touch with me and told me how everything is up there.”
For McManus, the school, the coaches and the style were enough to hook him. He will play wide receiver so, of course, likes that the Mountaineers throw the ball a lot.
Having six Poets sign is no surprise to McManus. He said Austin kicked the door open and it’s up to each player who comes through to keep that legacy going. Austin, who graduated in 2008, set a bunch of state career records, including most points scored (790), most touchdowns (123) and most rushing yards (7,962).
“It’s the history behind Dunbar,” McManus said. “Dunbar has always been a successful program and coaches are going to come down here to look for talent. I believe it’s our work ethic. We work for what we get and Dunbar will always be successful, because we put that work in.”
For photos from Dunbar's Signing Day event, click here.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times