Four Panthers set to prowl college ranks

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AMERICUS -- Uneik Crumbley dreamed of Wednesday.

The senior offensive lineman has had aspirations since he played recreation football to move on to college football, and Wednesday that dream came reality.

Sporting a black shirt and green bow tie, Crumbley, along with his teammates Jonathan Battle, Kyle Champion and Claude Deriso, wore respective colors for the schools they chose on National Signing Day.

Crumbley signed with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Battle chose Georgia Southern, Champion picked Samford and Deriso is headed to Shorter.

"This is just great, going to the next level," said Crumbley, a Second Team All-State selection in Class 3A. "This is all I've been thinking about since rec ball, when I was playing with Kyle and JB. That's all we talked about, and now we've done it and it feels good."

The Panthers finished the 2010 season 7-5 and reached the second round of the playoffs.

Coach Michael Pollock said Wednesday was only an indication of things to come.

"I feel like we've got three or four more that could find a home if we just keep beating the bushes and calling people," he said. "We are very excited, and hopefully this is the beginning for more good news."

A big crowd was in attendance at the South Campus' Media Center as it watched four Panthers live out their dream.

For Battle, it's a journey he won't soon forget. After tearing his ACL his junior season, he was finally closer to his old self the final three or four games of the 2010 season. He finished the season with 87 tackles -- 20 for a loss -- and three sacks.

With offers from Arkansas, Cincinnati and Louisville, Battle chose to stay closer to home.

"It's just a blessing to be here and get in a good school," he said. "I thank God for everything he did to bring me back from the knee injury.

"(Georgia Southern) is an in-state school, and they're willing to take a chance with me with my knee."

Deriso made big plays throughout the season, scoring touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams. His interception return against Monroe keyed a 14-6 comeback victory.

He finished with 77 tackles, 10 for a loss, nine pass break-ups, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

Deriso can't wait for the opportunity to grow in Rome with the NAIA school.

"They're a small program, and you can really get (close) with the coaches and have nice conversations," he said. "They know you by name, and I saw it was a good opportunity to go there, and they wanted me. They have a good football program, and I want to go there and better myself."

Champion played on the offensive line and tight end, and he will be just a few exits down Interstate 65 from Crumbley.

"Samford has a great fan base, and their facilities are top-notch," said Champion. "Everything about it was great to me. They really want me on both sides of the ball, and I am going to go in and do the best I can and help the team wherever I can. I'm going to run and lift weights and do everything I have to do to be prepared."

Battle can't wait to make a difference with the Eagles, and that includes beating Samford after the Bulldogs upset Southern last year.

Battle won't be in this year's game, however, as he chose to redshirt to rehab his knee more.

"I look to help make the defense better," said Battle. "I've got high expectations to get out there as soon as they want me to, but I'm going to take a little time to get my knee together.

"I like the fact we play Samford. We'll get to play Kyle the first game of the season. They beat us last year, but I think that's going to change this year."