Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- You couldn't have scripted this one any better: Three friends -- make that best friends -- are all headed off to play college football.

And they're doing it together.

Sherwood running back Phillip English, and defensive linemen Chris Roberts and Darren Akins, locked in their college futures Wednesday morning during a signing ceremony at the school to play for up-and-coming Division II St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C.

The trio decided to wait and sign after National Signing Day, which took place exactly one week ago, because each had several offers to choose from and weren't sure which path to take.

So they waited to hold the signing ceremony for one solitary reason: When all three did make their choices, they wanted to do it together.

And as it turned out, now they're each headed to the next level to play for the same school.

"It's a good opportunity for all of them," Sherwood coach Reggie Mitchell said. "These guys had different offers, different paths they could've taken. But being able to be brought up together ended up being important for them."

Led by two-time conference coach of the year, Michael Costa, St. Augustine's -- one of the newer programs to D-II -- plays in the CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletics Association) and finished the 2010 season 9-2, with marquee wins over Fort Valley State (20-9), Catawba (20-17) and Winston Salem (40-35). Costa revived the program in 2002, and according to the school's website, the Falcons have achieved several noteworthy accomplishments during Costa's reign. In 2005, the Falcons were the first CIAA team to earn a No. 1 ranking in the NCAA Division II Southeast Region. That same year, the Falcons tied a school record with eight wins, only to surpass that mark last season.

And if defense is one of the focal points for the Falcons, Akins and Roberts should fit right in.

Roberts (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) broke the Sherwood sack record last year -- a record he set himself in 2009 as a junior -- when he pulled down the opposing quarterback a staggering 12 times. He also led the team in tackles with 57, forced two fumbles and scored three TDs on offense as the Eagles' tight end.

"He has great hands. His potential and upside is probably as high as any of those three guys," Mitchell said. "We might really be seeing Chris playing on Sundays (in the NFL) one of these days."

Roberts hopes so, but right now he's just glad to have a chance to continue playing football -- and do so with his friends.

"It's cool, man. We're all tight," he said. "I'm just ready to get there. And I don't care where they play me (whether offense or defense). I'm just ready."

Akins (6'2, 240), meanwhile, played offensive tackle and defensive end for the Eagles and finished the season with 55 tackles. Mitchell said Wednesday that Akins was a leader on and off the field for SCA, just like he expects him to be a leader for St. Augustine's.

"He's so versatile and he's just a leader, more than anything," Mitchell said. "He's got a bright future for sure."

Akins appreciated his coach's compliment, and said Wednesday his primary goal was to continue to make Mitchell, Sherwood and his family proud by going off to college and getting his education.

"As far as why I chose this school, it was easy: They have the same foundation there that I'm coming from (at Sherwood)," Akins said. "When I visited, the coach stressed that no matter what, education comes first and football comes second -- and that's what I'm trying to do with my life. And I know if I do things the right way, success will come."

English, a business management major, agreed with his teammate. He called Wednesday a long journey that ended in the ultimate "blessing."

"It's a big step. A real big step. But it's a blessing and this day means a lot. Because growing up was tough, and I didn't know what each year would hold, transferring and stuff like that," said English, a 5'10, 205-pound DB who accounted for 1,300 all-purpose yards and 9 TDs last season to go along with two interceptions on defense. "But when I ended up at Sherwood, I had a better idea of what my next step was each year and where my life was headed. And now it's brought me a scholarship -- and the icing on the cake is that I get to do it with two of my teammates. That's going to just bring so much more joy to the season (having them there with me)."

And that's music to Mitchell's ears, who was full of pride Wednesday in seeing three of his top players head off to college -- and do so as a unit.

"Phillip is a hard-working, strong work-ethic type of kid with a rare combination of mix of speed," Mitchell said. "He's a great character kid -- all three of them are. And I'm glad they're making this next step together.