Seven Pelham football players signed their national letters-of-intent Wednesday at the school, including, second from left, Corey Morgan (LaGrange), third from left, Clifford Stewart (Concordia), fourth from left, Dre’Mon Jenkins (West Georgia Tech), fifth from left, Calvin Shelton (Concordia), third from right, Norman Givens (West Georgia Tech), second from right, Brandon Smith (Concordia) and Denzel Jackson (Concordia), far right. At far left is Pelham’s Jeffrey Keaton, a Hornets defensive back who attended the ceremony after being accepted to the Air Force Academy but will not play football. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PELHAM — Clifford Stewart couldn’t smile or celebrate.
All he could do was cry.
Wrapped in his mother’s arms and seconds away from signing a football scholarship to play with Concordia College (Ala.), the Pelham High School senior broke down in front of his coaches, friends, family and the six other Hornets signing their own college scholarships.
“It just hit me,” Stewart said. “Everything I had been through since my younger days, I was thinking about it all. I have been through so much, and one of my dreams has always been to sign with a college.”
The dream came true Wednesday afternoon in the Pelham media center, where a record seven football players signed scholarships — four to Concordia College, two to start-up program West Georgia Tech and one to LaGrange College.
One by one, the Pelham seniors walked in front of the cameras and sat next to their parents to sign their national letters-of-intent.
Stewart never made it to the signing table.
The receiver broke into tears and hugged his mom as emotion swept across the room.
“That was special,” Pelham coach Frankie Carroll said. “That’s a moment that will last with me for a long time.”
It’s a moment Stewart had been dreaming of for a lifetime and one he said he owed all to his mother, Felisha Draggs.
“I was raised just by my mom, who raised three kids all by herself. I had no father figure. I basically just had my mother, who was basically a father and a mother to me,” Stewart said. “She was the one who pushed me and never gave up on me. She had faith in me and told me what I could do and what I could achieve. She told me I could go far in life.”
Stewart will join Brandon Smith (LB), Denzel Jackson (LB) and Calvin Shelton (DB) at Division II Concordia, while Dre’mon Jenkins (WR) and Norman Givens (NG) signed with West Georgia Tech and Corey Morgan (OL) inked with LaGrange.
“For our kids to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel is special,” said Carroll, who believed the seven signees made up the largest group of signings in school history. “I am proud of how hard these kids worked and how hard our coaches worked.”
Full stats for Pelham’s players weren’t available, but Smith, Jackson and Shelton were three of the defensive leaders on the 2012 Pelham squad that finished 1-9.
The trio, along with Stewart, were introduced to Concordia by Pelham assistant coach Shane Wheeler, who worked alongside first-year Concordia coach Don Lee earlier in his career.
“That’s how we got our feet in the door,” said Jackson, who was a four-year starter for the Hornets. “I’m very excited that I’m not going by myself and that I get to go with my family. That’s what those guys are to me — family. I am ready to go over there and represent Pelham.”
Givens and Jenkins will go to a West Georgia Tech school that officially added a football program two months ago, becoming the state’s second junior college to offer football, while Morgan will play offensive line at LaGrange, a Division III school that competes in the USA South Athletic Conference.
Carroll said there are likely even more signings to come from a senior class that will be sorely missed.
“They are resilient and hard-working,” Carroll said. “They came out every Friday and played their hearts out. Even though the record didn’t show, they left everything they had on that field.”