Lee County offensive lineman Jesse Freeman smiles as he slips on a Louisiana-Lafayette hat after officially signing with the Ragin Cajuns on Wednesday. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
LEESBURG — The only things missing Wednesday afternoon in the Lee County gymnasium were the motorcycles.
In a celebration that generated the same type of excitement that the foggy, motorcycle-led Trojans create when they are introduced on the football field, Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio announced the program’s three Division I signees in front of about 1,000 students.
Buffalo-bound defensive back Quan Jamison and Louisiana-Lafayette offensive lineman commit Jesse Freeman began the festivities by signing their national letters-of-intent, and then Stephen Collier Sr., the father of Lee County quarterback Stephen Collier, took center stage in place of his son, who has already enrolled at Ohio State and is attending classes in Columbus, Ohio.
It was a special day to be a Trojan.
“We are going to miss all of these guys next year, but we are happy they are getting the chance to play at the next level and are excited to watch them on TV in the coming years,” Fabrizio said.
Collier and Freeman had given verbal commitments before their senior seasons even began, but Jamison, Lee County’s star defensive back, only recently made a trip to Buffalo, N.Y., which solidified his decision.
He fell in love with Buffalo — both the town in northern New York and the Mid-American Conference program.
“It’s only 10 minutes away from Canada, and I got to see the Niagara Falls,” said Jamison, who also had offers from Savannah State, Tuskegee, Georgia State and Middle Tennessee State. “Buffalo is somewhere I can see myself settling down after college, and the program has a great tradition. They are great competitors and play highly ranked teams. It just makes me feel at home. The players up there are all about family.”
Jamison finished his senior season at Lee County with 60 tackles, five interceptions, five tackles for loss, two sacks and two blocked kicks, and his stock rose as the Trojans emerged as one of the best teams in Southwest Georgia in 2013.
“He had a lot of interest before the season, mostly from (FCS) and Division II schools,” Fabrizio said. “He had a great senior season and had some more schools take notice. He made a trip up to Buffalo, and said that’s where felt most at home. We feel like he can be an excellent player for them.”
Freeman committed to Louisiana-Lafayette back in August and never waivered.
“I was committed the whole way,” he said. “I had some other offers come through, but they were the top offer. There was Middle Tennessee, Albany State, UAB. But when I went to (Louisiana-Lafayette) I felt right at home. They have a really caring coaching staff, and the people down there really care about their players.”
Freeman was a First Team All-State selection and graded out at 88 percent with 45 pancakes his senior season and in 308 passing attempts didn’t allow a single sack.
“(Freeman) has really improved all four years he has been here with us,” Fabrizio said. “We feel like his best football is still ahead of him. He has tremendous upside and potential. He committed to Louisiana-Lafayette this summer and never wavered.”
Freeman and Jamison both expect to be red-shirted their freshmen seasons, while Collier is fighting for a roster spot at one of the top programs in the country.
The 2014 Ohio State signing class features one five-star and 14 four-star recruits, while Collier was just a three-star, but the QB who had to fight for a starting job as a junior at Lee County is embracing the challenge, his dad said.
“I just had a conversation with (Ohio State offensive coordinator and QB coach Tom Herman), and they want him to come in and compete,” Collier Sr., said. “Obviously with (starting QB Braxton Miller) returning he might be competing for the back-up role, but the opportunity is there.
“He hasn’t bought in that he is going to be a red shirt. He is going to compete and try to be the No. 2 guy. He has a mountain to climb because he is just now getting there, but that was the purpose of early enrollment. But we will see how it goes. Stephen is a competitor.”
Collier, who swept both the John Reynolds Player of the Year award and People’s Choice Player of the Year award from The Herald, completed 146 of 304 passes for 2,291 yards and 24 TDs and also rushed for 1,021 yards and 20 TDs on 163 carries his senior season. On Wednesday, his parents called it an honor to be asked to participate in the school’s signing ceremony despite their son’s absence.
“I have to be honest, it was kind of a surprise that with him not being here and having already enrolled (at Ohio State) we didn’t know how much of an emphasis they were going to put on his signing,” Stephen Sr., said. “But coach Fabrizio reached out to us and asked us if we would come on Stephen’s behalf, and we were honored.”