VALDOSTA -- Aim High.
The motto of the United States Air Force also could be the motto of three local prep football stars, as they signed their college football letters Wednesday.
Valdosta High linebacker Andrew Braley will definitely Aim High, since he'll be heading to the Air Force Academy.
And both Lowndes safety Funtaine Hunter and Cook wingback Deonto McCormick will be aiming high at prestigious Southern universities. Hunter is going to Vanderbilt, where he will be a pre-med major. McCormick is going to Duke, where he will study to be a lawyer.
Braley, an All-State linebacker, signed what is essentially a full scholarship to the Air Force Academy Wednesday. Braley will play for the Falcons, something he's dreamed of doing for years.
"I know I am going to a quality program, for both football and academics," Braley said.
Braley's grandfather, Jack, has been a strength and conditioning coach for the Air Force football team for over three decades. His father, Jeff, also attended the Academy.
"It's pretty much been a dream of my parents and grandparents for a long time, for me to follow in Dad's footsteps, and to be close to (my) grandparents," Braley said.
Thanks mainly to his grandfather, Braley is very familiar with the coaches at Air Force, which helped make his decision easier.
"That was a personal thing. I know the coaches already. I know their program somewhat. It's not going to a completely unfamiliar place," said Braley, who also lived in Colorado Springs, where the Academy is located, for five years.
"The linebackers coach made a couple of visits, and when I went up there, we talked about what their design is for the defense, how I'd be able to help, what they plan on doing. They think they can put me out there, and I can help the team."
Braley was the Region 1-AAAAA Defensive Player of the Year each of the past two seasons. He reccorded 126 tackles and seven sacks as the Wildcats made the state semifinals.
"Several of my players have gone to the service academies, and they are like Andrew," Valdosta head coach Mike O'Brien said. "We're proud of Andrew, and pleased that he is getting an opportunity like this."
Lowndes All-Region safety Funtaine Hunter is heading for Vanderbilt.
Hunter was one of the captains on the Viking defense and helped Lowndes win the Region 1-AAAAA title this past season. He recorded 60 tackles and forced six fumbles, as Lowndes went 11-2, made the quarterfinals, and finished No. 5 in the state.
The Commodores are leaning towards keeping Hunter at free safety, where he's played the last two seasons, though a move to linebacker is a possibility for the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Hunter.
"They have a great school, a great educational program," Hunter said. "I have a chance to play in the SEC, on top of getting a great education."
Hunter will be a pre-med major at Vandy.
Hunter looks forward to playing for new Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson and his staff.
Cook High wingback Deonto McCormick is heading to Duke to play college ball.
McCormick was a key reason for Cook's emergence as a AA power the past two years, and for the Hornets' back-to-back semifinal appearances. He was a two-time Valdosta Daily Times All-Region selection, and was an All-State selection in 2001.
McCormick could play defensive back or receiver for Duke, and may play as a freshman.
"(Duke coach Carl Franks) told me if I work hard, which I know I will, I have a good chance of playing my freshman year," McCormick said.
The chance to get an education from Duke was too much for McCormick to pass up.
"They have the best academic program in the nation, almost," McCormick said.
"I'm very excited about a student-athlete from Cook High School going to Duke University," Cook head coach Michael Pollock said. "That is a tremendous accomplishment. Not just to get in as a football player, but to get in as a student says a lot about him and his work habits, both on the field and in the classroom."
It won't be easy, though, for him to be away from home.
s pretty hard, because my mama wanted me to stay home and be around town so she could come to visit me. But this was a decision I had to make," McCormick said.
"We're looking forward to seeing him play in the ACC," Pollock said. "I think with the coaches he's got up there, even though he's far away from home, he's going to find himself a home up there and do some good things for that university."
Brooks County quarterback/athlete Ervin Evans will play for West Alabama next season.
"They've got a nice campus and they gave me a full ride up there," Evans said. "And they let me play what I want to play. They want me to play running back, and I like that. And the head coach (former Middle Georgia coach Randy Pippin) is a Christian man."
One of the area's leading prep passers last year, and an All-Area selection, Evans' future at UWA is likely as a back, or possibly a receiver or defensive back.
"When I talked to (West Alabama coach Randy Pippin) on the phone, he was wanting to get someone out of this area, the type of athlete that Ervin is, (one) that can play pretty much any skill position," Brooks head coach Ryan Branch said. "He works extremely hard (and) he's got good grades in the classroom. I'm very excited about seeing him get the opportunity to play at the next level.
Evans will get to play in the Gulf South Conference, which he hopes to help the Tigers win, and will return close to home when UWA plays Valdosta State.
"I like that, coming home and playing Valdosta (State)," Evans said. "My mom can come watch me play and whoop up on Valdosta State."
"It was real hard (the choice to leave home)," Evans added. "It's a long way from home, and you think about your mom and all your friends and being gone for a long time. But I'm going to have to get over it."
Clinch County All-State defensive end Jim McMillan signed with Valdosta State.
McMillan had a banner senior season, helping lead the Panthers to the state semifinals in the Georgia Dome. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound McMillan recorded 14 sacks, and was one of the team's leaders in tackles.
"Jim did a good job for us. This is a good opportunity for him," Clinch head coach Cecil Barber, a VSU graduate himself, said. "He's still got room to grow, so he's going to get bigger, and hopefully will be a good player for them.
McMillan's name is not on Valdosta State's recruiting list because his paperwork had yet to be processed by day's end.
Sports staffers Chris DePew and Greg McIlvain contributed to this story.
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