VALDOSTA –– Patience is key.
After going on his initial college visits back in December, Valdosta High cornerback Tramonte Gardner finally made a decision –– signing with Union College (Ky.) Tuesday afternoon.
Gardner played all four years at Valdosta, emerging as an All-Region player in 2018 as a senior. Last season, Gardner tallied 77 total tackles (50 solo) with 10 tackles for loss. Gardner also collected three sacks with one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Gardner will join a Bulldogs team in the fall that finished 2-8 last season under veteran coach Andre Linn, who will be heading into his fourth season as head coach.
"It feels good," Gardner said of his decision. "It feels good to make my family proud. I've always dreamed of this. It's a dream come true to play at the next level. ... I feel like I fit in perfectly with what they do –– I'm very hard-working. I feel like I bring a competitive spirit to the table and I feel like I bring a different aspect to their team."
Arriving at Valdosta High as a wide receiver, Gardner made the transition to cornerback and safety after his sophomore season with the 'Cats.
Though the move felt like a demotion at the time, Gardner's penchant for physical play allowed him to make a seamless transition.
"In fact, they basically gave him to the guys on defense, Valdosta head football coach Alan Rodemaker recalled. "They said, 'You can have him!' He came over there and became a really good player for us. He was an All-Region player, had an excellent senior year, played safety and started every game for us and did an excellent job. Most of all, I never remember him ever being in my office. And it seems like when I talk about the guys that sign, the guys that are going off the play college football, it seems like I say that over and over again.
Gardner said of the position switch: "With the transition, I was used to being physical on both sides. On defense, knowing I had to come down and make tackles, it just changed. As a physical player, I knew it would work out and I knew I would be a great part on defense."
Rodemaker spoke at length about what's set Gardner up for the next chapter of his life. A mindfulness to do the right thing and make good decisions, Rodemaker says, is critical when gauging a player's chances at earning a scholarship –– something Rodemaker likened to "winning the lottery."
"These guys that sign and go on to play college football, I never have problems with them –– typically, we don't have grade problems with them, we don't have discipline problems with them," Rodemaker said. "Tramonte's been about the right stuff since he came to our program. He's always done thing the right way and when a young man does that, he infects a lot of other people. You never know how many people he made go the right path just by him choosing the right path.
"These days when you get someone to provide a scholarship for you based on what you've done in the classroom and on the field, it's about like winning the lottery. I couldn't be happier for him and his family."
While most of his teammates signed with colleges earlier this year, Gardner approached the process with careful consideration.
Back in December, Valdosta defensive coordinator Justin Montgomery gassed up his car and took Gardner and teammates Jacquez Brown, Jarred Sermons and Devonta Berrian on a road trip to Kentucky for college visits at the University of the Cumberlands and Union College.
Though Brown and others agreed to sign with Cumberlands, Gardner wasn't sold.
"It was me and those four guys riding in a car for, I don't know, about 16 hours round trip so I learned a lot of good music from them," Montgomery said. "It was unique that Tramonte actually went to visit the University of the Cumberlands, which is where Jacquez signed and then when it came time, when everybody else signed there, Tramonte said I don't (want to sign there).
"After getting to know him a little bit more off the field, Tramonte's gonna process everything he does in depth before he makes a decision and I love that about him. He bypassed that signing day. He wanted to make sure this was the perfect fit for him and I think he feels confident now and he's really at peace with his decision and that's what we want. We want these guys to go off and thrive and be successful. I commend Tramonte for that."
So what swayed Gardner's decision to join a teammate in the same school in Kentucky?
Gardner says he preferred the school academically and more than anything, he felt a fresh start was needed.
"It was away from home –– I didn't want to stay home," Gardner said of Union College. "I wanted to see something new, a different environment."
Gardner remains uncertain about what he'll major in at Union College, but guesses "I might major in criminal justice or something like that."
On the field, Gardner expects to help the Bulldogs right away.
"My goal is to have a winning season," Gardner said of his expectations at the next level. "I know, the last two years, they didn't have a winning season. I want to bring a winning mentality to the team."
With his high school graduation set for Friday, Gardner also spoke of what he'll miss most about donning the black and gold in Wildcat country.
"The Cat Walk," Gardner said smiling. "I'm gonna miss the Cat Walk and the Friday night lights, everybody being there and the stadium being packed. I'll miss that."