5 ECHS student athletes accept college, prep school offers
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
In what is being called a historic day for the school, five Escambia County High School (ECHS) student athletes formally signed scholarships or grants-in-aid to compete at the collegiate or prep school level.
The event took place on National Signing Day (last Wednesday, February 1), in the school’s auditorium. One ECHS student became the first in 11 years to accept a scholarship from a Division I school, one signed with a Division II school, one signed with an area community college, and two signed with prep schools in order to gain some maturity before hopefully moving up to a larger school in the future.
“It’s been over a decade since we’ve had D-1 coaches come to ECHS,” first-year Principal Kike Pettaway said, challenging other students to follow the example set by the five scholarship athletes. “This is a very memorable occasion. You students out there who haven’t had your moment to shine, your time is coming.”
Vincent Harris, who is in his first year as ECHS’s head football coach and athletic director, said the five’s collective accomplishment proves that dreams can be realized at the Class 4A school.
“When I first took this job, people told me what we weren’t going to have, what we couldn’t do,” Harris said. “These kids on this stage set a precedent here. The Southeastern Conference has been here; the Big 10 has been here; Conference USA has been here. This shows that whatever your dream is, whatever you want to do, you can accomplish that here in Atmore.”
Three ECHS teachers — Stephanie McGhee, Talia Wright and Stephanie Buitron — also praised the signees and encouraged them to remain focused and to pay their success forward by setting a good example and by coming home to help younger students and student athletes.
“Today is truly a great day to be a Blue Devil,” Buitron said. “I’ve been here 13 years, I graduated from here, and I’ve never seen something like this at our school. This is something new, this many people signing and going to the next level. Take note of what they have done and follow their path.”
It was a case of “ladies first” as C’Anna Betts, who starred on the basketball court at Escambia County Middle School and ECHS, agreed to play basketball for Coastal Alabama Community College (CACC). Betts sat with her parents, Anthony and Celia Betts, as ECHS Coach Devon Robinson introduced her and CACC women’s coach Cedric Yelding sat in the audience.
Next to sign was Jumarcus Lee, who inked a pact to play football for Mississippi Prep, a faith-based college preparatory school in Biloxi. Lee’s mother, Shamarquent Hall, sat with her son as ECHS Coach Joel Gonzalez introduced him.
ECHS Coach Raymond Robinson then introduced Anthony McCants, who played at numerous offensive and defensive positions for the Blue Devils during his four years of high school. McCants was flanked by his parents, Anthony Sr. and Tawanda McCants, as he signed with Goode Elite Prep, located in Daphne.
Carmelo “C-Dot” Turner, who played center for ECHS and who was accompanied by his parents, Jason and Deborah Turner, was then introduced by ECHS Coach Marcus Bradley before he signed to play for Division II Miles College.
Then came the “big dog,” 6-7, 360-pound Kaiden Arnold, who was introduced by Harris as the hulking lineman sat between his uncles, Lorenzo and Lawrence Arnold.
“This is the emotional part,” the head coach-AD said. “You told me when we first met that you wanted to go D-1. I told you I would fight for you, and I tried everything I could to make sure you got that dream. You’ve lost a lot of people in your life. I know that your mom and everybody that’s gone on before you are so proud of you, son. It’s time, big brother.”
The gentle giant, whose mother passed away in 2017 at age 40 and the aunt with whom he then went to live passed away a relatively short time later, was overcome by emotion as his turn came to speak.
Arnold took a few moments to regain his composure and wipe away tears before announcing that he would “continue my athletic career at Jacksonville State University (JSU),” prompting the crowd to explode in cheers, claps and whistles.
Arnold, who was also courted by Coastal Carolina, Indiana, East Carolina, Alabama A&M, Alabama State and South Alabama, became the first ECHS athlete to sign a D-1 scholarship since 2012, when two Blue Devils — both also large linemen — did so.
Tyler Nero (6-2, 280) signed with Auburn University that year after being recruited by five other SEC schools (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky), as well as by Clemson, Florida State, Illinois and South Alabama.
Teammate Dalvin Craft (6-3, 285), signed with Southern Mississippi after also having been recruited by Duke, Kentucky and Memphis.
Superintendent of Education Michele McClung offered encouragement and congratulations to the five signees, and the presiding officer for the Escambia County Board of Education noted that the day was one that will not soon be forgotten by any individual associated with the school.
“This is simply amazing,” said District 7 Board of Education member Coleman Wallace. “Kudos to those young men and the young lady who signed their commitment letters to these various colleges. This is a great day in the history of Escambia County High School.”