FORT MYERS — Yet to reach its ninth birthday, the South Fort Myers High football program already has established a rich tradition of producing players who put pen-to-paper on National Signing Day.
Wednesday was no different.
In front of family members, coaches and about 100 students, Wolfpack safeties Jayron Kearse and Kenny Bishop, and lineman Joe Fennell signed their letter-of-intent during a midmorning ceremony on the school’s basketball court.
Kearse, who sported his new team’s colors with a bright orange cap and a purple tie, sat in the middle of the table with his two teammates on his sides as he inked with Clemson University in South Carolina.
Bishop signed with Youngstown State University in Ohio, and then proudly donned a red-and-black cap with a large Y on the front.
Fennell, the largest of the trio, signed with Western Kentucky University as he became South’s first lineman to sign with a Division I school.
Before the players signed, South coach Grant Redhead told the audience that all three will be playing football on full scholarships.
“These three kids kept up the tradition,” said Redhead, whose program has sent to players to Clemson, Miami, Western Michigan and West Virginia in the past three years. “We’ve had some really good players come through and earn their scholarships, just like these guys earned it.”
The 6-foot-4, 205 pound Kearse made early verbal commitments to Auburn and Miami before deciding his college destination will be Clemson, where he will join South’s most famous alum — star wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
“It feels great,” Kearse said. “I’ve got a big burden off my back. Now I’ve just got to finish strong in school so I can enroll. I was ready to get (the signing) done so I can just focus on school. Now it’s done.”
Although the two were never teammates at South, Kearse hopes to follow in the paw prints of Watkins.
“I want to compete for a starting position my freshman year, just like Sammy did,” said Kearse, who transferred from Cypress Lake before his senior season. “It’s a good opportunity for me to get on the field early, get a good education and be around great coaches.”
Kearse was thrilled with the outcome of the Chick-fil-A Bowl in December when Clemson rallied to edge LSU.
“It was real sweet. Everybody talks about the SEC, that they’re this, they’re that. When we came out and beat them, we just showed the world that we’re ready for the next level,” Kearse said.
While handling some quarterback duties in a wildcat offense, Kearse rushed for five touchdowns last fall in his only season with South. Most of his time was spent on the other side of the ball with Bishop and Fennell.
The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Bishop visited Youngstown State during Martin Luther King weekend.
“I liked the facility and the coaches and the training room. I’m ready,” said Bishop, who was also courted by Middle Tennessee State. “I liked Youngstown from the beginning. They came to my house daily and they always called me.”
Bishop had six interceptions as a safety in his junior season. He didn’t reach that number last season as he missed some games due to an ankle injury. He returned to play cornerback against offenses that were very wary of putting the ball in the air.
“No one really wanted to throw on us because we had Jayron and Eric Wester back there with us,” Bishop said.
With Kearse, Bishop and Fennell leading the way, South produced five shutouts, went 11-2 and won a district title.
Since the season ended, the 6-foot-4 Fennell has shed about 15 pounds. He’s down to 290, but said he’ll be back above 300 when the college season starts.
Last weekend, Fennell, a four-year varsity lineman, made his first trip to WKU, where he’ll play for former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.
“The campus sits on a big hill. You can see the whole city. It’s beautiful,” said Fennell, who expects to play defensive tackle. “The coaching staff has a great reputation. All they do is win. I come from a school (that) wins. I want to keep following that winning.”
The signing day table at South likely will be occupied again for the 2014 National Signing Day.
“We’ve got four guys that should be Division I signees this time next year,” said Redhead, alluding to Montrel Frei, Teh’ron Fuller, Joe Gold and D’Ronzijah Mathews.
2013 NATIONAL SIGNING DAY
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