Signing Day: Immokalee High
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IMMOKALEE — Following months of keeping his recruitment quiet, leaving many experts to wonder where one of the nation's top players would land, Mackensie Alexander finally let his personality shine on National Signing Day.
As the yearlong saga came to an end, the Immokalee defensive back flashed some of the flair he's known for on the football field at Wednesday's signing ceremony.
Live on college sports network ESPNU, Alexander sat on stage in Immokalee's auditorium and slowly pulled baseball caps from a bag as he built suspense for his commitment. In the end, it was an orange Clemson cap with the trademark Tiger paw logo that ESPN's No. 4 recruit place atop his head.
"My four years will be at the University of Clemson," Alexander said has he donned the Tigers hat, and thrust his hands in the air to the cheers of a packed auditorium.
Alexander's long-awaited announcement was the pinnacle of a celebration that had the drama, emotion and video cameras of a motion picture. Five Indians football players declared their college choices one by one, all committing to schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences.
Three of the commitments were no surprise. Quarterback Tshumbi Johnson signed with Cincinnati, running back Jacky Marcellus signed with West Virginia, and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat signed with South Florida.
ESPNU and Comcast Sports Southeast, along with local television stations and newspaper cameras, were at Immokalee to capture the drama of Alexander's announcement. The media also kept a keen eye on Alexander's twin brother, Mackenro, who did kept his college plans secret until picking Auburn on Wednesday.
Mackensie Alexander, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback who was the second-highest ranked undeclared recruit on ESPN's list, did not disappoint. After thanking his teammates and family, and apologizing to the media for his recent reclusiveness, the U.S. Army All-American kept the crowd guessing until the end.
As he led up to his decision, he first unveiled a dark maroon hat and asked, "Should it be Mississippi State?" He then pulled out an orange hat and asked, "Should it be Clemson?", as if to throw off the spectators. Only then did he reveal another Tigers cap and make his final announcement.
Alexander visited Clemson on Nov. 10, his second official visit after Texas A&M. He said he's stuck by the Tigers, but admitted he flirted with Florida and Auburn in the past few days.
"It came to the last minute," Alexander said. "It came down to (Florida and Auburn), but I said, 'You know, I've had a long relationship with everyone at Clemson.' I really trust the coaching staff, and I really believe in them."
Mackenro Alexander provided a little drama of his own. One of the biggest questions coming into Signing Day was if the twin brothers would sign with the same school. Making his selection before his brother, Mackenro Alexander sat at the signing table with three hats — Auburn, Clemson and Mississippi State.
As he toyed with the audience, Mackenro (6-0, 190) picked up the Mississippi State hat. "That don't match," he said before lifting the Clemson hat. "That don't match, either."
"I'm taking my talents to Auburn University," said the Daily News Defensive Player of the Year and all-state first team selection. "War Eagle!"
Senat, ranked in the top 50 defensive tackles in the country by Rivals, surprised some when he also took his seat behind three hats — South Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina State. Senat verbally committed to the USF last week, and was thought to be a firm commitment to the Bulls.
The 6-foot-1, 311-pound Senat said he wavered briefly in the final days of recruitment. In the end, he chose USF so he could stay close to his father, who is battling lung cancer, and so he could play right away.
"There was a little doubt," Senat said. "I woke up this morning crying because it was a hard decision. I wanted to play in the ACC (for North Carolina State), I wanted to play for a good coach like Steve Spurrier (at South Carolina). At the end of the day, this is the right fit."
Wednesday's ceremony also included softball player Danielle Garcia, who signed to play at Santa Fe College, a junior college in Gainesville. Immokalee principal Mary Murray said Garcia is believed to be the school's first girls athlete to commit on National Signing Day.
Tshumbi Johnson verbally committed to Cincinnati in November. After passing for a school record 7,203 yards and 60 touchdowns as a four-year starter, Johnson (5-11, 185) said he'll play receiver or possibly defensive back for the Bearcats.
"On my official visit, it felt like I was home," said Johnson, who wore a black suit and red bow tie to match Cincinnati's colors. "I felt like I was back at Immokalee."
National Signing Day completed a whirlwind recruiting process for Immokalee's five stars, who began receiving attention after their sophomore years. Behind the future BCS players, the Indians made it to the Class 5A state finals for the second time in school history. They came up just shy of the team's second championship in a 21-20 loss to Tallahassee-Godby on a missed extra point with no time left.
Wednesday isn't the end of recruitment for several other Immokalee seniors. Indians athletic director Tony Allen said receivers Xavier Richardson and Jummy Victorin, linebacker Joslin Alberique, and lineman Kerby Henry all are deciding between Division II offers. Richardson has a Division I offer, which Allen wouldn't name, but needs a higher test score to qualify for the NCAA's highest tier.
As for the future, the Indians have big plans. Especially Wednesday's brightest stars.
"I want to get a 3.0 GPA, be an (Associated Press) All-American as a freshman," Mackensie Alexander said, "and win a national championship my first year."
His path could mimic that of another Southwest Florida star. Sammy Watkins graduated from South Fort Myers in 2011, and was an All-American as a freshman at Clemson in 2011. He'll be a junior for the Tigers in the fall. South senior defensive back Jayron Kearse also signed with Clemson on Wednesday.
Mackenro Alexander shares his twin brother's confidence. A linebacker at Immokalee, he'll be a hybrid defensive back/linebacker at Auburn. Despite the Tigers' 3-8 record in 2012, including 0-8 in the SEC, Alexander sees a big turnaround next year under new coach Gus Malzahn.
"I see us losing maybe two games next year. That's it," Mackenro Alexander said. "We'll go to a bowl game, win it, then next year win the national championship."
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