Wednesday was the first day football players could sign national letters of intent in an early signing period for Division I schools and for mid-year junior college transfers. If you were a DeSoto County native playing for Itawamba Community College, you were likely signing on Wednesday.

In a move that initiated the early period of just three days for Division I schools and a nearly month-long period for mid-year junior college transfers, several players Wednesday inked scholarship offers to move up into Division I football next season.

Among the players the DeSoto Times-Tribune was made aware of, six former Itawamba Indians signed Wednesday with schools. They were led by former Center Hill quarterback Dan Ellington, offensive lineman Preston Haynes of Lewisburg, receiver Christian Saulsberry and defensive end Tyree Bryant of Northpoint Christian, along with defensive back Devan Hollins and receiver Terry Williams of Southaven. 

Ellington signed with Georgia State, Haynes will head to Southeast Missouri State, Saulsberry has signed with West Alabama, while Hollins, Williams and Bryant all inked with Tennessee-Martin. 

Ellington’s signing came before several friends and family Wednesday morning in the Center Hill gymnasium, where he also starred as a basketball player for the Mustangs in high school. 

“Georgia State is a good school,” Ellington said. “I like the coaching staff. I really felt real comfortable going to coach (Travis) Trickett and knowing that I’ll have him as my quarterbacks coach for the next two years.”

Shawn Elliott is the head coach at Georgia State and has led the Sun Belt Conference team the past season, having been named there last December. Trickett is a Hattiesburg native who is also the offensive coordinator at Georgia State. He was previously the offensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic and at Samford.

This week, Ellington was also named to the NJCAA All-America Second Team after throwing for 3,211 yards and 27 touchdowns with on 230-of-353 passing while rushing for 392 yards and eight touchdowns on a team-high 111 carries as a sophomore. He is the first Indians’ quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards in a single season.

“We call some of the same stuff,” Ellington said the similarity in offensive schemes between Itawamba and Georgia State. “I’ll just have to learn the terminology, go in and work hard.”

Haynes, who played under Butch Veazey when the now-retired coach led the Lewisburg Patriots,  made his signing event a noontime party with friends and family at Buffalo Wild Wings in Olive Branch.

Family also played a factor into Haynes’ move to Southeast Missouri, or SEMO. 

“It seemed like a really good fit for me,” Haynes said. “I really enjoyed being up there and meeting all of the coaches and they all seemed like a really good group of guys. They have an excellent academic program and I have a lot of family up that way, so it’s just a good fit for me.” 

A 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive lineman for the Indians this fall, Haynes said he looks forward to playing for his new coaches with the Redhawks.

“Coach (Ben) Blake sees me playing at tackle, or at guard,” Haynes said. “He said pretty much wherever I fit best in the offense, wherever I can win a spot. They are a very run-heavy team, so it’s pretty similar to what we did.” 

Blake will be Haynes’ offensive line coach under Redhawks’ head coach Tom Matukewicz, who finished his fourth season with the Ohio Valley Conference school based in Cape Girardeau, Mo. this fall.

Williams and Hollins signed at Southaven High School with Williams being the most notable “get” for the UT-Martin Skyhawks from DeSoto County.

A wide receiver, Williams this week was named a first-team NJCAA All-American after he became Itawamba’s all-time leading pass receiver. The former Charger averaged 121.7 yards a game and 13.9 yards a catch. 

Bryant and Saulsberry, who kept his choice close to the vest before revealing West Alabama as his new college football home by way of Twitter Wednesday morning, held signing events at Northpoint Christian School late Wednesday afternoon. 

Bryant also signed with UT-Martin. 

Ross Painter of Hernando, a tight end at Northeast Mississippi Community College, signed Wednesday to play at Arkansas State, the school announced via Twitter.  Teammate Quentin Frazier, a linebacker also from Hernando, will be heading to Mississippi College. 

Cordell Birge, an offensive lineman from Southaven, who played East Mississippi Community College, Wednesday also inked with Mississippi College.

The early signing period for Division I schools continues through Friday, when schools cannot sign players until the regular period begins on Feb. 7. Mid-year junior college transfers will have until Jan. 15, when they, too, will have to wait until Feb. 7, when the regular period begins, as well. 

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.

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