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Canes add 9 to record-setting recruiting class

 

The Cartersville football program had six players ink their national letters of intent during the first-ever early signing period in December.

Wednesday, nine more Canes joined them as upcoming college athletes.

In total, Cartersville will likely send over half of its 31-player senior class to the next level on a football scholarship, as others will likely sign at some point.

It's an accomplishment that ranks among the best to come from Joey King's head coaching tenure, and that's saying something.

"Obviously, it's a feather in our cap that says we have a lot of dedicated kids," King said, adding that the 2018 class has already set a school record for most college signees. "We had 31 seniors, so I think it says a lot about this class, in general, the success that they've had. To finish it off this way is just icing on the cake."

Speaking of cake, several players held a reception in the lobby of the school's auditorium after the signees had each been introduced individually and took the stage to pose with family and friends.

All nine joined together for a group photo afterward, and then stuck around to reflect on their time at Cartersville and also look ahead to the future.

The only player Wednesday to sign with an FBS school — after six did so in December — was kicker Jonathan Cruz, who made all 72 of his extra point attempts and 6 of his 8 field goal tries during a stealer senior season.

After being named Daily Tribune News Special Teams Player of the Year, Cruz chose a scholarship offer from Charlotte, which plays in Conference USA, over preferred walk-on offers from more prominent schools, including Alabama.

Cruz said the decision came down to his comfort level with the 49ers, who currently have a pair of Canes on the roster in redshirt seniors Brooks Barden and Mark Quattlebaum.

"As soon as I got there, they treated me with respect," he said. "I met some of the players. They treated me like I was their brother already. It just felt like family already."

Elsewhere, two separate pairs of Canes are set to continue their college careers at the same school.

Demetrious Winters and Darian Poellnitz will both be attending Miles College, and they might face each other in practice with Winters joining the Division-II Golden Bears' offensive line and Poellnitz slotting in on the defensive front.

"I went on an official visit, it was cool and they gave me a full-ride," Winters said.

Poellnitz said he and Winters discussed the possibility of playing together once they both had offers from the Fairfield, Alabama, school.

"We did a little bit," Poellnitz said of going through the process together. "We both had offers from there, so we planned to visit together. We both enjoyed it and ended up liking it very well.

"That was one of the deciding factors for me in the commitment."

Poellnitz, who earned all-county honors after a 50-tackle season, added that having his former teammate join him will help the adjustment to college.

"It makes it a lot easier having a friend with you," he said. "It relaxes you a whole lot more. You know you've got a friend to lean on, push you, motivate you. It takes some of the nervousness away knowing you've got your brother right beside you."

Another pair of Canes will be teammates at the next level with all-county offensive lineman Bryce Wilkins and athlete Terry Berdin both heading to Reinhardt, where they will join three Adairsville graduating seniors.

Wilkins said the location of Reinhardt, which is roughly 25 miles from Cartersville, had a big impact on him signing there.

"It's close to home but not so close," he said. "I can kind of get away and figure out things on my own, but also be able to come home and see my family.

"I'm just really excited to see what I can do and contribute to the team."

Meanwhile, Berdin, who transferred from Cass High prior to his senior year, relishes the unique opportunity to compete for the Eagles not only in football but also in track, where he runs the sprint events.

"I'm blessed, because the Lord gave me a lot of talent — not just on the football field, but also on the track," Berdin said. "They offered me two offers, and I just took it and ran with it."

A third all-county offensive lineman, Nick Root will further his playing career and education at Carson-Newman in Jefferson City, Tennessee. Root earned all-state recognition his senior year, and he said he'll miss suiting up with Cartersville every Friday night.

"I'm going to remember all the big games, the state championships, playing with my brothers out on that football field," Root said. "I'm going to miss it, for sure."

Linebacker Grant Harris will also be heading north, joining the University of the Cumberlands.

"I just felt it was the best place for me to grow and develop as an athlete, in the classroom and as a Christian," Harris said of the NAIA school in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

He added that while the recruiting process was grueling, it paid off in the end.

"It was kind of hectic," Harris said. "... But I think I found the right place for me."

Harris' defensive teammate at Cartersville, Bradley Kirk also found searching for the perfect school to be a grind.

The defensive back finally lucked out when a pair of coaches who were recruiting him both ended up at nearby Shorter University.

"It is time consuming and a lot of thought process goes into it," Kirk said. "Having to apply to each and every school, hope to talk to the coaches more, get an official visit in and get a feel of the campus, it takes a while.

"But when it's said and done, it's all worth it."

One of the great things about the Cartersville football program is that players don't need to play every snap for all four quarters to get noticed. Some players who didn't even start — but instead saw time in specific packages and situations — were still able to land scholarships. 

One of the prime examples is Cameron Rowland. Used as a pass-rushing specialist in the Canes' 3-4 defensive scheme, he showed enough to earn a place at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama.

"It's a dream come true," Rowland said. "I always had dreams and aspirations to go to college, play college football, just continue my education and become a better man and a better person in life, in general. ...

"It feels good that I've finally accomplished that."

To already have 15 players preparing to start their college football careers this fall, Rowland said it's a testament to everything the program is about.

"It just shows how hard we work every day; how hard we've been working for the past four years to get to this point; how much the coaching staff has meant to us, all the things they taught us, all the lessons they gave us," he said. "I'm just going to continue that and have that with me for the rest of my life.

"There's just nothing like the Cartersville High School Purple Hurricanes."

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