St. Frances Academy football players commit to Division I football colleges and take part in signing day at the high school. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
Throughout the fall, the St. Frances football team dominated the gridiron, going 9-0 and enjoying a start-to-finish run atop The Baltimore Sun’s Top 15 poll.
On Wednesday, the talent that has played big for the Panthers was on display in a different setting. Seated side by side in the school’s chapel, the team’s gifted senior class gathered to sign their national letters of intent on the first day of the early signing period for football.
At the far right corner of the table were standouts Darrian Dalcourt and Shane Lee, sporting Alabama’s Crimson Tide red. Joining them were classmates Jordan Jakes (Indiana), Kwesi Evans (Temple), Edward Gatling (Monmouth), Cole Birdow (Old Dominion), Anthony Ogudo (William & Mary) and Shawn Evans (Albany).
While introducing the class, St. Frances co-coach Henry Russell talked about all the success the seniors led the Panthers to on Friday nights and was quick to emphasize the hard work in the classroom and at practice that always came first.
“This is one of my favorite days of the year,” Russell said. “I get to see them day in and day out and see the struggle and the work and everything that goes into making it to this point, and they’re just a tremendous group of kids.”
The day was a celebration of an often-trying season that had controversy before it began. In late spring, a number of fellow Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference teams decided they would not play St. Frances because of what they called safety concerns and overmatched competition. Based on the forfeits, the Panthers were declared conference champions with no postseason played and had to scramble to revamp their schedule.
Across the country Wednesday, senior football stars were signing off on their dreams. For Lee, rated the No. 5 inside linebacker in the nation by 247Sports, and Dalcourt, an offensive tackle who moved to center this season for the benefit of the team, they get ready to play for the defending NCAA champion Crimson Tide.
Lee was the first to commit and Dalcourt, his co-captain on this year’s team, was soon to follow.
“I’m just excited. Four years of high school that led up to this moment is what every kid dreams for. So just to be able to sign, get recruiting over with is like a big relief,” Lee said. “Me and Darrian have been best friends since freshman year, so to have him go down there with me was a dream come true. I know it’s going to be tough times, but he’s going to be there to get me through it and I’ll be there for him, so it’ll be fun.”
Dalcourt tried to represent the entire class and St. Frances program in his comments.
“It means a lot to me and, more importantly, to my team. It’s a big deal for everybody here. It’s a great day, but it all comes to an end and it’s time to get ready for college now,” he said. “It’s been a long process and [there’s been] a lot of blood, sweat and tears going into it, a lot of self-doubt. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to believe in yourself, your talent and your team and it all comes together.”
The seniors have one final game to play for St. Frances on Saturday as the Panthers make a second straight appearance in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series.
Ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 national poll, they will face Lee County (Ga.), the state’s Class 6A champion, with game time set for 7:30 p.m. in Leesburg, Ga. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.