When St. Frances All-Metro running back Gary Brightwell signed with Arizona Wednesday, he could hardly wait to test his skills at a big-time football program out west.
Arizona, however, had not been his original choice.
"I went on an official (visit) to Temple and it felt like it was the place for me at first," said Brightwell, who ran for 1,715 yards last fall, "but the next week, I went on a visit to Arizona and I was like, 'Oh yeah, this is a great atmosphere.' It's a chance to get my network out. I played on the East Coast all my life, so I can advance my talents on the West Coast where it's faster, bigger and stronger. I was like I need to see if I'm the best at what I do, so I'm going to give this a shot, I'm going to go with my gut."
Brightwell joined 10 of his teammates Wednesday morning for a ceremony in the St. Frances Academy chapel on the first day of the signing period for football and soccer.
For the Panthers, who went from last place to champions in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference last fall, 10 players are headed to Division I programs while one will play in Division III.
Two other Panthers also flipped their commitments. Linebacker Sam Thomas, The Baltimore Sun's Defensive Player of the Year, switched from Towson to Kent State and quarterback Isaiah Robinson changed from Rhode Island to Maine.
"It was hard and it was a lot of reasons. It came down to the wire," Thomas said. "Kent State's been recruiting me the whole time even though I was committed to Towson. And [it's] big-time football. Kent State is a nice place. I'm originally from Baltimore, so I thought I just need to get away."
Robinson said, "It was very tough for me switching schools because I made a commitment to Rhode Island but honestly it's about how I can better myself for the future, so I weighed the pros and cons and it was a better decision for me."
Three Panthers will stay close to home. Second-team All-Metro defensive lineman B'Ahmad Miller signed with Maryland. All-Metro tight end Myles Wright is headed to Towson. Linebacker Tariq Coley will play at Morgan State.
"I want to build something," Miller said of his commitment to the Terps. "I always wanted to have my own legacy and you really can't go wrong with Maryland."
Defensive end Jonathan Kingsley signed with Syracuse, something he could never have imagined two years ago when he immigrated from Nigeria.
"I worked hard to get where I am. I watched a lot of video, did a lot of workouts to try to catch up to the guys who started playing when they were really young and I think I've come a long way," said Kingsley, who didn't even think about playing college football until a year ago.
All-Metro corner Jordan Swann signed his National Letter of Intent with Connecticut and defensive lineman Jamehl Wiley with Maine. Cornerback Caleb John is head to West Point and lineman Gary McDowell, to Bethany College in West Virginia.
For first-year Pathers coach Henry Russell watching so many of his players accept scholarships to college was a bit overwhelming.
"I don't think any of us thought any of this was possible," Russell said. "It's crazy how things, one thing after another, kept falling into place for these kids. Having 11 guys sitting up here and going to college is just a total blessing and I'm just very thankful for all the hard work that everybody's put in from coaches to teachers to tutors, SAT prep people. It's been a lot and it's great to see this day to celebrate all the scholarships for these kids and for our city."
For the players, enjoying their moment with so many of their teammates made the day even more exciting.
"It was an awesome feeling," Brightwell said. "In three months we made a dynasty, a dream team. I love all these guys."