Two of the top players to ever wear a Ridgeland uniform put on their new school colors on Wednesday as seniors Jalyn Shelton and Markeith Montgomery signed their letters of intent on the first day of the NCAA's early signing period.
Shelton donned the red and white of Austin Peay State University in nearby Clarksville, Tenn., while Montgomery traded the Panthers' black and silver for the black and gold of the Kennesaw State (Ga.) Owls.
Head coach Wesley Tankersley said it was great to add two more names to Ridgeland's long and ever-growing list of college football signees.
"It's great that we have some colleges coming through Ridgeland High School to look at our student-athletes and it's great that we have kids like Markeith and Jalyn that not only have football qualifications, but have the qualifications academically as well," he said. "We look forward to seeing their growth as men as they go off to these schools."
Shelton, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound running back only recently committed to the Governors after de-committing from Navy during the season, adding that Austin Peay already made him feel at home.
"When I've been up there to visit, they've treated me like family, even though I'm not up there yet," he said. "The other players are already texting me everyday see how I'm doing. It's like we're brothers already."
"Today was about making a decision for my future and I think I made the right choice," he added. "I hope everything goes well and I pray to God that it will."
Shelton, who came to Ridgeland as a sophomore, rushed for over 3,800 yards and scored 57 rushing touchdowns in three seasons. He was an All-Region first team selection after 1,355 yards and 14 TD's as a sophomore and was All-Region again after a junior year that saw him rack up 1,432 yards and 23 scores on the ground, earning him All-State honors from RecruitGeorgia.com and an honorable mention All-State nod by the AJC.
This past season, he was the Region 6-AAAA Co-Offensive Player of the Year after rushing 173 times for 1,091 yards and 20 scores. He put up those numbers despite usually playing a little more than a half each game as Ridgeland's starters were usually finished by the third quarter due to the big leads the Panthers had in nearly every game. He also missed one game due to an ankle injury.
Shelton said he has already developed a great relationship with Austin Peay head coach Will Healy. Healy, one of the youngest head coaches in Division I at age 32, played quarterback at Boyd-Buchanan and later returned to the Scenic City to become a top assistant coach at Chattanooga.
He had been rumored to take over the post at the University of South Alabama, but has since opted to stay at APSU. The Governors went 0-11 in Healy's first season, but improved to 8-4 this past fall after the program went 1-34 in the previous three seasons before his arrival.
"I had just committed and the day after that I heard about (the South Alabama rumor)," Shelton said. "That made me a little nervous, but I'm glad he's staying at Austin Peay. A couple of years ago, they didn't even win a game and this year they were one of the most talked-about stories in all of college football for their turnaround."
"I think Jalyn will be an excellent running back (at Austin Peay)," Tankersley added. "They can use him in a lot of ways. They signed a kid out of Dalton last year (Ahmaad Tanner) that ended up being one of the top freshman (in the Ohio Valley Conference), so I think they can end up doing a lot of stuff with both of those kids."
Shelton said he will probably major in engineering technology with a concentration on construction.
Tankersley also believes Montgomery has a chance to make an immediate impact at Kennesaw State. The Owls, in just their third season of football, went 12-2, won the Big South championship and knocked off Samford and Jacksonville State in the FCS playoffs before losing in the quarterfinals to Sam Houston State, 34-27.
"I really think Markeith can go in and play right away at Kennesaw," Tankersley explained. "He could play offense or defense for them, so I think he'll be a good fit. I think they are looking at him as a cornerback, but with his skill set he could switch over to offense really easily if they needed him to."
Montgomery played on both sides of the ball during his four seasons at Ridgeland, earning All-Region all four years, three times as a first teamer. He also is looking to become the Panthers' first-ever three-time All-State first team selection when the list is released later this month.
His breakout season came as a sophomore when he made 97 tackles, broke up six passes, made four interceptions, forced five fumbles and recovered four more. He was named first team All-State by the AJC and the Georgia Sports Writers Association.
Then the following year, Montgomery was the region's Defensive Player of the Year and first team All-State by the AJC, the GSWA and RecruitGeorgia.com after 84 tackles, 22 assists, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, eight pass break-ups and two picks. The GSWA also named him as the Defensive Player of the Year for all of Class AAAA, joining current New Orleans Saint Vonn Bell as the only Ridgeland players to ever win the award.
This past campaign, the 5-foot-10, 185-pound safety was the overall Player of the Year for Region 6-AAAA after registering 115 tackles, 28 assists and one interception. He also rushed for 1,245 yards and scored 19 TDs on offense, giving him over 2,200 yards on the ground and 33 rushing touchdowns in the past three seasons.
"It means a lot to be the first in my family to go off to college," said Montgomery, who committed to the Owls in June after entertaining a number of offers. "It's just a family-like environment there. It's not too far from home and the coaches put a lot of effort into (my recruitment). They came and visited me every other week and that meant a lot.
"They're just in their third year as a program and they are already one of the top teams in FCS and that means a lot to me too."
Montgomery said that he plans be a mechanical engineer.
"Like I told them both, football is going to end for them at some point in time, even if they were to go on to the NFL," Tankersley added. "But hopefully these decisions will set them up for life once they get done with football. These last few months that they are at Ridgeland, we will make it a priority for them to understand what it's going to be like when they get the college and what path they want to take when they get there."