The Presbyterian College Blue Hose may not be a well-known team to the average college football fan, but Darrell Bridges has plans on changing all of that over the next four years.
Ridgeland's powerful senior fullback finalized his future college football plans on Wednesday, signing a letter of intent with the Clinton, South Carolina FCS school in front of a packed Ridgeland gym on National Signing Day.
"They've stuck with me from the spring all the way through the fall," Bridges said of Presbyterian. "The coaching staff is great. They're doing a lot of things in their program, and they have a great recruiting class coming in. I talk to some of the guys almost every day and I'm excited to be going there. They were down a little last year, but the coaching staff knows what it takes to win, and we're going to pick it up this next season."
Bridges will be receiving a full athletic scholarship.
"It's always been a dream of mine to play college football," he explained, "but it's also been a dream of mine to go on, get a college education and a get a teaching degree. My goal is to be a coach one day."
The 6-foot, 200-pounder helped the Panthers to a region title and a berth in the Class AAAA state championship game last season by rushing for 2,430 yards and 39 touchdowns. Nearly 1,100 yards and 17 of those touchdowns came in the playoffs, and the state's third-leading rusher was later named an All-State first teamer by the Associated Press and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Bridges shared Region 7-AAAA Co-Offensive Player of the Year honors with Cedartown's Nick Chubb, who finished as the state's leading rusher.
"His performance speaks for itself," Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis said. "He's got a physical running style, but he also has breakaway speed. However, it's the leadership and character he brings to the teams that's just as important. You can put him out in front as someone to represent your team.
"Presbyterian is getting a winner, a competitor, and someone that just makes your offense more productive. To me, he's one of the best backs in the state. They are really getting a steal."
Bridges said he plans to show off his work ethic at the next level.
"They're really looking for a running back that can block," he said. "I just have to come in and get to work. If I learn the plays, and learn how to pass block for my quarterback, I'll get my share of carries."
Despite his huge numbers and seemingly college-ready physique, Bridges flew under the radar for most of the season and received very few college offers. He says he intends to suit up for the Blue Hose with a chip firmly placed on his shoulder.
"For those teams that didn't recruit me, I want to make them hate that they didn't," he said with a smile. "It's something I'm going to carry around with me through the next four years and hopefully the next level beyond that."
Bridges will get more than his share of chances against the bigger schools during his time at Presbyterian. The Blue Hose faced Georgia Tech and Vanderbilt last season, and future schedules include games against the likes of Wake Forest, North Carolina State, LSU, Ole Miss, and defending national champion Alabama.
He said getting a shot at the big boys was a definite factor in choosing Presbyterian.
"My new teammates and I want a chance to prove ourselves," he said. "It's not about where you play, but it's about what you do there. I'll get an opportunity to play against those big-name teams, but I'll also a chance to help build the program back up after a down year. I wanted to be a part of that."