Apalachee senior football players Ethan Morris, Gunnar Wright and Will Smith were all Wildcat head coach Steve Sims looks for in a football player throughout their high school careers.
They showed up every day, worked hard, led their team and took care of their work in the classroom. Now that work is paying off for them.
The three Wildcats signed letters of intent Feb. 1 to continue their playing careers in college as part of National Signing Day. Morris and Wright are heading to Reinhardt University of Waleska while Smith inked with Point University, which moved its main campus from Atlanta to West Point in 2012.
Both teams compete in the Mid-South Conference of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Reinhardt is coming off a school-best 13-1 season, in which it advanced to the NAIA semifinals, while Point went 3-6. The Eagles beat the Skyhawks last season 55-2.
All three players gathered for a signing ceremony in the school cafeteria as their family members, teammates, friends and school officials looked on.
“I’m extremely proud of these guys because they’ve worked hard,” Sims said of his now former players.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of success while they’ve been here in terms of wins and losses, but they’ve got us going in the right direction. Those three are a big part of what we have done well and I’m proud that they get a chance to continue their careers.”
While Apalachee struggled again in 2016, going 2-7-1, Morris, Wright and Smith all played a part in their victories.
Wright, a first-team All-Region 8-AAAAAA selection at safety, led the Wildcats with 118 tackles and 4 interceptions.
One of his interceptions helped set up Apalachee’s first win of the season against Walnut Grove, 14-13.
He followed that up a week later with several critical defensive plays as the Wildcats topped Monroe Area 10-7.
“He wound up finishing in the top two or three all time in tackles in school history,” Sims said. “He’s just a hardworking, hard-nosed kid.”
Smith, another key cog in the Wildcat secondary at corner, was named second-team all-region after finishing the year with 62 tackles and 3 interceptions.
Sims relayed a story about the first day Smith arrived at Apalachee as a rising junior after moving to Barrow County from Maryland.
“A couple days later we were getting ready to go to camp and I asked the team how they felt about (Smith) coming with us because he had not been through all the summer workouts with them,” Sims said. “They said, ‘Coach, yes!’ And he’s been here every day ever since.”
Finally there was Morris, a wide receiver who emerged as the Wildcats’ top offensive threat last fall.
Morris, also a first-team all-region selection, caught 49 passes on the year (second most in a season in school history) and broke the school’s single-season receiving yardage record with 780 yards.
“He was one of the only bullets we had in the gun late in the year,” Sims said. “Our team did a good job pass protecting and our quarterback, Ryan Miller, did a good job of getting Ethan the ball. And Ethan, to his credit, kept finding ways to get open even when the other team knew we were going to throw it to him.
“He’s just a great overall kid.”