Gadsden City Elite Eight set for new journey

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Photo: Gadsden City senior football players gather for a photo on National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at the GCHS auditorium. Pictured, sitting, from left: Samuel Horton (Central Arkansas), Aaron Richard (Princeton), Mason Johnson (West Georgia), Kelsey Smith (Birmingham Southern). Standing, from left: Rodney Johnson (University of Alabama), Khamari Smith (Berry College), C.J. Miller (Mercer College), Nehemiah Washington (West Alabama). (Chris McCarthy/Messenger) 

By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Eight Gadsden City senior football players secured their academic and athletic futures on National Signing Day on Wednesday, Feb. 2, at the GCHS auditorium.
Samuel Horton (Central Arkansas), Aaron Richard (Princeton), Mason Johnson (West Georgia), Kelsey Smith (Birmingham Southern), Rodney Johnson (University of Alabama), Khamari Smith (Berry College), C.J. Miller (Mercer) and Nehemiah Washington (West Alabama) helped the Titans improve from a 1-9 record their sophomore year to 5-5 this past season in what was arguably the toughest region in Class 7A.
Rodney Johnson will be a preferred walk-on at the University of Alabama. He was named to the ASWA Class 7A All-State team at cornerback after finishing the 2021 season with 91 tackles, 13 pass break-ups, and three interceptions. He also returned one punt return for a touchdown and one kickoff for a touchdown. He was named the team’s 2021 Special Teams Player of the Year and Defensive Back of the Year and played in the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star football game.
“During my visit, they told me that they don’t play guys who don’t develop, so I’m going to try my best to be the best developed player out there,” said Johnson. “I’m going to have to put in the hard work, of course, but I feel like I can out-work everybody, and where else to get better at than at the best place in the country? I’m ready for the ride to begin.”
Horton signed with Central Arkansas. A three-year starter at defensive end, Horton last season finished with 125 tackles (including 19 for a loss); seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was a 2021 team captain, was voted the team’s defensive lineman of the year and was played in the North/South All-Star football game.
“I’m truly blessed with how everything went on in the past year,” said Horton, who plans on studying computer science. “Without the support of my parents and coaches, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Richard signed with Princeton University in New Jersey. A three-year starter and 2021 team captain at defensive end, he recorded 104 tackles (including10 for a loss), 11 sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“It’s awesome that I’ll get to play Division I football,” said Richard, who plans on majoring in architectural design. “Academically, it’s the best opportunity I could ask for.”
Mason Johnson signed with the University of West Georgia. A three-year starter and 2021 team captain at tight end, he caught 21 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns this past season. He was the recipient of the team’s Won’t Quit, Control What I Can Control and Colonel Harrison awards.
“I’m ready to play some D-II ball and see what that feels like,” said Johnson, who is undecided on a major. “My visit [to UWG] was incredible. I really liked the campus and the facilities.”
Kelsey Smith signed with Birmingham Southern. A two-year starter at defensive back, he had 77 tackles, five pass break-ups one interception in 2021.
Khamari Smith signed with Berry College in Rome, Ga. A two-year starter at receiver, the 2021 team captain received the team’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year and Wide Receiver Player of the Year awards after finishing with 45 receptions for 727 yards (16.2 yards per catch) and five touchdowns.
“This is what I’ve been wanting my whole life, so I’m blessed to get this opportunity,” said Smith, who is considering majoring in sports marketing or sports management. “The [Berry] campus is very nice, and the coaches and the players I met were very cool. It’s where I felt the most comfortable at. Plus, I can get home pretty fast if I need to.”
Miller signed with Mercer College in Macon, Ga. The Titans’ Co-Offensive Player of the Year and Running Back of the Year was named to the ASWA Class 7A All-State team the past two seasons with 380 carries for 2,559 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“It feels great to have the opportunity to play at the next level,” said Miller, who is undecided on a major. “[Mercer] recruited me really hard. The coaches called me every day and came to my house and talked to my parents a lot.”
Washington signed with the University of West Alabama in Livingston. A two-year starter at defensive back, he had 58 tackles, seven pass break-ups and four interceptions this past season.
“It feels great that I accomplished my dream,” said Washington, who will major in physical education. “I like the [UWA] coaching staff and I like the environment there.”
GCHS head football coach Ali Smith thanked Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick, GCHS Principal Kevin Young, athletic director Todd Lambert, Yolanda Campbell, Kelly Robertson and Kelly Swafford, along with his coaching staff, athletic department staff and the school administration and support staff.
“Of these eight young men, I doubt if any of them ever had an unexcused missed practice or showed up late unexcused,” said. “Each one of these young men started with us in the ninth grade, and now they’ve finished through as outstanding student athletes. They worked hard to get to where they are right now, academically and athletically, and they’re ready to start a new journey. To come out of college debt-free and start on a career is the opportunity of a lifetime.”

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