By MIKE MONTFORT
— Semester and season over. Exams complete. Holiday break ahead to decompress. Stress relieved.
Not for football players, who began an “Early Signing Period” on Wednesday, Dec. 20, and the Navarro Bulldogs were very active participants.
On the first day of signing, a total of 10 Bulldog football players inked national letters of intent to play at seven university-level programs — all confirmed from the receiving schools. Meanwhile, some other Bulldogs made verbal commitments, and others with multiple offers face some important decisions in the days ahead.
Six offensive and four defensive stars from the 6-4 SWJCFC semifinalists fulfilled their obligations by signing on the dotted lines Wednesday.
In this, the giving season, a lot of people celebrated Christmas early for a number of reasons.
Southern Methodist University and new head coach Sonny Dykes signed three Navarro players — Corsicana linebacker-punter Trevor Denbow, plus sophomore offensive tackle Levon Livingston and center Nick Dennis.
Eastern Illinois University and new offensive coordinator Scott Parr swooped in to sign sophomore wide receiver Matt Reyna and quarterback Harry Woodbery. Reyna and Woodbery spent two seasons with Parr here, have an understanding of his air-raid offensive scheme, and feel comfortable with the Panthers’ new OC.
Lamar University plucked a third sophomore offensive lineman in 6-foot-6, 334-pound Houston native Aires Gilmore-Gardner.
Southeastern Louisiana University landed premier sophomore safety Matthew Wright, a two-time all-conference performer who averaged almost 11 tackles during a 19-game career at Navarro that featured 13 tackles for losses and 18 pass break-ups.
Tulsa University signed 6-1, 220-pound sophomore linebacker Yohance Burnett. The Pearland product, playing inside and outside, averaged eight tackles with four sacks, three TFLs and a 36-yard fumble return for a score against Blinn.
Abilene Christian took Mansfield sophomore defensive tackle Doug Nyandika.
Jackson State University lured an 11th-hour commitment from Bells freshman quarterback Derrick Ponder. JSU recently hired air-raid guru Hal Mumme as its offensive coordinator — a big selling point for Ponder.
In terms of numbers, SMU made the biggest haul.
The signing of Corsicana’s Denbow here highlighted the morning flurry of activity. Denbow had 36 stops, four TFLs, four interceptions and four breakups during a freshman campaign that saw his recruiting stock rise. The sixth- leading tackler on a unit that led the SWJCFC in total defense considered offers from Tulsa, Arkansas and Nebraska before accepting SMU, which pleased his grandfathers — former SMU football great Don Denbow and Mustang basketball assistant Lewis Orr — who were in attendance at Wednesday’s signing.
With the signings of Livingston and Dennis, SMU also snagged 40% of a Navarro’s starting offensive line that helped to produce 465 yards and 36 points per game. Livingston, who originally signed with Kentucky out of high school, developed a wealth of opportunities during two years to consider — Nebraska, TCU, Central Florida, Baylor and Texas, to name a few — but chose the Mustangs after his official visit.
Livingston’s size and experience through the recruiting processes are reasons he is viewed by some staffers as a ‘program perception-changing guy.’
Dennis also had his share of offers, including Southern Mississippi, Troy, North Texas, New Mexico, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech and East Carolina. A little more than a week ago, Dennis had verballed ECU with two other official visits planned. Dennis got encouragement to visit SMU, and the West Texas connection of the Dykes family to Midland Lee football impacted Dennis’ decision.
At Eastern Illinois, Parr made Woodbery and Reyna obvious targets as coach Kim Dameron’s Panthers create competition, add depth to their lineup and install an air-raid offense not seen in the Ohio Valley Conference. Woodbery completed 55.7% of his 309 passes for 2131 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Reyna led NC receivers last year with 34-432-4.
Meanwhile, other Navarro players with offers are considering their future plans as well. They likely will sign before the window closes January 15.
RECRUITING NOTES: On Tuesday, offensive lineman Ronnie Rogers and running back Mori Evans each made verbal commitments on their Twitter accounts to Northeastern State in Tahlequah, Ok…..NJCAA First-Team All-American and SWJCFC Defensive Player of the Year Benjie Franklin is now the No. 3 ranked junior college cornerback in 2018 according to 247Sports. Franklin has received a number of offers — including Florida Atlantic, Auburn, Tennessee and West Virginia….In Navarro’s updated career and single-season records, NJCAA Honorable Mention All-America running back DeAndre Cook ranks seventh in career rushing touchdowns (18). Among single-season records, Cook finished 2017 as fifth in rushing TDs (14), seventh in rushing yardage (1133) and eighth in carries (201).