TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs football celebrated two college signings Thursday afternoon as Montel Johnson and Damarkus Jones made their decisions official in front of friends and family.
“It was always the goal to sign,” said Jones, a standout linebacker/defensive end, after putting his signature in ink. “Not a lot of people here sign to play football, so it was big for me. I had to find a way to make this possible.”
Jones will continue his academic and athletic career at the University of Minnesota-Crookston, a Division II program that plays in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Johnson, Tarpon Springs' do-it-all athlete, signed with Dodge City Community College, a junior college located in southwest Kansas.
After introducing the pair of seniors, Spongers coach Ron Hawn said he's confident both have what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“It's a great feeling,” he said. “It's good to see these guys get opportunities to better themselves and move on.”
Johnson finished the 2013 season as Tarpon Springs' leader in all-purpose yards, with 1,544, while finding the end zone 13 times.
At Dodge City, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Johnson is aiming to impress for two years before transferring to a four-year institution.
“This was my goal the whole time,” he said. “I had bigger dreams, but now I'll do this for two years and hopefully go somewhere bigger after that.”
If he handles his business on the field and in the classroom, Hawn believes those larger programs will take notice.
“Even in my time coaching I-AA, full-scholarship football, he is the fastest kid I've ever coached,” Hawn said. “Big 12 schools will look at him, WAC schools will look at him; schools like that are going to be attracted to what he's capable of doing, I think. He's also the most football-intelligent person on the field.”
Jones, a 6-foot, 220-pounder who projects to play between outside linebacker and strong safety in Minnesota, led Tarpon Springs this year in total tackles (66) and sacks (8).
“If he was a couple inches taller and 10-15 pounds heavier he would probably be signing with the University of Minnesota, not the University of Minnesota-Crookston,” Hawn said of Jones. “But football's paying for him to go to school and it's a great opportunity. They're in a building stage with a new head coach and he should be able to get on the field pretty early. I would expect him to compete for a starting job right away.”
Jones said he hopes to let his play on the field speak for itself.
“Some teams didn't look at me because of my height, he said,” but height doesn't define a true ballplayer in my eyes.”
According to Hawn, Johnson and Jones may soon have company in the Tarpon Springs Class of 2014 signing class.
“Maurice Turner had a really productive weekend at a college recruiting fair and I think he'll be joining the college ranks hopefully sometime next week,” Hawn said.
Turner, one of Pinellas County's top defensive backs, led the team with five interceptions this year.