CONYERS - Wednesday marked a bittersweet day for the three county high school athletic programs.
It was bitter because it was made official the last time a handful of athletes, particularly the football players, donned their respective uniforms. It was sweet because they will be extending their sports careers at the next level.
On National Signing Day, six football players, two girls soccer players and one baseball player made their choices.
At Heritage, four Patriot football standouts signed scholarships - defensive end Justin Jones (East Carolina), defensive tackle Melvin Jones (Presbyterian), linebacker Corey Alford (Georgia Tech, preferred walk-on) and Reggie Juin (Tusculum).
Rockdale wide receiver Ryan Culbreath signed with Furman to play football.
Salem's Jordan Young (Georgia) and Brittany Beaumont (Clemson) signed women's soccer scholarships.
Salem standout center Sam Watts, a Class AAAA All-State selection in football, is already enrolled at Mississippi State.
Salem linebacker Brandon Hill (North Carolina A&T) rounded out the county's football signees, while Salem pitcher/first baseman Brandon Crumbley signed with Augusta State University.
"What these guys have done in the weight room, on the practice field and in games from a leadership standpoint is going to be hard to replace," Heritage coach Chad Frazier said. "I can't overstate what they've done for us. These kids were the total package, and I was real proud to be a part of their lives during this time."
Leading the Heritage recruits is Jones, a 6-foot-8, 252-pound tight end. He played on both sides of the ball this season. Defensively, he had 71 tackles and 10 1/2 sacks.
"We're like a big family. I haven't played with them my whole life, but all four years we've been a family," Jones said regarding his fellow Patriots. "I'm going to miss the camaraderie; they're my brothers. Going away is going to be hard, but at the same time we're going to play football and hopefully we'll keep in touch."
Culbreath, a 6-foot-4, 201-pound wide receiver, is one of 25 to sign with Furman, making it one of the largest classes in school history.
"Well, Ryan of course has been a great leader. He has really brought us along," Rockdale coach Michael Etheridge said. "We always knew if we could get the ball to him, he'd catch it. He's been a great player with a good personality and a good kid to coach."
Culbreath has maintained a 3.4 grade-point average at Rockdale and plans to major in mechanical engineering
"It felt like a family here. I basically know everybody in the school, and now I'm having to start all over," Culbreath said. "(But) it felt right when I took the official visit - the campus is beautiful and you get a good vibe from the coaches."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.