For the first time under coach Richard Dunbar, Fort Lauderdale High School had two players in the same recruiting class sign with Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Dunbar, who is entering his sixth season, was on hand as three-star defensive end Jaquwan Nelson committed to Syracuse. Dallas Jeanty, a three-star linebacker, enrolled early at Wisconsin and already is in Madison.
Nelson, who committed to Syracuse despite late pushes from Kentucky and Georgia, signed his National Letter of Intent just before 10:30 a.m. in front of his coach, parents, brother, girlfriend and friends.
“It’s a very special moment,” Nelson said. “I’ve been waiting on this moment forever. I’m glad it came.”
Nelson committed to Syracuse after an official visit the weekend of Jan. 22, but he also visited Georgia in the lead-up to National Signing Day. But there would be no dramatic twist during Wednesday’s ceremony in a tucked-away office in Fort Lauderdale High.
Nelson said he knew Tuesday he would stick with Syracuse. The Orange held on to Nelson’s pledge after “blowing my phone up, [and] making sure I’m coming there” ahead of Wednesday’s decision, he said.
Syracuse lost its top three contributors at the defensive end position, so Nelson might find himself in the rotation soon after he arrives on campus.
Only a few weeks ago, Nelson’s destination seemed very different. But soon after new Miami coach Mark Richt was hired, he dropped Nelson from the Canes’ 2016 class.
“He was committed to UM since March,” Dunbar said, “and things just didn’t work out. It was heartbreaking for him. And [then] we had to go back through and basically court the other offers that he had. It was a very, very difficult decision.”
On Wednesday, Nelson’s father, John, called the situation “a blessing in disguise, [a] humble moment.” The elder Nelson praised his son’s work ethic and handling of the situation. And although he said he pushed his son hard to help him along, he knows Jaquwan is ready to make his mark at Syracuse and perhaps make a run at professional football.
“I’m just waiting for next football season to get started,” John Nelson said, “because I’m a football fanatic.”
Dunbar said Jeanty’s process was very different, but that’s been the story all along. He battled homelessness during high school before he connected with Dunbar, who helped him not only find stability, but also a place at a perennial Big Ten contender. Jeanty never got the Miami offer he wanted, but his focus on academics led him to Wisconsin. After his junior year, he held a self-reported 3.9 GPA and 1920 SAT.
During the entire process, Dunbar said he saw “nothing but maturity” from the 6-0, 220-pound linebacker.
“Dallas was an easy one,” Dunbar said. “He pretty much knew how to network. I think him knowing what he wanted in particular from the institution, that’s what helped him also make his decision that much easier.”
Jeanty couldn’t attend Wednesday’s ceremony, but both Dunbar and Nelson said they spoke with him on either Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning.
As Jeanty gets started in Madison, Nelson said he’s already thinking about playing against his former teammate, Jaboree Williams, a junior linebacker at Wake Forest.
Williams is one of only a handful of former Fort Lauderdale alumni playing at FBS schools. James Gardner saw action in seven games as a freshman wide receiver at Miami (Ohio), and Dunbar also placed a former player at Memphis.
Signing Day provided a reminder that Fort Lauderdale’s 4-6 record in 2015 isn’t necessarily indicative of its players’ future playing careers, Dunbar said.
“I just want people to understand what we do at Fort Lauderdale High School,” Dunbar said. “We might not win many ball games, but we do have guys that can play this game on the highest level of college football.”
Fort Lauderdale signees
Dallas Jeanty (Wisconsin)
Jaquwan Nelson (Syracuse)
Bryce Sampson (Webber International University)