It's official: Three local athletes will be joining the Division I college football ranks next fall, representing the area in the Big Ten Conference, the Mid-American Conference and the Ivy League.
Ravenna standouts Marcus Sanders and Roy McCullough signed national letters of intent Wednesday, turning the verbal commitments they had issued previously into official commitments. Sanders is headed to the University of Minnesota, while McCullough has signed with Ohio University.
Also, Crestwood's Jake Kohl has verbally committed to play football at Yale University.
Sanders and McCullough helped lead Ravenna to one of the best seasons in school history this past fall. The Ravens posted a 9-2 record overall, won the Western Reserve Conference South Division championship for the second straight year and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time ever.
The highly recruited Sanders (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) finished his illustrious high school career as Ohio's fourth all-time leading rusher with 6,688 yards in his four years with the Ravens. He also scored 81 career touchdowns.
As a senior, Sanders rushed for 2,341 yards on 210 attempts (11.2 yards per carry) and scored 34 TDs, earning WRC South offensive player of the year and Division I All-Ohio honors in the process.
Almost every major college football program in the country recruited Sanders, but it was the Golden Gophers and coach Glen Mason who came out on top.
"Without a doubt Marcus Sanders is one of those top players, a marquee player," said Mason, who guided a resurgent Gopher squad to an 8-4 record this past season, including a landmark victory at then-No. 2 ranked Penn State and a berth in the Sun Bowl. "We've had him real high on our board for a while."
Sanders has said one of his primary reasons for choosing Minnesota was the prospect of playing as a freshman, and Mason reaffirmed that notion Wednesday.
"That's one of the things that attracted him here to Minnesota," said Mason. "We lost both of our running backs from last year, and I think Marcus is correct in thinking he has a chance to play early here.
"Somebody will be back there for us next year."
Aside from Sanders, the Gophers also brought in two other tailbacks in the 2000 recruiting class, Terry Jackson (5-10, 193) from Saginaw, Mich., and Demetrus Johnson (5-10, 173) from Milwaukee. Akron Hoban's Keith Matthews, who played against Sanders' Ravens this past fall, is also headed to Minnesota.
Sanders was an impact player on the defensive side of the ball as well _ so much so, in fact, that many colleges, including Ohio State, recruited him as a defensive back. He had 103 tackles, five sacks, eight tackles for loss and three interceptions as a senior.
But the Minnesota staff didn't see Sanders as a defensive player.
"No, we liked what we saw of him as a running back," said Mason. "He's been very, very productive. He has good size (5-11, 180), really good speed (4.4 in the 40-yard dash), he has great vision and he makes good cuts. He really sees the field well."
Mason also said he isn't concerned about Sanders' ability to hold up under the constant pounding in the physical Big Ten, despite his history of suffering late-season injuries at Ravenna.
"We feel the type of injuries he had were not significant," said Mason.
Like Sanders, McCullough was also a two-way standout at Ravenna. He earned first-team All-WRC South recognition for his exploits as a big-play wide receiver, catching 34 passes for 538 yards (15.8 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns as a senior, but it's very likely his future with the Bobcats will be in the opponents' defensive secondary.
As a cornerback this past season, McCullough registered 56 tackles and four interceptions. With his size (6-2, 178), speed (4.4 in the 40) and athleticism (40-inch vertical leap), McCullough has the physical tools to be a force in the secondary.
"He's a real fine receiver and he's also a really good defensive back," said Ohio coach Jim Grobe. "You always like to get guys who can play on both sides of the ball.
"But we're thinking of him as a defensive back right now. We think he can play on the corner _ he has really good speed and athletic ability. Plus he's 6-foot-2, which is pretty big for a cornerback, so you'd like to put a guy with that kind of size out on the corner if he has the speed, and Roy does."
However, Grobe hasn't ruled out McCullough as a wide receiver.
"Offensively, you look for speed and guys with range and height, and that's where Roy could be a guy who could help us," said Grobe. "But we try to direct kids to where they could play the soonest, and the quickest way Roy could get on the field would be as a defensive back. He's got a chance to really help himself because he can play corner or safety, and you always have a need in the secondary."
Unlike Sanders though, McCullough likely won't see action in his first collegiate season.
"We try to redshirt everybody we can," said Grobe. "We won't play a kid unless he can either start or get 30 to 40 snaps a game. We'd like to redshirt Roy, but we're not opposed to playing kids right away if we feel they can help us."
Crestwood's Kohl (6-4, 271) was a two-way lineman on a Red Devils team that went 8-3, shared the Portage County League championship with Mogadore and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in the program's history. Kohl, who played left guard at Crestwood, was a first-team All-PCL pick and is being recruited as an offensive lineman by Yale.
"He was a very hard worker; he had a great work ethic," said Crestwood coach Tom Hannan. "He was very quick for his size. Yale was impressed with how well he moved for his size. I don't think he's reached his potential yet football-wise _ I think he'll get bigger and stronger.
"He was a big key to our success. We predominantly ran to the left behind Jake and Ryan Plesotis, our left tackle."
NCAA rules prohibit Yale coach Jack Siedlecki and the other Ivy League coaches from commenting on their recruits until spring. But Kohl, who committed to Yale on Monday, has officially been accepted by the prestigious academic institution.
Kohl, who carries a 4.2 grade-point average, plans to major in economics and pre-med.
"Obviously, he's very intelligent," said Hannan. "This is a great honor for our program, and it just goes to show that his success in the classroom highlights the emphasis we place on both the academics and the athletics.
"It gives a lot of our younger kids something to look forward to, that if you work hard in the classroom and on the athletic field, a kid out of Crestwood can go to Yale. It is possible."