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Hernando High

National Signing Day

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:10 PM

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When Matt Breida woke up Wednesday morning he still wasn't 100 percent sure how the next few hours would unfold.

National Signing Day had finally arrived, promising the end of the lengthy, exhilarating yet tiring process of deciding the next step in his football future.

Tyrail Hawkins had no such doubts. By the time his signing ceremony started at Hernando High at 10 a.m., he received a phone call from Breida.

His Nature Coast counterpart, his buddy since middle school, his potential roommate had opted to stay the course.

So as expected, Hawkins and Breida, the past two Hernando Today Players of Year on the gridiron, officially put pen to paper and inked with Georgia Southern University.

"Coming up there with somebody I know and can relate to, that'll help me a lot," Breida said. "Me and him will be going through the same things, the same situation. We know we'll have each other's back."

Hawkins echoed that sentiment, stepping outside a packed conference room in the Hernando front office, full of family, coaches, friends and teammates.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to go up there. I'm ready to start playing," Hawkins said. "It felt like home when I went up there on visits. They treated me like family. I just fit in."

Hawkins relayed a story of when he started playing football at age 6. He would attempt to mimic skills tests endured by college players at NFL combines.

He went as far as breaking his basketball hoop so that he could use the shooter's square within the backboard as target practice.

Georgia Southern first made an offer to Hawkins his sophomore season, a year ahead of any other school.

At that point he had barely scratched the surface of what he'd accomplish in his prep career.

As the Leopards turned around their slumping program under head coach John Palmer, Hawkins rose to prominence on the varsity roster.

Most of his freshman season was spent on JV; then he lost a chunk of his sophomore campaign to injury.

To that point he had played mostly at quarterback, but as a junior the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder had a chance to truly flash his athleticism as a more conventional running back.

While Hernando marched to its first district title since 1997, Hawkins ran for 1,242 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Reunited with his former coach at Parrott Middle School, Dwayne Mobley, this season, Hawkins returned under center on a part-time basis.

Though his rushing numbers fell to 737 yards and eight scores, his big-play potential and overall impact was clearly felt. He threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns. He led the team in receiving (five catches for 140 yards).

Playing cornerback, he intercepted three passes and broke up 12. He also returned kicks.

Georgia Southern likewise plans to make the most of the versatility shown by the two-time All-State honorable mention and All-County selection.

"They're bringing me in as an athlete," Hawkins said. "I'll play corner and A-back, kickoff and punt returns."

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Breida will continue to play running back with the Eagles, one of the country's top NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) squads.

Overall he ran for 3,170 yards and 38 touchdowns for the Sharks, mostly over the past two years, when he has paced the county in both rushing and scoring.

Edged for Player of the Year honors by Hawkins as a junior, he was just named the 2012 pick and also garnered an honorable mention All-State nod.

Hawkins verbally committed to Georgia Southern in early December, sold when he attended a home contest against Appalachian State.

"The whole community backs the football team, goes to games and everything," Hawkins said. "They're disciplined, really disciplined."

The Eagles, six-time national champions, have won at least 10 games three years in a row, advancing to the FCS semifinals in each of those seasons.

But it was the atmosphere that truly swayed Hawkins, who had offers from Ball State, Bethune-Cookman, Coastal Carolina and Nebraska-Kearney.

Breida also liked the feel of Georgia Southern, located in Statesboro. Though he verbally committed soon after Hawkins, he still found himself talking to other schools.

Appalachian State and Memphis both made recent calls, and most notably Boston College paid him a visit last month, though no offer materialized.

"I have family close to Boston College, not far," Breida said. "But I was trying to stay close to home. When it came down to it, I was staying at Georgia Southern."

While he wavered early Wednesday, he still came to that same conclusion. One thing he knows now, he'll room with Hawkins at Georgia Southern, just as he did during an official visit to the campus.

At this point each of them can finally look forward to further pursuing their football careers and a higher education.

"It's a great feeling," Breida said. "The recruiting process is fun, but it's stressful, too."

One other county football player signed on Wednesday, Hernando defensive lineman Robert Hill Bronson with Tennessee Tech, another FCS team.

The All-State third team and repeat All-County selection had verbally committed to the Golden Eagles on Jan. 25. Stetson, Southeastern and Western Carolina were also possible destinations.

"It means a lot to me," Bronson said. "I've been working for this moment about my whole life. I've always wanted to play football in college. I want to thank God and all the coaches up at Tennessee Tech for giving me this opportunity.

"I really liked all the coaches. They had a really great program. It felt like home."

Bronson totaled 90 tackles as a senior with the Leopards, including 27 1/2 for a loss. He also registered 10 sacks and 25 quarterback pressures.

As a junior he recorded 76 tackles, 30 1/2 behind the line, and 12 1/2 sacks, becoming a lethal pass rusher despite his relatively small stature of 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.

The Golden Eagles actually plan to move him to strong safety, though he said he'll be used more like an outside linebacker.

"I can play wherever. I'll go out there and get the job done," Bronson said. "I'm excited for the future. I'm excited to go do well in college and play football.

"All I can do is my best. If I go further, that'd be incredible, but it'll be full-on effort no matter where I am. If God gives me the opportunity to go higher, that'd be incredible." (352) 544-5288

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