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Four from county go D-I

Published:   |   Updated: February 6, 2014 at 02:38 PM

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BROOKSVILLE - He took a circuitous route, but Rohan Blackwood officially joined the college program he had his eye on from the start.

In one of three National Signing Day ceremonies that took place in Hernando County on Wednesday afternoon, the Nature Coast senior defensive end inked with USF.

"I think eventually it sort of came full circle," former Nature Coast head coach Charles Liggett said. "I think originally USF was his number one, and then he got wooed by a lot of others, and then eventually when it all came down to it, he came right back to where he was originally."

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound and two-time All-County selection Blackwood recorded 186 tackles and 25 sacks in three seasons with the Sharks, and had garnered attention from Division I schools for a while.

He came into last season with 11 D-I offers, and eventually made a verbal commitment to Wisconsin in September.

But that situation began to unravel, as Wisconsin grew concerned that Blackwood would not meet academic requirements.

Following last week's announcement of Blackwood's new commitment to the Bulls, his father Anthony Contegiacomo said the family, fearing Wisconsin would pull its offer and force Blackwood to sign with a junior college, mutually parted ways with the Badgers.

That led him back to the Bulls, the first team from a BCS conference to present him with an offer.

After his signing, Blackwood said the issues stemmed from his freshman year at Gulf High, but that he had cleared the necessary hurdles.

"I had to work a little bit more than I should," Blackwood said. "I messed up my first year, so I had work to do. I'm fine now, though. I'm here. I made it."

While proximity seemed to be a major selling point on USF, despite the Bulls going 2-10 in their first year under head coach Willie Taggart, Blackwood was impressed with the direction of the American Athletic Conference program.

"I got a home now, so it feels good," Blackwood said. "It was hard at first. I just knew in my heart that I just wanted to stay close to home, stay close to my family, so my family can come see me without it being a hassle.

"USF, they're bringing in a lot of players. Coach Taggart is a real down-to-Earth man. I like what he's trying to do. He's trying to rebuild the program. Some of the players that I know that they already signed, they're good players. They're bringing in a good recruiting class this year."

Liggett said some projections have Blackwood playing outside linebacker in college, a position he shifted to at times in 2013. That was the reason, Liggett said, that Blackwood's sacks declined from 15 as a junior to five.

USF also signed Tampa-Jesuit defensive end/linebacker Vincent Jackson on Wednesday.

"I want to come in, work hard," Blackwood said. "I want to be a true freshman. I don't want to come in and sit out. I want to come in and play. That's why I came here. I want to come in and play and make things happen."

"He's a talented guy," Liggett said. "He's got a lot potential. I think he can be athletically anything he sets his mind to. He just needs to make sure he gets everything taken care of and solidifies his chance."

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Hernando High seniors Jeremiah Jackson and Connor Foradas go back all the way to kindergarten - and to emphasize the point, they had their teacher from that year on hand during their joint signing ceremony in the school's library.

"We've always been close friends ever since kindergarten," Foradas said. "It's pretty special. Everybody always used to that tell us we would be able to play football somewhere, and it's finally becoming real. So it's nice to be able to do it with him, one of my best friends from school."

Jackson, a 6-foot, 210-pound inside linebacker and three-time All-County pick who earned a second team All-State nod in Class 5A following his second straight season recording 132 tackles, signed with Ball State University, a member of the Mid-American Conference.

Meanwhile the 6-foot-7, 305-pound Foradas, who anchored right tackle for the Leopards most of the past four seasons, signed with Wofford College, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) squad.

"It means a lot," Jackson said. "Having our kindergarten teacher up here, just having the chemistry that we have; it means a lot because we went through a lot. We came in as freshmen together, and we worked hard and we both had our goals set from Day 1."

Jackson visited the Cardinals' campus in Muncie, Ind. two weekends ago and verbally committed last week.

Though Jackson had been initially linked to schools such as Purdue and UMass, he said some offers were eventually rescinded.

He picked Ball State over FCS schools Youngstown State, Samford and Eastern Kentucky.

The Cardinals are coming off a 10-3 season and an appearance in the GoDaddy Bowl. In the two previous seasons under head coach Pete Lembo, they went 6-6, then 9-4.

"I finally get to understand where I'm going and now I can sleep at night," Jackson said. "Ball State, they gave me a chance when nobody else gave me a chance Division I-wise. I feel like Coach Lembo, they were straight up with me, they told me I can come in and make an impact. They've been in the right direction ever since he's been there."

Foradas said he had offers from Buffalo and Purdue, both Division I Football Bowl Subdivision programs, but simply felt most comfortable with Wofford.

"I really liked the coaches there," Foradas said. "They always kept up with what I was doing. I liked my official visit. It felt like home for me there, and I just really enjoyed my time at Wofford.

"I see myself fitting in well. They run the triple option which is close to what we used to run. They think that I'm going to play tackle, so I'll fit in because I get to play my normal position and don't have to change anything."

Foradas, also a repeat All-County and state-qualifying discus thrower in track and field, plans to study biology and wants to become a chiropractor.

As for Jackson, he wants to get into sports management to stay around athletics. However, both he and Foradas added they still have hopes of taking football as far as possible.

"It feels great to see these guys that worked so hard on the field and off the field to get this opportunity to go play at the next level," said former Hernando head coach Dwayne Mobley.

"There's a lot of kids that don't get that opportunity. There's a lot of kids that actually played on the team with them that won't have that opportunity to go play at the next level. So to get that opportunity to play and to actually get an education, too, for free, that's priceless."

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The other signing that took place involved Springstead senior Wilena Little.

Hernando Today's two-time reigning Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year signed with D-I Florida International University.

"It's definitely a dream come true," Little said. "It's shocking. Today it's starting to finally sink in."

Little's credentials are certainly solid. She's a three-time state qualifier, going in the 200 meter as a freshman and sophomore. Only a stout region kept her out last spring.

Still, she collected her first state medal in the long jump, finishing fourth with a 17-9 3/4.

That was something of a surprise development, considering she has been a sprinter by trade, but her leaping ability and athleticism made her a natural in long jump.

FIU plans to use her both as a runner and jumper, Little said.

What sold Little on the Panthers was their enthusiasm toward her. It was actually FIU that made initial contact, Little said.

When she visited the Miami-based campus, she enjoyed the surroundings and got along well with the coaches and players.

"That whole team felt like one big, happy family," Little said.

Before Little arrives at FIU, where she plans to work toward a career in dentistry, she'll take part in her final prep season starting this month.

The three girls who finished ahead of her in the long jump at states last year all graduated, giving her a realistic shot at becoming the Lady Eagles' first-ever state champ.

She also wants to return to states in the 200 and earn a medal in that race, and considering she still has a college career ahead, there's no time to sit back and relax.

"It (signing) takes a lot of stress off me, but at the same time I know I need to compete just as hard," Little said. "I have to still continue getting better for when I get to college."

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