The hearts of the four will no doubt remain at Northside, but Caleb Kelly has an edge.
“He’s going to sign with Georgia Southern University,” Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler said. “He’s still going to wear blue, he’s still going to be an Eagle. He’s luckier than some of the rest of you.”
Tobias Oliver will add to his favorite colors at Georgia Tech, the record-setting Northside quarterback signing Wednesday with the Yellow Jackets and joining Kelly, Jaylan Sandifer and Kam Burnett at the afternoon signing ceremony.
It took place in the gym, with one side about 75 percent full with the foursome’s family, classmates, former teammates and friends.
The seniors were part of a huge run at Northside, that included a state championship and semifinal trip in three years. The Eagles went 14-1, 9-2 and 11-3 with the four, who pretty much started every game since their sophomore seasons started.
Georgia Southern may have gotten a steal with Kelly, who hasn’t wavered despite some increased attention.
“They came,” he said of other schools. “I told them I was solid with where I was at. I wanted to go to Southern, and I just stayed with them. I grew up watching them.”
A former Northside standout currently playing college football in the SEC showed up for his brother’s signing. Brandon Sandifer, who redshirted his first year at Florida and saw some action in 2016, was on hand for younger brother Jaylan, who signed with Yale.
“It’s great knowing he’s happy, doing something he loves, doing it at the top level,” Brandon said. “I remember when we were young, on his report cards, he’d have like all 100s, and he would get mad if there was a 98. We would get home from school, and he would cry if he couldn’t do his homework.
“He always had that about him. He had to get it done. I’m proud of him.”
Burnett will focus on academics as well as football at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas so he can start up the recruiting process again, and already feels a comfort zone.
“I feel like it was home for me,” said Burnett, a two-time All-Middle Georgia first-team pick who undeterred by being a little undersized. “I’ve played everything. I’m a versatile player.”
Oliver, however, was the headliner, the gritty quarterback who got the starting job only a few days before the beginning of his sophomore season, which ended with a GHSA Class 5A championship.
And he was as poised Wednesday as on a Friday night facing an angry defense.
“It’s just another day for me,” Oliver said. “It’s an exciting day, but I don’t get into the hype and all of that.”
Oliver didn’t really get much more college attention after he chose Georgia Tech.
“It’s a little surprising,” he said. “But at the same time, I’m kinda glad, because I was 100 percent on Georgia Tech, so it didn’t matter. I told myself throughout the recruiting process, once I pick a school, I was on that school. I wasn’t taking any more visits.
“Once I decided I was going to Tech, it was over with.”
The option quarterback steps up in level and into a different option offense, but Oliver naturally expects to pick up where he left off.
“I can’t wait,” Oliver said. “I’ve looked at a lot of film. I feel like I just compete until I can’t compete any more. I think that’s what separates me from other people.”
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson knows of confident high school seniors.
“I promise you, he thinks he’s going to come in here and start, and that’s a good attitude to have,” Johnson said. “We’ll sort it out in the fall and see how it fits.
“But every coach in the area can’t say enough good things about him.”
Despite a run-first offense, Oliver leaves Northside with the program record in passing yards, completions and is third in touchdown passes, ranking high in all passing stats.
He led the Eagles last season with 1,462 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground, and completed 60.1 percent of his passes for 1,604 yards and 16 touchdowns. Oliver also departs as the program’s No. 4 all-time rusher.
And he’s prepared for a new head coach not known for verbal dancing.
“They’re a lot similar,” Oliver said in comparing Johnson to Kinsler. “Just the type of person they are. They’re straightforward, they mean what they say, don’t sugarcoat anything.”