BY DOUGLAS FRITZ & JEFF BIRCHFIELD, Johnson City Press
Elizabethton’s Garrett Jennings and Unicoi County’s Brett Strother signed with NCAA Division I football programs Wednesday.
Jennings, a 6-foot-7, 317-pound offensive lineman, made it official with Eastern Kentucky University during a ceremony at Elizabethton High School. Strother put the pen to paper for ETSU earlier in the day at Unicoi County High School.
Also signing at Elizabethton were quarterback Carson Everett with Tusculum College and running back Austin Outland with Emory & Henry.
Jennings didn’t get to play his senior year with the Cyclones because of a preseason knee injury. He said it really hit home on Senior Night.
“It was real tough dressing out and walking out for the coin toss,” Jennings said. “Walking back to the sideline was a tough one to swallow.”
But Jennings said he was pleased with the way his teammates performed in a 10-win season.
“Watching the younger guys step up and play my position gave them a lot of good learning for next year,” he said. “And the team did good. I’m proud of them and was glad to be a part of it.”
Jennings said he feels confident he can transition to the college game.
“I feel like a year or two of working out in college, come my junior and senior years I will be rolling,” he said. “The toughest thing about Division I is there won’t be anyone small anymore. Everybody will be as big as you are.”
EKU went 7-4 last season.
Everett, a 6-foot-6, 225 pounder, passed for 6,888 yards in his career. He had 83 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. He joins a Pioneers’ program that went 5-5 last season.
Outland is a 5-9, 185-pounder who rushed for 505 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior. Emory & Henry was 4-5 last season.
Brett Strother, Unicoi County
Strother decided to sign with the Bucs after a high school career where he was a four-year starter, three-year all-region and the 2017 Region 1-3A offensive player of the year. He accounted for 3,190 yards and 34 touchdowns, and his senior season, led Unicoi County to its best season in 33 years.
However, the Bucs are looking at him on the defensive side of the ball as a Bandit (outside) linebacker in their 3-4 defense. Strother had 188 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and two interceptions with the Blue Devils.
He becomes Unicoi County’s first Division I football player since Trey Whitson went to the University of Minnesota in 1988.
“It’s good to play in your hometown. I just worked hard and tried to win football games and everything fell in line,” he said. “Besides being close to home, there are great facilities and I think they’re at the start of something great. They won a share of the SoCon championship last year and I think they will continue to grow and compete for championships. I’m excited to play for a team that wins football games and championships.”
Michael Harrah, Happy Valley
Harrah, the 2018 Mountain East Conference special teams player of the year, is best known for the most famous field goal in Happy Valley history which lifted the Warriors to a 17-16 win over rival Hampton in a 2016 battle of undefeated teams.
Last season, he hit 23 of 26 extra-point attempts, had 18 touchbacks and hit a long field goal of 42 yards. Harrah has worked extensively with both ETSU kicker JJ Jerman, who was on hand at Wednesday’s signing, and ETSU punter Marion Watson.
“I will be punting at Carson-Newman and not much kicking,” said Harrah, who did both for Happy Valley last season. “My size, the taller I got, the harder kicking got. Punting, I can get more leverage into the ball. At Carson-Newman, the program of study I want to go into is physical therapy and when they took me to their training room, I thought I might one day become a graduate assistant there one day.”