Columbia's Laremy Tunsil among area football signees
Published: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 10:41 p.m.
For the second time in three years, ESPN cameras and the recruiting world came to Columbia High School in Lake City and held its collective breath as offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil made a surprising pledge to an SEC West school that isn't Alabama.
“I will be attending the university of ... Mississippi,” said Tunsil, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound senior who reached under a table to pull out an Ole Miss hat and flashed a big smile for the ESPNU audience as a crowd of school supporters, teammates and family members applauded.
Tunsil, the most recruited player in this area since former teammate Tim Jernigan (Florida State), had made initial overtures to both Georgia and national champion Alabama during an intense recruiting process in his senior year. But apparently, as he says it, the Rebels were always there.
“I told you since day one it is all about relationships,” Tunsil told Rece Davis of ESPN during his broadcast interview Wednesday. “And that is what me and Chris Kiffin have. Just being around him 24/7 because you are going to need somebody to talk to in college.”
Tunsil, who like Jernigan, grew up a Gator fan, officially visited, in order, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Florida State. Although he initially showed some interest in Florida, it cooled considerably months ago.
He visited Oxford, Miss., on Jan. 25 and returned impressed with the coaches, including head coach Hugh Freeze, the fans and the college atmosphere. Tunsil was part of an impressive recruiting haul for the Rebels, who also signed ESPN's No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche at defensive end and top receiver Laquon Treadwell.
“My goal is to be a freshman All-American, but I have to go in there and work,” Tunsil said. “I barely talked to Robert, but a nice recruiting class came together, and I thought I would be a part of it.”
At Gainesville High, coach James Thomson, looking at the school auditorium stage at running back Ralph Webb, linebacker Keith Kelsey, and receivers Chris Thompson and Case Harrison, called it a special day for a senior class that had accomplished such an amazing season (14-1).
“And these four worked hard to make that happen,” Thomson said.
Thompson, who despite being slowed by a foot injury still had 25 catches for 465 yard and seven touchdowns this past season, was one of five wide receivers signed by Florida. Harrison, who had the most receptions in the area (51), accepted Will Muschamp's offer to become a preferred walk-on at UF.
Webb, the area's leading rusher with 2,020 yards and 28 touchdowns for the 6A state finalists, signed with Vanderbilt. Kelsey, the area's leading tackler (193), will join Charlie Strong at Louisville.
Thompson, who is also a track standout and ran an elite time in the 400 last season, looks to excel once again on the track this spring as a way of preparing for UF.
“My goal is I want to come in and play, and I've been working hard at track and getting ready to compete,” he said. “I feel like I can help them out (as a receiver) and any other aspect they need me.”
Kelsey said Strong has been a great influence on him and believes he fits in well with the Cardinals.
“He is just a great person and coach,” he said.
Webb has similar comments about Vandy coach James Franklin, who led the Commodores to their first nine-win season in 97 years.
“He is a very good guy who has a lot of energy,” Webb said. “He is like our coach in Coach Thomson.”
Vandy will visit Florida for homecoming on Nov. 9. Webb believes he has a chance to play as a freshman.
“I believe I can come in and play a lot, just have to put in the work during the summer,” he said. “Numbers-wise, there are only four running backs on scholarship, including me, so I think I can come in and contribute early.”