Football brought the “Four Amigos” together.
Gridiron success broke up the old gang on Wednesday.
East Hamilton’s Tre Herndon, Bailey Lenoir, Austin Gatewood and Hunter Moore – like thousands of other high school seniors across the country – signed college scholarships Wednesday morning that officially ended their five-year gridiron adventure with the Hurricanes.
Herndon is going to Vanderbilt.
Lenoir signed with Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Gatewood will play at East Tennessee State and might see Lenoir somewhere down the road in a Southern Conference game.
Moore has decided to join the Central Arkansas program.
“It has always been a dream to sit there and sign on the line and know where I’m going to be for the next four years,” said Herndon, a highly prized cornerback the Commodores were able to keep in the wake of James Franklin’s departure to Penn State and subsequent “raid” on the team’s recruiting class.
“We’ve all been in the recruiting process together and it has been a great journey playing with these guys,” Herndon said. “It’s crazy that we’re signing and about to go our separate ways. It was a huge decision and it’s great to fulfill that dream to play college football.”
East Hamilton has had three players previously earn a college scholarship – Cameron Carter signed with Tennessee State University after the 2012 season and Logan Cornelius signed with Tusculum and Mack Norman with Carson-Newman in 2011.
Now the list of former Hurricane players in the college ranks has grown to seven.
“It’s so awesome,” East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said. “All these young men took a chance coming here five years ago to be a part of this. To see them get an opportunity to go to the next level and the hard work – athletically and academically – they put into it makes you feel good about them and their families.”
Herndon clearly is the Hurricanes’ headline grabber.
The 6-foot, 170-pound defensive whiz kid, who also was a game-breaking wide receiver with the Hurricanes, is one of just seven commitments out of 20 that went into Wednesday planning to stay with the Commodores following Franklin’s departure and controversial attempt to pull as many of those commitments with him to Penn State.
Herndon stuck with the theory that he’s signing with Vanderbilt, not the coach who was there until just a few weeks ago.
“That’s exactly what I went by,” said Herndon, who rushed for a touchdown, threw a TD pass, caught a touchdown pass and returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns this past season. “The coach left, but the school didn’t change at all – just the coach and a few of the staff.
“I’ve met coach (Derek) Mason (who left Stanford to replace Franklin in Nashville) and he’s a great guy, intelligent and knows what he’s talking about. Vanderbilt is going to be OK.”
Herndon started thinking he could play college football once recruiters started showing more interest in him during his junior year when the Hurricanes went 11-2 and reached the Class 4A playoff quarterfinals.
“To be here today is really exciting,” he said. “I’m happy for what my family has done for me. It’s a huge blessing.”
Herndon, who also helped the Hurricanes reach the Class 5-A quarterfinals in his senior year – posted 59 tackles and two interceptions while helping East Hamilton go 21-5 over the past two seasons.
As a wide receiver in 2013, Herndon caught 29 passes for 404 yards – a 13.9-yard average – and two touchdowns. Herndon three times had games of at least 90 yards in receptions, including seven for 91 against Oak Ridge in a second round playoff matchup. He also turned in 90-yard performances against rivals Ooltewah and Cleveland.
Moore, a 6-4, 220-pound quarterback, passed for 3,327 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior while completing 188 of 327 attempts (56.6 percent completion rate). He was picked off just eight times. He also rushed for six touchdowns.
He completed 13 of 19 passes for 430 yards and five touchdowns against Walker Valley; went 16 of 27 for 351 yards and five scores – including a 99-yard bomb – against Riverdale and had 320 yards and two scores against Soddy-Daisy in highlight performances this past season.
Moore, who threw for 4,803 yards and 38 scores over his junior and senior years, is going to a team that had five quarterbacks on its 2013 roster. Only one graduated. The Bears still have four quarterbacks – a senior, two juniors and a sophomore.
“That really didn’t factor in much at all with my decision,” Moore said. “We have a new coach and I was told to come in and be ready to compete. Basically, everybody is starting from scratch.”
Over three seasons as a starter, Moore passed for 5,571 yards and 49 touchdowns and rushed for 13 scores.
Gatewood, son of head coach Ted Gatewood, was a hard-hitting linebacker and occasional receiver who is getting in on the ground floor of ETSU’s rebuilding program. The Bucs, who will rejoin the Southern Conference in July after disbanding the football team after the 2003 season, are set to relaunch their football program in 2015.
The 6-1, 215-pounder piled up 83 tackles – 64 solos, 19 assists – in 2013. He recorded 10 tackles for loss (minus-44 yards), had 2.5 sacks, blocked a punt and intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown.
He started in all 26 games the past two seasons and had 140 total tackles.
Like his other three teammates, Gatewood was thrilled to be involved in National Signing Day.
“I’ve been looking forward to it since the ninth grade,” he said. “You watch ESPN and see all the guys doing it. It’s cool. It’s nice to be with the other three guys because we’ve all worked hard to accomplish the same goal.
“We’ve been together since eighth grade, so it’s very special to all of us.”
The four players went to several campus during the summer of their sophomore and junior seasons and have shared their thoughts about the process over the last several months.
“We’re going to enjoy the moment,” said Gatewood, who signed at 7:05 a.m. “We’ll probably go out to eat after we get through and then it’ll quickly be time to get back to work and be ready for next season.”
Lenoir’s father, Patrick, played football at Tennessee and his mother, Kristy, played volleyball for the Lady Vols and is the current head volleyball coach at East Hamilton. His sister, Emma, is a sophomore standout for her mom’s team and was an All-District 5-AAA pick this past season.
Bailey’s brother, Jackson, was a basketball and tennis standout at the Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences. While not playing hoops his senior year, he was the school’s No. 1 singles player for four years and a two-time district and regional champion and two-time state finalist at Spring Fling.
Jackson is a sophomore and on tennis scholarship at Milligan (Tenn.) College where he played at No. 5 singles and No. 1 doubles with Sebastian Jonsson during the 2013 season.
Athleticism obviously runs in the family.
“This is really exciting,” Bailey Lenoir said. “There has been a little pressure on me since my dad played college ball, but, hopefully, I’m making him and my mom proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.”
The idea of extending his playing days with one or more of his high school teammates crossed Lenoir’s mind, but Wednesday just reinforced the odds of that happening with any group of players across America.
“I faced the reality of that not happening,” said Lenoir, who primarily played tight end at East Hamilton and averaged 23.5 yards per catch this past season. “Obviously, Tre is at a different level than the rest of us since he’s going to Vanderbilt to play in the SEC. But Austin is going to East Tennessee and they’re getting into the Southern Conference too. We might get the chance to play against each other at some point and that will be a fun day when it happens.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)