PALMETTO -- Two Division I football prospects took center stage in the auditorium at Palmetto High School on Wednesday, flanked by four teammates to their left and athletes from other sports on their right. On National Signing Day, Palmetto continued its tradition of sending its top players to the top level of college football when defensive lineman David Belvin signed his National Letter of Intent with Florida Atlantic and running back Octavious James signed with Savannah State, a Football Championship Subdivision program.
Belvin and James were two of the six Tiger football players who signed to continue their careers in college Wednesday in Palmetto. This summer the half dozen will join Jack Allison, one of their classmates who has already enrolled at Miami, on their respective college campuses to begin the next step of their football journeys.
"It's special," head football coach Dave Marino said. "You're not just developing a football player, you're developing a young man, so for them to be able to achieve their dream and have $100,000-plus of education, their lives are set."
Allison, who was PHS' starting quarterback the past three seasons and an Under Armour All-American in January, is Manatee County's lone signee with a Power Five program.
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Belvin, a first-team All-Area selection, was the Tigers' only other Football Bowl Subdivision signee and has spoken extensively with FAU coaches during the past few weeks about his potential role in Boca Raton.
"I've actually got a good chance of starting. They play a lot of freshmen," said Belvin, who watched with glee this fall when the Owls took Florida to overtime late in the season. "They have a lot of freshmen and played competitive this year against great, powerhouse teams."
The Tigers are also sending one player each to a Division II and Division III program. Defensive end Ian Pittman will stay in state with D-II Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne and offensive lineman James Kinley will go to the D-III United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y.
Wide receiver Azavion Smith and defensive back Isyah Funk will continue as teammates at New Mexico Military Institute, a junior college program in Roswell.
Seated immediately to the right of the six football players was Ben Espinal, a soccer player who headlined the five signees from other sports. The forward, who was limited for PHS this year by split obligations with his club team, signed with South Florida after being verbally committed for nearly a year.
"It's a dream come true," Espinal said. "I had some schools that were interested, but I knew that USF was somewhere I wanted to go ever since I was younger."
Baseball player Hunter Finner signed with Florida Memorial University of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and three softball players made their pacts official. Mariah Courtney finalized her commitment to D-III Salem College in North Carolina, Emilie Wingate opted to stay in the county at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, and Ladayshia Williams signed with Pasco-Hernando State College, like SCF also a junior college.