PALMETTO -- The Palmetto Tigers kept the National Signing Day momentum going early Wednesday at the school auditorium with four top senior football players signing national letters of intent.
Versatile running back/wide receiver Cory Crawford signed with the Big East's Temple University, while two of his teammates, wide receivers E.J. Burston and Shaq Harris, are off to the University of Massachusetts.
Formerly an FCS school, UMass joined the Mid-American Conference last season and will be eligible for bowl games and the conference championship game beginning this fall.
Palmetto had a large cast in its auditorium as four football players joined three girls soccer players in putting pen to paper.
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Crawford rounded out Palmetto’s deadly receiving corps to sign when he turned his verbal commitment to Temple into a firm decision.
“It takes so much pressure off of me,” Crawford said.
Crawford wasn’t always a Division I prospect, and his future at wide receiver was in doubt early in his career. Crawford, showcasing a versatile penchant to play any position, played quarterback as a freshman while then starter Melvin Burston was sidelined with an injury.
Soon enough, though, Crawford was ready to make an impact at his bread-and-butter position of wide receiver, which is where he’ll play in the Big East Conference for the Temple Owls.
He snagged more than 30 receptions in leading Palmetto to the state semifinals in 2011, before maneuvering himself to running back due to multiple injuries at the position in early 2012.
Once there, Crawford established his speedy game to the tune of 669 rushing yards on just 72 carries in the regular season. And despite offers from other programs, Crawford kept his commitment to Temple.
“They’re just a team that reminds me of our team of building a program and everything,” Crawford said. “They’re committed to one another. They’re just a family and that’s what I liked about them.”
Meanwhile, Burston and Harris are heading to UMass. The Minutemen are eligible to compete for the MAC title and bowl games this upcoming season.
Harris said the place felt right after his lone visit.
“The coaches are unbelievable,” said Harris, who had 26 receptions for 463 yards in the regular season last fall and plans to major in business. “They care about you getting a degree more than anything. That’s what stood out more and made me choose UMass.”
And Burston, who had been looking at Florida International University, opted for UMass as well.
Harris said they both should be playing right away at UMass.
“It’s going to give me a more comfort feeling knowing that I am going up there with my brother,” said Burston, who totaled eight touchdowns and amassed 382 yards on 26 receptions in last fall’s regular season. “And going up there with the same mindset to dominate. And holding it down, to represent for Palmetto, Florida.”
A key cog up front, lineman Joe Bundrage, is also heading to college when he begins his career at Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College. Also signing at Palmetto were soccer standouts Megan Peterson (Carson-Newman), Cassandra Ordonez (Coker College) and Jenna Steininger (University of North Florida).
Later this morning, football players at Manatee will make their college choices official. At noon, Lakewood Ranch football players, cross country runners and soccer players are set to put pen to paper.Check back at Bradenton.com/sports all day for updates.