PALMETTO -- Josh Hicks, who burst onto the prep football scene with a 277-yard rushing game against Riverview as a sophomore and became a mainstay on both sides of the ball, signed to play college football at Rutgers University on Wednesday at Palmetto High.
The running back was one of nine Palmetto athletes to sign letters of intent on National Signing Day.
"I put in a lot of work, a lot of long days that I was grinding," Hicks said.
The Tigers signees were greeted by two Palmetto alums who continued their careers into the professional ranks. Minnesota Vikings safety Mistral Raymond and Tampa Bay Storm receiver Joe Hills were the guest speakers for Wednesday's event.
"It means a lot for the kids and their families," Raymond said. "It means a lot for the teachers here and the staff that have watched these kids over the past four years grow and mature so much. It's a sweet farewell. It's tough to see them leave after you spend so much time with them, but it's for a good cause. ... Personally, it's great because this is home. This is the community I grew up in. These kids are kids that I have watched grow up myself."
Hicks became a two-way player the past two years when Palmetto's defense needed some help. He showcased his versatility as a defensive back, but Hicks' primary position, running back, is what led him to the Big Ten school out of New Jersey.
"I committed to them as a sophomore and they've been loyal to me," Hicks said.
Joining Hicks on stage from the football team were Broddrick Waters (Bethune-Cookman), Deqwon Washington (Albright) and Luis Quinones (Albright).
Washington was originally slated to sign with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, but decided to switch to Albright College.
"It's a better school and they are going to change my position to corner, so I've got to work on that," said Washington, who played safety at Palmetto. "So hopefully I can start for them."
The Tigers also are sending five athletes from other sports off to college.
Ashton Knopf (Coker College) and Faith Rewis (Warner University) represented the girls soccer program, while Gregorio Calvillo is heading to Eastern Florida State in Melbourne.
The boys soccer star scored 43 goals in his junior season to set a program record and tied the mark this past winter. The Tigers fell in the region semifinal Tuesday, but Calvillo was an integral piece to a club that has won four consecutive district titles and made the state semifinal last year.
Jessica McMillan (FAU) became the girls golf program's first individual district champion last fall and was a key reason the Tigers took second as a team in districts.
Tyler Bench signed with local junior college baseball powerhouse State College of Florida, which entered the 2014 season as Perfect Game's No. 1-ranked team in the nation.