EAST MANATEE -- After a couple of seasons bulldozing defenders, Braden River tight end Ryan Neuzil was getting his reward: college football offers by the bundle.
A week after the Pirates' season came to an anti-climatic end, dropping a Class 7A state semifinal at home to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Neuzil received the most important call during his recruitment process.
It was Appalachian State on that mid-December day, and it was one of 12 offers Neuzil picked up in the last 1 1/2 months.
Ultimately, Neuzil chose the Mountaineers and is signing with the Sun Belt Conference program at 8 a.m. on Wednesday along with eight other Pirates on National Signing Day, the first day football and soccer players can sign a national letter of intent that binds them to the college they choose.
Neuzil, who looked like a high school version of NFL beast Rob Gronkowski at times, will have to sharpen his skills in a different area moving to the college ranks.
For the first time since he was a Nolan Middle School seventh-grader playing for the Manatee Police Athletic League Raiders, Neuzil is slated to play center.
"The only thing I need to improve on is basically coming off the ball quicker," said Neuzil, who estimates he'll need to add 10-15 pounds of weight for next year. " (so) some explosion work, firing off with some weights. Putting dumbbells in my hands, so I can get in a three-point stance and fire off. Definitely try and get my hand speed quicker."
The position change, though, isn't a deterrent for the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder because the Boone, N.C., school was a perfect fit once he arrived for his official visit.
"It definitely is, I'm not going to lie, but the school I basically fell in love with it," said Neuzil, who picked Appalachian State over Army, Northern Iowa and Bucknell. " It didn't really affect me what position I'd be playing as long as I'd be on the field and being at a school that I'd really enjoy."
Joining Neuzil at Appalachian State, a program most notable for defeating Michigan when it was still a Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) team, is Braden River quarterback Jacob Huesman.
Huesman flipped from Florida International University in January to become a coup for the Mountaineers' 2016 class.
"It's really cool; it will be nice to have someone that I know at the same school as me," said Huesman via text message. "So I won't ever feel alone, and I'll be able to play with one of my high school teammates on the same team in college, which is pretty awesome."
Alex Salguero (Marshall) and JoJo Louis (FIU) are the other D-I commits scheduled to sign at Braden River.
Having the number of players from this year's senior class signing culminates a culture change in East Manatee from their 1-9 freshman campaign to the 13-1 senior season that included an unbeaten regular season and berth in the state semifinals.
"It really feels like the entire culture of the school has changed since our freshman year, especially the football team," said Huesman via text message. "I feel that the freshman class that I came in with was able to form something extremely special, and I'm really glad that a lot of us are getting the opportunity to play at the next level."
Meanwhile, Palmetto's top signee on Wednesday is defensive end David Belvin, who is slated to attend Florida Atlantic University.
Quarterback Jack Allison has already early enrolled with Miami.
Manatee has several players scheduled to sign, with athlete Kavious Price (undecided) possibly going to a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) program among the bunch.
IMG Academy also has plenty of FBS signees scheduled.
Jason Dill, sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7017 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org