The Deciding Factor

The Chattanooga area is chock full of incredibly talented athletes sought after by schools from coast to coast. On top of an intense practice schedule, games, homework, and after-school jobs, many of these players are fielding calls from coaches and recruiters day and night and juggling scholarship offers from as many as 30 schools at a time. Read on to find out how these eight local players made one of the biggest decisions of their sports careers.

Brycen Sanders

Photos Courtesy of Brycen Sanders

Brycen Sanders

Baylor School, 2023

29 COLLEGE OFfers

Signed with Ole Miss


What was the recruiting process like?

It was pretty hard at first, but to have all of those offers and to build relationships with all of those high-caliber coaches was a blessing.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting?

I would say getting to travel to different colleges and meet different coaches and players was the most exciting.

Most surprising or difficult thing that happened during recruiting?

The most difficult thing was having to text and call so many different coaches, especially towards the end of the process, because it was so time-consuming.

What were the different factors you considered when choosing between offers?

The main factors were the relationships I had with the coaches, how I felt on campus and in the cities the schools were in, and how the depth chart played out when I got to the school.

How did you choose which schools to visit? Did the visit have a significant impact on your decision?

I visited many schools unofficially, but I only took three official visits. I chose Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Oklahoma to officially visit because I had good relationships with those three coaches.

About how long did it take you to make the big decision?

My family really helped me make the decision. After I took my last official visit, I took about a week to think about everything, then I committed. It was about a year and a half from the time I got my first offer to when I committed. It was a relief to finally sign and get ready for college.

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?

I felt the most comfortable at Ole Miss over the other schools.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process? 

Enjoy the process because it is a blessing a lot of people wish they had.

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BJ Ragland

Photos Courtesy of BJ Ragland

BJ Ragland

Red Bank High School, 2021

30+ COLLEGE Offers

Signed with Charlotte


What was the recruiting process like?

The recruiting process was like the first step into business life. Answering phone calls and talking about the future felt pretty professional in my opinion.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting?

Being on the phone and getting told I earned a scholarship offer, knowing that all of my hard work and everything I’d been working for was seen by other coaches, and they noticed my potential. Another exciting part was talking about the football facilities and campus life – being a part of the Covid class meant I didn’t get to take many visits, so Zoom and photos were the only ways they could show me the school.

What were the different factors you considered when choosing between offers?

Things like where I’d be staying, academic assistance, and how far I would be from home all played a part in where I felt I should go. I wanted to pick a city that wasn’t lame, so my choices were places I felt would be fun with a little free time.

Who helped you make the decision?

My mom helped me make a decision by narrowing down the places she wouldn’t drive to for games, so it made it easier knocking off those cross-country schools. What the school provided was the main thing my mom looked into when helping me decide; academics and nutrition were her biggest concerns.

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?

With the city of Charlotte being up-and-coming and steady grind, I feel that this is a good place to start my life if football isn’t my last route.

Looking back, was there anything that would have made it easier for you Or a criteria you didn’t realize you should have looked for? 

Committing to a coach would be something that I would‘ve changed. Coaching staffs change season to season, so going to the school just for the position coach or coordinator probably isn’t the best decision.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process? 

Don’t let anybody pressure you into your decision – it’s your next four to five years. The biggest school ain’t always the best. 

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Kyric McGowan

(Left) Photo by Doug Smith and (Right) Kyric McGowan

Kyric McGowan

Dalton High School, 2017

24 College Offers

Signed with Northwestern University, Graduate transfer to Georgia Tech


What was the recruiting process like?

The recruiting process was very exciting. It was filled with many highs and not any lows, only times of uncertainty. It made getting up early for workouts and trying my best at school easy, knowing I was going to be visited or called by coaches from all the schools I watched growing up.

Who helped you make the decision?

My parents were the biggest help in the recruiting process. They went above and beyond helping me reach out to schools, preparing me to talk to coaches, and investing their time and money getting me to different campuses. My coaches were also a big help in giving me feedback that they received from college scouts.

About how long did it take you to Make the big decision?

I spent about two months visiting schools and narrowing down my options before I made my decision. It felt like a dream come true to commit and sign. It also took a lot of weight off my shoulders as I was able to play my senior season without having to worry about a college decision.

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?

The overall deciding factor for me was teammates. It was about the culture and standard set by the players already there at the school and how my personal goals and standards would align with the team.

If you transferred to a different school during your career, was the process any different?

The process did differ in what factors I considered into my decision. With a degree and 40+ games under my belt, I felt like the pressure was more on the schools to show that they wanted me instead of me feeling constant pressure like I did in high school.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process? 

My advice is to enjoy it to the fullest because you probably won’t get that royalty treatment or feeling again. Also, listen to all schools and coaches that show genuine interest in you. You never know where programs or coaches will be down the road, so you want to build as many connections as possible during the process.

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Jahmyr Gibbs

(Left) Photo by Doug Smith, (Right) Photo Courtesy of This Is ESM

Jahmyr Gibbs

Dalton High School, 2020

26 College Offers

Signed with Georgia Tech, transferred to The University of Alabama


What was the recruiting process like?

It was fun but also a little stressful.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting?

I really liked traveling around to all the different schools.

What were the different factors you considered when choosing between offers?

There’s a lot to consider including the coaching staff, location of the school, the environment, and the other players.

Who helped you make the decision?

My parents.

Did any of your coaches have a particular word of advice that stuck with you?

My high school coach, Matt Land, talked with me a few times and gave me some good advice. But it’s hard to narrow it down to just one conversation that stuck out.

About how long did it take you to make the big decision?

It took a couple of months, but once I made a decision and officially committed, it felt good!

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?

For me, it wasn’t any one thing. It was mostly the overall vibe that I got.

If you transferred to a different school during your career, was the process any different?

It felt pretty similar to high school recruitment and involved several phone calls and visits.

Looking back, was there anything that would have made it easier for you Or a criteria you didn’t realize you should have looked for?

Not really. I kept things pretty simple, which made it a lot easier.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process?

Just pick the school the feels right for you.

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Deangelo Hardy

(Left) Photo Courtesy of McCallie School, (Right) Photo Courtesy of Deangelo Hardy

DeAngelo Hardy

McCallie School, 2020

30 College Offers

Signed with Kennesaw State


What was the recruiting process like?

The recruiting process was very fun while also being very challenging. I was labeled as an athlete, so therefore I had to essentially decide what I thought was best for me at the time, position-wise.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting?

Honestly just seeing that my talent and hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

Most surprising or difficult thing that happened during recruiting?

Just getting so much attention was a surprise for me; there were so many surreal moments.

What were the different factors you Considered when choosing between offers?

Location, program nature, and ultimately the relationships I built. I wanted to ensure I was going to be developed as a man the same as a player on the field.

How did you choose which schools to visit? Did the visit have a significant impact on your decision?

The relationships I built with the coaches helped. My visit down to Kennesaw definitely surprised me and ultimately helped me decide.

Who helped you make the decision?   

Honestly my family was very open and allowed me to make my own decision.

Did any of your coaches have a particular word of advice that stuck with you?   

I remember one day Coach Potter pulled me into his office and just voiced his encouragement and belief in me as both a person and player on the field. That belief gave me the last little thing that I didn’t realize I needed going into my senior season.

About how long did it take you to make the big decision? 

I believe I committed during the summer leading up to my senior season, so ultimately around two years.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process? 

Just believe in yourself and go somewhere that will help uplift you both on and off the field. You’re young coming in, you want to be a good young man coming out!

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Kareem Orr

Photos Courtesy of Kareem Orr

Kareem Orr

Notre Dame High School, 2015

27 College Offers

Signed with Arizona State University, Transferred to University of Tennessee at Chattanooga


What was the recruiting process like?

I thought the process was very fun and exciting. I enjoyed getting calls constantly from position coaches or head coaches. Going on the visits was even better because they treat you like royalty while you’re on campus.

What were the different factors you considered when choosing between offers?

I was mainly choosing between Arizona State and Ohio State. Out of all factors, I would say the one that mattered to me most was if I could make an immediate impact on the team. I was also looking to make my stat line very noticeable to the NFL since that’s my dream.

Who helped you make the decision?

Honestly, I did it all on my own because I didn’t want anyone to be able to control my decision on where I wanted to go to school.

About how long did it take you to make the big decision?

It took me all the way up until signing day to make the decision. I had a lot of really big offers, so I wanted to make sure the decision was right. Plus, I had also committed early my junior year to Louisville, but I regretted it months afterward when more Power Five schools started to give me offers.

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?

Arizona State is in the Pac-12, and it’s a heavy pass league. This was a huge reason why I chose the school. A heavy pass league for me meant more opportunities to get interceptions and pass breakups, and I was able to end my career with 12 interceptions coming out of college. With the NFL being a production-based league, I thought that would be the best move for me.

If you transferred to a different school during your career, was the process any different?

I did transfer to UTC after my sophomore year, but the process was familiar. I came back home to be a father to my beautiful daughter.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process?

Make the decision that will put you in a position to fulfill your dreams like I was able to do.

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Javin Burke

Photos Courtesy of Javin Burke

Javin Burke 

Bradley Central High School, 2021

25 College Offers

Signed with University of Virginia, currently in transfer portal


What was the recruiting process like?

My recruiting process didn’t fully start until the end of my junior year. For a while it was nothing, and then an offer from Tennessee sparked a waterfall. It can be too much at times, but in the end it wasn’t that bad.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting? 

Going on my UVA visit probably was the most exciting thing that happened. Covid had just blown up right when my recruiting started, so by the time I had enough interest to go on visits, I wasn’t able to.

Most surprising or difficult thing that happened during recruiting?

The entire thing is surprising and difficult because it’s something you’ve dreamed of your whole life and for it to finally happen (especially kind of late for me) is surprising. It is just as difficult because when it comes to decision time, there are many different opinions being thrown at you from different coaches and from the schools themselves.

What were the different factors you Considered when choosing between offers?

Every school was pretty much even for me whether it was FCS or Division I. The biggest factor was what felt the most like home.

How did you choose which schools to visit? Did the visit have a significant impact on your decision?

The most impactful visit was UVA because of how open they were and how the coaching staff treated me and talked to me while I was there.

Who helped you make the decision? 

My parents helped me and made sure to ask all the questions about who could provide certain things education-wise that others couldn’t.

What was the factor that eventually made you choose one offer over others?   

I loved the UVA coaching staff and how they seriously cared about you as a man off the field more than on the field.

Do you have any advice for other players going through the recruiting process?    

I would just say take your time and view all of your options. Don’t just go to a school because it’s been your favorite team your whole life – go somewhere you will enjoy life both on and off the field.

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Karson Gay

Photos Courtesy of Karson Gay

Karson Gay

Boyd-Buchanan School, 2022

20 College Offers

Signed with University of Virginia


What was the recruiting process like?

It was hectic, exciting, and nerve-wracking all at once. With it being during Covid and having so many weird but great things happening at the same time, it was a lot to take in.

Most exciting thing that happened during recruiting?

It had to either be getting to see my family’s reaction to me getting certain offers or going on my official visit to UVA.

Most surprising or difficult thing that happened during recruiting?

The most surprising thing was how I got somewhat tired of the recruiting process. It was one of the coolest things to ever happen to me, but it was a lot to process. Doing interviews and having phone calls with important people who you’ve seen on TV growing up causes a lot of nerves, and when that goes on for a year and a half, it can just get monotonous.

What were the different factors you considered when choosing between offers?

The biggest thing for me was having success after football and going somewhere that I will leave with great connections and a degree with real weight behind it. I want to play in the NFL but having a good backup plan is huge, and UVA is the perfect place for me to be in order to set myself up to achieve that.

Did any of your coaches have a particular word of advice that stuck with you?

The overall message from my coaches was big. They talked a lot about how you could get playing time and be a leader at any age on the team if you put in the work. By working hard before I got to campus and when I was on the grounds as well, I was able to make that transition throughout the season and earn playing time as a true freshman.

About how long did it take you to make the big decision?

It took me about a year and a half through my whole recruiting process to commit. When I finally did sign, it was a big sigh of relief, and it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was nice to know that I had a home after high school.

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