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Early signing period in the Hill

POSTED: December 20, 2017 12:26 p.m.
Ted O'Neil /

From left, Richmond Hill's Justin Jeffery, Sam James and Joseph Petrino sign their letters of intent to play Division I football Wednesday.

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Wednesday marked the start of the first-ever early signing period for NCAA Division I football and three Wildcats took advantage of it.

Sam James, Joseph Petrino and Justin Jeffery signed with West Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina-Charlotte, respectively, during a noon event at Richmond Hill High School.

The three had announced their intentions in May, but there was one change in the interim. Jeffery had originally chosen Cincinnati, but in early November said that “due to unforeseen circumstances” he was reopening his recruitment.

The early signing period ends Friday.

All three expressed thanks to their families and coaches after officially inking their letters of intent.

James in May said he chose the Mountaineers because the coaching staff there “made me feel loved” and he likes the way their offense uses skill players.

“They call it wide receiver u for a reason,” he smiled.

Petrino said he plans to study business at Maryland, and its proximity to Washington, D.C., was a factor in his decision.

“Two years ago, I was a soccer player and had never thought about football,” Petrino said. “It’s hard to imagine all this has happened.”

Wildcats Coach Matt LeZotte gave credit to his coaching staff, and Patrick Means in particular, who is the position coach for all three.

LeZotte said Petrino’s growth as a kicker has been a pleasant surprise.

“We knew he had the natural ability, but he continues to get better fundamentally,” he said. “If we were 60 yards out last year, I’d let him try a field goal and wouldn’t blink an eye.”

In May, James had narrowed his list of schools to West Virginia, Cincinnati, Maryland and Mississippi State.

Jeffery also had offers from Liberty, Central Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Mercer, Western Carolina and The Citadel.

Petrino had offers from Army and Samford aside from Maryland.

All three are all multi-sport athletes. Petrino was first team all-region in soccer as well as football, while James was first team all-region in football and won the state title in the 400 meters at the Class AAAAAA state track meet in May. Jeffery was honorable mention in football, while he and James were also members of the Wildcats basketball team that made the state playoffs last winter.

The last time Richmond Hill had three football players sign with Division I schools in the same year was 2012, when Dominque Allen signed with the Air Force Academy (he later transferred to The Citadel), Canon Rooker signed with Middle Tennessee State University and Taylor Hayes chose Alabama State University.

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