Christmas came a little early for Richmond Hill’s Charles Morton and Cooper Lemonds.
The Valdosta State University sophomore football players got their holiday wish Saturday when the Blazers won the NCAA Division II title with a 35-7 win over Winston Salem State in Florence, Ala.
“I really wanted the championship,” Morton said. “That’s what I got.”
It was also a case of the third time being a charm.
Both were football standouts on Red Raider squads that went 47-7 and twice finished second in the state Class A football playoffs during their four-year prep career.
Finally getting a ring was big, they said.
“It’s very exciting. After losing two state titles in high school, being part of a championship team is special,” said Lemonds, a backup defensive end for the Blazers who is also a baseball player at the Gulf South Conference school.
“I’m excited,” said Morton, who earned a scholarship as a long snapper and has played the position since arriving on the VSU campus in the fall of 2011. “I’m ready to get that big old ring.”
The rings are expected in February, the players said.
Morton said he chose Valdosta because of the program’s history. The former SCPS track team MVP, he was recruited specifically to be the team’s long snapper, he said.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound Morton does the snapping for the team’s punt, extra point and field goal units.
After snapping in bitter cold in the Blazers’ 35-19 win over Minnesota State-Mankato, he had 12 plays in the championship game.
Morton hasn’t missed a game since arriving on campus in 2011 and even racked up a tackle or two. He hasn’t misfired on a snap in his two years on the field, either.
Lemonds, who is 6-0, 235 pounds, had three tackles in five games for the Blazers this season while also hitting .300 as a first baseman for the Blazers’ baseball squad. Though he sat out the football playoffs after missing a weightlifting session during the regular season, he made the trip to Florence to be with his team.
“Knowing I couldn’t be in the playoffs kind of hurt,” he said. “But I was fortunate to be able to be there for the championship game and be a part of it. I really wanted to be there when we won it all. I’m just excited we won it.”
Lemonds said he now hopes to help the Blazers win a baseball championship.
Both Lemonds and Morton are business management majors, and both said Valdosta State is a great place to go to school.
“I love the school and everybody loves their football there in Title Town,” Lemonds said, referring to Valdosta’s nickname because of Valdosta High School’s dominance in prep football since the 1940s. “It gets everybody excited.”
The national title is the third for Valdosta State, which also won in 2004 and 2007.
“I’m so glad we won it this year,” Morton said. “Now I don’t have to hear the coaches talk about 2004 and 2007. Now they can start talking about the 2012 team and hopefully we can do it again next year.”