Derrell Jones thought he had the perfect birthday present for himself. But he just couldn't wait to open it.

So rather than announce his college plans Oct. 1 -- his 17th birthday -- Westlake's 6-foot-3, 299-pound defensive tackle called the coaching staff at Pittsburgh on Thursday to say he will sign with the Panthers in February.

"I really wanted to wait for my birthday," Jones said, "but I just wanted to get this out of my way now. There were so many people on my back."

By the end of the summer, Jones had eliminated Clemson, Connecticut and North Carolina from his list of suitors and narrowed his choices to Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Jones said he wanted to call the Panthers right after he made his decision. He did not want to risk picking up the telephone one night and having a rival coach try to dissuade him.

"I wanted to do this while it's on my mind now," he said, "rather than wait for other people to come to me and make me second-guess myself."

Jones is a three-year starter at Westlake and last season was an All-Extra selection with 61 tackles and three sacks. He has shown terrific speed for a player his size.

Jones is the third senior football player from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference to unofficially commit. Lackey running back Morgan Green plans to sign with Maryland, and McDonough tight end David Harvey intends to play at Nebraska.

Derrell Jones of Westlake High, shown jumping off the line against Chopticon last fall, says he will sign with the Panthers in February.