Former Friendship Collegiate defensive back Jalen Tabor enrolled at Florida nearly a month ago, but he wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to attend his high school signing day ceremony on Wednesday. So the senior All-Met made the trek from Gainesville back to the District late Tuesday. And before leaving Wednesday afternoon to head back to his new college life, he stepped on the stage inside the Northeast charter school’s gym and delivered an emotional speech.
All eyes were on Tabor, one of the country’s top recruits, a player whose recruiting process went haywire over the last month. But after Tabor introduced himself, he asked all of his former teammates on the stage to stand up and receive an ovation from the packed gym. Then he thanked all of his supporters, and near the end of the speech, tears started welling up in his eyes. He took a moment to pause, and let it all out.
“I tried my hardest not to get emotional. But it just hit me…I wasn’t holding back,” Tabor said. “I always wanted to come back and say thank you to everybody.”
It’s been an emotional month for Tabor. The first team All-Met starred in the Under Armour All-American game on January 2, where he announced his decision to commit to Arizona. A week later, he flipped his commitment to Florida, and only days later, enrolled at the school. The first night in Gainesville he cried, he said, because it was the first time he had been away from his mother.
“It’s been a hard month,” Tabor said. “I’m just glad everyone helped me through it.”
Most of those people who helped Tabor were in attendance Wednesday. Friendship, which has become renown for holding massive National Signing Day ceremonies the last few years, is sending another 18 players to college next fall. That includes high-level recruits such as Jonathan Haden, who signed with Arizona early and was not in attendance Wednesday. It also includes safety Dae Juan Funderburk, who signed with West Virginia Wednesday just two weeks after visiting Morgantown and pledging to the Mountaineers over Miami.
Funderburk was a little nervous before his speech, dropping his white hat on the floor. But he is anything but timid on the football field; Funderburk will help West Virginia shore up its secondary with a hard-hitting ability, a player who is equally capable of aiding in run support as he is in pass coverage.
“It feels real good to be a part of the West Virginia family, just knowing I’m coming in ready to work hard and stay humble,” Funderburk said. “It was everything I had imagined. I’ve dreamed of this situation right here. So I’m pretty blessed.”
The area’s Football Championship Series schools were also winners during Wednesday’s ceremony. Morgan State netted two highly rated prospects in linebacker Damare’ Whitaker and defensive tackle Marquese Meadow, Delaware State signed linebacker Malik Harris and Towson landed wide receiver Tyron McDade. The Tigers made a run to the FCS national championship game this season, which factored heavily into McDade’s decision.
“That’s a big plus,” McDade said. “It feels great because it’s not too close to home, but it’s not too far.”
Of course, the big winner Wednesday was Friendship. The school has now sent 98 players on to college football scholarships, Friendship Coach Aazar Abdul-Rahim said during his speech, and some of his former players came back for the ceremony. Maryland running back Albert Reid and former Under Armour All-American Derwin Gray, who will report to spring practice for the Terps in 2014, were in attendance.
“To whom much is given, much is expected,” Abdul-Rahim told the crowd during his speech.
Tabor knows the feeling. He donned his blue Florida hat after the ceremony, shaking hands with his teammates and their parents. He is ready to dive into the deep end at Florida, where he is not expected to redshirt. But Wednesday, he was not thinking about his future. He was reflecting on the past.
“I didn’t want to come back and make this about me,” Tabor said. “I wanted to come back and make this about everybody but me.”
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