Here are the members of the Carthage High School Class of 21 who signed National Letters of Intent to continue their athletic careers at the collegiate level. Back row fro left: Zay Woods, Montrell Smith, Sawyer Smith, Kai Horton and Tee Kellum. Front row from left: Kylon Lister, Karston Williams, Natalee Dinnverville, Mason Courtney and Nate Marry.

The fact that there even was a National Signing Day on Feb. 3, 2021 is something of a miracle.

With the 2020 high school spring season basically wiped out by COVID-19 and the Friday night football season just a couple of positive tests each week from getting cancelled, there might not have been much to celebrate on the day many college football fans consider a national holiday.

But 10 members of the Carthage High Class of 2021 made sure all the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted on their NLI in a ceremony at the high school Wednesday morning.

Actually, two of them, Kai Horton and Mason Courtney, signed on the same day they beat Gilmer for the Class 4A Division II State in late December — the last day of the early signing period.

But for all intents and purposes, Wednesday was the big day.

“This is another special class,” Scott Surratt said in his role as Athletics Director. “I’m super proud of Natalee Dinnerville in softball and Sawyer Smith in baseball. Their entire seasons were pretty much wiped out last season and they’re just getting ready to play this season.

“So they’re already made their marks and gotten programs interested in them. I’ve been watching Natalee since she was in first and second grade. I’m very excited for her. And I expect big things from Sawyer in the future.”

The other eight players have signed to play college football, and they are all coming off back-to-back state titles.

Besides Horton and Courtney signing with Tulane; offensive lineman Tee Kellum and defensive back Zay Woods both signed with the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton; defensive tackle Kylon Lister signed with Angelo State in San Angelo and is joining former Carthage teammate Kel Williams; Defensive back Nate Marry signed with Louisiana College; tight end Montrell Smith signed with Central Arkansas; and offensive lineman Karston Williams signed with Eastern New Mexico.

“I’m very proud of the eight football signees,” Surratt continued. “They are all especially good kids, who battled like everyone else and came through a lot of adversity. They did a great job coming through such a tough season and won the state championship as well.

“I’d like to thank the UIL and the Texas Coaches Association for the work they put in in helping us get in a season.

“We knew we had a phenomenal defense,” Surratt said. “We ended up being plus 34 in turnovers, setting a school record with 27 interceptions. We only turned it over four times with two of each.

“The biggest reason for our improvement was having our offensive No. 1’s going against our defensive No. 1’s every day. It helped make us a better team.”

In the year of the pandemic, it should come as no surprise that most of the players’ recruiting visits were done virtually — although Horton and Courtney have since made a visit to New Orleans.

“This was just a great senior class,” Horton said of his teammates. “We’ve all been together since we were in junior high. For us to stay together and make it happen is a big deal.

“We didn’t have some of the stats we did last year, but overall, we were good enough to win it and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Horton and Courtney signed after the 70-14 win over Gilmer in the state title game. While Horton will be on scholarship, Courtney, who had other offers, signed as a preferred walk-on and will be given every opportunity to earn a scholarship.

“It’s a big thing for us to still be together,” said Courtney. “Getting a chance to play football again with him is a blessing. We’ve wanted to do that since we started playing football together a long time again. I’m going to get a chance and I’m going to get the repetitions. For me, that’s the biggest thing.

“Winning another state championship with these other guys is very unique, too. It’s a bunch of characters, but I’d go to battle with them all day long.”

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