National signing day has become a holiday of sorts for many rabid college football fans, some of which have spent countless hours keeping up with their favorite team’s players-to-be on recruiting web sites and message boards.

It was an especially big occasion at Meridian High School a year ago, when 14 Wildcat football players — four of which signed with four-year universities — all gathered in the MHS library to sign their national letters-of-intent.

But when the signing-day celebration takes place at MHS today, girls’ soccer standout Leanna Baldner will likely be the only Wildcat athlete inking with a four-year school.

In all, just six football players in The Meridian Star’s coverage area have given verbal commitments to continue their playing careers on the four-year college level. Five are expected to sign papers today — the first day of the NCAA’s signing period for football and soccer.

But as many as three dozen area football standouts could wind up signing with junior colleges today and during the signing period — which doesn’t officially end until April 1 — with Jones, East Mississippi and East Central all expected to get local signatures this week.

At Meridian High, Baldner is expected to join the MSU women’s soccer program during a 1 p.m. ceremony at the school’s library while at least two Wildcat football standouts — wide receiver Lindsey Spinks and defensive whiz Justin Darden — will ink with East Mississippi Community College.

“We have several other football players who are still mulling their options,” MHS athletic director Jermaine Brown said, noting the Wildcats might have three or four additional players to sign later this week.

MSU cross-country signee Sarah Hammes is also expected to participate in Meridian’s ceremony.

Kemper County’s Marcus Green, The Meridian Star’s 2006 All-Area Player of the Year, has been committed to Mississippi State since August and headlines as many as five Wildcats who could sign today.

Kemper coach Brock Clay said DeJay Watkins, Torris Grady, Johnny Lucas and Jevorius Prince could take part in KC’s 9 a.m. ceremony.

Other area standouts who are committed to four-year universities include West Lauderdale quarterback Austin Davis, Heidelberg linemen Joshua Stephens and Rashaad McGill, Philadelphia receiver Kylanski Hunter and Union receiver/defensive back Kenny Slaughter.

Hunter, McGill and Stephens are all expected to sign with Jackson State, while Slaughter is headed to Alcorn and will sign at 8 a.m. this morning — along with the Union trio of Jacob Massey, Quadarius Wallace and Jaquarius Talley which is headed to East Central.

Davis is expected to head to Southern Miss, where he will likely play baseball and football. He cannot sign a baseball scholarship until April 11.

Three other standouts which are familiar to area fans are also expected to sign with four-year schools today: Noxubee County lineman Eric Taylor (Jackson State), Southern Choctaw linebacker Terrell Johnson (Mississippi State) and Sumter County defensive end Cordarro Law (Southern Miss).

West Lauderdale lineman James Siefker is the only Knight slated to put his name on the dotted line today, while Southeast’s Aaron Larkin and J.J. Clark are expected to do the same. Siefker is slated to sign with Pearl River at 10:30 a.m., while Larkin and Clark are to sign with EMCC at 9:15 this morning.

Lamar coach Mac Barnes said a trio of Raiders are still mulling offers, but none were to sign today. The same is true at Northeast Lauderdale, where coach Steve Nelson said all-state receiver/defensive back T.J. Ballou will not pursue football after graduating.

Three other Heidelberg players — Donnie Bramlett, Darius Dear and Marcus Strickland — are slated to sign with Jones County Junior College today.

JCJC is also expected to get a boost from Wayne County, as coach Marcus Boyles said as many as eight members of the Class 4A state champion War Eagles — including all-state quarterback Drexler Johnson and prized receivers Kenneth Whigham and Marquese Ray — are slated to sign with the Bobcats at 10 a.m. today.

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