The six Immokalee High School athletes laughed, joked and swapped their new college caps.
Immokalee cornerback Mackensie Alexander, a consensus top 10 player in the country, then reclaimed his Clemson University hat. He had just announced his college decision to a national audience watching on ESPNU.
With the ESPNU camera turned off, the five football players and a softball player gathered on stage. They huddled. They prayed.
Similar scenes played out across Southwest Florida on Wednesday, also known as National Signing Day. There were 42 athletes from Lee and Collier counties who secured college football scholarships, plus several handfuls of soccer, softball, cross country and tennis signees.
No school had such a recruiting haul as Immokalee, the Collier County farming community of about 20,000 residents, where excelling at sports sometimes becomes the only way to a college education.
No school had such a spotlight.
Mackensie Alexander kept even his family in the dark. Oldest brother Fredo Selbonne, 26, said he did not know Clemson would be the pick until late Tuesday. Alexander also considered Mississippi State and Auburn.
“I wanted to make the right decision,” Mackensie Alexander said. “I wasn’t going to make a commitment to something I wasn’t ready for. Today, I was ready.”
The ceremony began at 10 a.m. and lasted two hours. Several hundred friends, family members and fans filed into the school auditorium for the signings. The signees sat at a table draped with a red Immokalee High School sign. An arch filled with red and white balloons were overhead.
They began with softball player Danielle Garcia choosing Santa Fe Community College followed by her five football classmates, leaving Mackensie Alexander for last.
“It’s just the best feeling in the world right now,” said running back and wide receiver Jacky Marcellus, who signed with West Virginia University. Right when I put that hat on, I felt like I accomplished a great thing.”
Quarterback Tshumbi Johnson chose Cincinnati.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Erelisha Anderson, Johnson’s mother. “It’s a new opportunity for him. I’m so proud of him.”
Deadrin Senat, all 6-foot-1, 311 pounds of him, chose the University of South Florida, leaving the N.C. State and South Carolina caps on the table. His mother, Judy Senat, died almost six years ago.
“A lot of people stepped up to help me,” Senat said. “It’s a blessing.”
Mackenro Alexander, Mackensie’s twin brother, signed with Auburn. He left Clemson and Mississippi State caps on the table.
“You know, me and him, we said the whole year, we’re not conjoined twins,” Mackenro Alexander said of Mackensie. “We’re not joined at the hip. People didn’t believe that. Today, we made it true.
“I worked and worked and worked hard for this moment. There are a lot of kids who look up to us. I want to work extra hard to make these kids happy. We grew up talking about this. We made it a goal to go D-I, make it big out of here and help our families out. That’s what we did.”