For months now, the area's best athletes have been practicing their John Hancocks, anxiously awaiting the day their signature would be put to good use. National Signing Day featured several area athletes making their future plans official on Feb. 4.
There was one common reason for Liberty's Fitzgerald Toussaint and Isaiah Bell choosing to continue their academic and athletic careers at the University of Michigan: the coaches.
"He just has a passion for the game of football and he can make winners out of people," said Toussaint of Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. "That's really what I like most about him."
Toussaint became one of the best running backs in the state over the past three years. He rushed for 4,690 yards and 65 touchdowns in his career. He ran for a career-best 2,229 yards and 28 TDs as a senior with the Leopards.
Bell was one of Liberty's top all-around performers this year, playing wide receiver, defensive back, punt returner and kick returner. He starred on defense, where the 6-foot-2, 220-pound safety intercepted four passes. Bell had eight interceptions the past two years two of which he returned for touchdowns and was one of the hardest hitters in the All-American Conference.
He also talked about Rodriguez's attitude and personality as his main reason for choosing UM.
"West Virginia was always one of my top choices, but then I found out coach Rod was leaving for Michigan, and that's what made them move up to No. 1 on my list," Bell said. "I remember it was real late at night and me and my family were up discussing which school was best for me and I said 'I'm going to sleep on it and when I wake up whatever college is on my mind, that's the school I'm going to commit to.' When I woke up, Michigan was there."
He and Toussaint are confident the Wolverines will bounce back from last year's 3-9 record, their worst in more than half a century.
"It was one bad year," Toussaint said. "Everybody has their bad year, and that was just theirs. We're going to come up. That's all that matters."