This week was big for high school athletes all over the country, as National Signing Day took place on Wednesday - and for some in the Mahoning Valley, on Thursday and Friday.
While it's best known for the first day colleges can sign football players to their teams, it's also the first day that colleges can ink players for track and soccer.
In the Mahoning Valley, a hotbed for nationally-ranked talent on the football field, some called this a "down year" - meaning there weren't many athletes signing to continue their collegiate careers, especially on the major Division-I stage.
While there are some Division I bound athletes going as preferred walk-ons, the only three to commit to major universities were Josh Krok of Niles and Tymere Dubose of Youngstown Christian (both headed to Kentucky) and Chris Durkin of Ursuline, who will be going on to play at Virginia Tech.
Yes, this wasn't a "big name" year like some in year's past. There were no Ohio State- or Michigan-bound men. There were no five-star recruits making their long-awaited decision by the "choosing of the hat."?
However, there is something to keep in mind. Over the course of three days and four sports, 39 athletes in Trumbull and Mahoning counties signed National Letters of Intent to continue playing the sport they love - all while receiving a college education.
That is something of which the area should be proud.
Talking with some of the athletes who signed, they were describing the process of recruiting - especially on the Division II and III level. Marcus Hill of Niles said offers were coming in every other day, all offering just a little bit more in terms of financial aid packages. Darnell Tate of Hubbard described a similar situation, and because of that, he waited a few extra days to make his commitment.
However, Tate said it the best when asked about making the biggest decision he's had to make so far in his young life.
"You have to think everything through, because I'm going to be there for the next four years," Tate said. "I have to be comfortable with where I'm going. But I love it, I'm glad I made the choice."
This was a major decision that these athletes faced - and these kids are no more than 17 or 18-years old. Despite the stress involved all seemed to handle it with poise and excitement.
While the athletes were ready to put their signatures on the dotted line, the parents who were watching in the background could not be ignored. Their overwhelming joy and happiness glowed like the morning sun. Or maybe it was the flashes on the cameras that seemed to never end - capturing the moment that is Signing Day.
Seeing many parents watch their child sign that paper, the pride and joy in their eyes could not be masked. Glancing over, one could almost see them remembering back to driving their sons to their first football practice, cheering them on when their pads were still too big for their young bodies. Cheering them on during their first games and remembering the first time their child got hit, only to get back up and get to the line again.
Some might remember their first soccer practices, just watching their son or daughter kick the ball around, not realizing that years later, the sport would take them to college. Others might remember their first race, and just hoping their child would cross the finish line.
To the parents of these athletes, congratulations should be extended to you all as well. It was because of your years of dedication, miles on your cars and love for your children that the next step was able to happen.