Malcom Ashley was working to open a package from Federal Express. He finally gave up and slid it to his mother sitting at the same table. Inside were papers that would change his life.
Malcom Ashley was working to open a package from Federal Express. He finally gave up and slid it to his mother sitting at the same table.
Inside were papers that would change his life. Soon he was in the spotlight, cameras clicking away and a handful of reporters asking questions.
"Itís pretty nervous," Ashley said Wednesday, when he signed to play college football at East Carolina University. "All the cameras and junk, Iíve never had anything like that before."
But he wasnít alone Wednesday in signing his national letter of intent. He had three of his teammates next to him at a table adorned with a black tablecloth with the Rams logo.
Pharoh Cooper, Kendal Vickers, A.J. Coplon and Ashley took center stage as rock stars Wednesday, with family, friends and school staff jockeying for the best position among the reporters to get pictures of their own. On this day, they were Havelockís Fab Four.
Cooper and Vickers signed with South Carolina, while Coplon joined Ashley in signing with East Carolina.
"We all grew up together and we all played JV together and we all moved up to varsity together," Cooper said. "Weíre all like brothers. The whole team is like brothers. Itís a great feeling to have these great individuals on the team. It really helps out."
Cooper committed early in the recruiting process to South Carolina and never had any doubts.
"I went to a couple of games down there and toured the campus, and I fell in love with the atmosphere and had great chemistry with all the coaches and all the players," Cooper said of his decision to pick South Carolina. "It just felt like home there.
"Thatís where I want to play and thatís where I want to spend the next four years of my life."
Initially recruited as a defensive back, Cooper got word in December that South Carolina may try him on offense as well.
And why not? Cooper (6-foot, 190 pounds) broke Danny Websterís 2009 single-season all-purpose yardage record of 4,403 by totaling 4,610 yards in 2012. He threw for 2,895 yards and 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He also added 1,267 yards rushing and another 15 TDs. And just for kicks, Cooper returned three punts for touchdowns, and of course, had an 87-yard interception return in the state championship game against Concord that helped him earn Most Valuable Player honors.
On Wednesday, Cooper wasnít worried about where he would fit in at South Carolina. He thanked God, his parents and family.
"It feels great to get this far," he said. "Itís a great relief off my shoulders. Itís been a long process.
"Itís very exciting to start a new chapter in my life. I had a great high school career, and Iím excited to play at the next level."
Cooper wonít be alone, with Havelock graduate Corey Robinson starting for the Gamecocks on the offensive line, and Vickers joining him.
"Theyíre trying to build a pipeline to Havelock," he said of South Carolina.
Vickers wasnít initially high on South Carolinaís radar, but the offensive and defensive lineman impressed the Gamecocks at a summer camp.
"When I went there, I loved the place," he said of South Carolina, located in Columbia. "I loved the atmosphere down there, especially when I went down there for camp. I met a bunch of the coaches down there I really liked."
Vickers (6-3, 225) recorded 29 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks on defense, and playing offensive tackle, helped clear the path for an offense that averaged 47.9 points per game. He may attend a prep school for a year before joining the Gamecocks.
"Iím ready to play college football," Vickers said. "Itís been a dream of mine. Itís something Iíve wanted to do ever since I was a little kid, and making it official today feels great."
Like Cooper, Ashley committed to East Carolina early in the recruiting process as well.
"Iím excited to go to ECU," said Ashley, who expects to play defensive line for the Pirates. "I went to a practice and liked the coaches, and when I went for my official visit, I met more of the coaches, and it was like they dragged me into their life, like a big family life."
Ashley (6-4, 250) started on the defensive line for the Rams in 2012 and was fourth on the team with 70 tackles. He led the team with 7 1/2 sacks and also recovered one fumble during the season.
He said he looks forward to a large cheering section of Havelock family and friends in Greenville.
"Itís going to be exciting having everyone there watching me," he said.
Coplon, a defensive back, also said playing close to home was a factor in his decision to pick East Carolina.
"It was a big factor," he said. "I like being close to home."
Though he and Ashley both may spend time at prep school before arriving on ECUís campus, Coplon said he was excited about signing on Wednesday.
"It feels good," he said. "Iím ready to start working hard. It still hasnít really hit me yet."
Coplon (5-11, 168) led the Rams with seven interceptions this past season, returning two for touchdowns, and also totaled 39 tackles. He had three fumble recoveries, the biggest of which he returned 61 yards for a touchdown that gave the Rams the lead for good in the state championship game. He also returned four punts for touchdowns in 2012.
The four seniors helped Havelock go 31-1 the last two seasons with back-to-back state championships.
"Just like winning back-to-back state championships was a first, having four kids sign Division I scholarships in the same year is a first," Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant said. "All four of them have great work ethic and attention to detail. And, theyíve gotten better each year."