Two years ago Joshua Stanford was playing high school football in his hometown of Mississauga Valley, Ontario in Canada. Less than two weeks ago Stanford was one of 23 M.L. King football players who signed football scholarships.
It was a journey, he said, he could not have made by himself.
“God is a big part of my life and I believe God opens doors for you,” said Stanford, who will be attending Virginia Tech. “I put God before football this [past] season and that’s what sped things up for me.”
Stanford said he always has been a spiritual person and grew up with a value system instilled by his parents, June and Michael Stanford.
“Earlier in the season, I wasn’t doing as well and that’s when I realized I couldn’t do it without God,” he said. “I made sure I found happiness with God because nothing can take that away. It’s who I am and I’ve got to be true to myself.”
There were a record 144 student-athletes from schools in DeKalb County who signed football scholarships on Feb. 1, National Signing Day. Stephenson led the way with 26 signees and M.L. King’s group was its largest in the 10-year history of the school. The Lions finished 12-1 this past season and advanced to the third round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Stanford was one of five M.L. King receivers to sign scholarships. Blake Tibbs, who signed with Georgia, led the county in catches (66), yards (1,082) and touchdowns (15). Stanford, meanwhile, caught 56 passes for 1,014 yards and 11 scores.
“I’m happy to be a part of this graduating class [at M.L. King],” Stanford said. “There are a lot of good character people. And to be a part of this program and to start something like we did means something really big.”
This is the third year in a row that more than 100 student-athletes have singed football scholarships in the county. Columbia had 17 signees and Cedar Grove had 13 this year.
Stephenson led the way with 11 players signing with Football Bowl Subdivision teams, including Mike Davis, Kyle Fleetwood and Carlos Hood at Alabama and Jafar Mann at Florida.
Thirty-five players signed with FBS teams, including 18 in the Southeastern Conference and seven in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Sixty-seven colleges and universities are represented among the signees, including schools as far away as California (College of the Sequoias) and as far north as Ohio (Ohio University and Miami of Ohio) and Delaware (Delaware State). Schools in Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma also are represented.
“The coaching staff and the kids worked all year to prepare for this moment,” M.L. King coach Mike Carson said. “The type of season we had attributed to the number of kids that signed. It’s truly a blessing for the program.”