Jackson Stallings sat front and center in the Southmoore gym Wednesday afternoon and soaked everything in.
Stallings didn't sign the same National Letter of Intent as some of the other SaberCats athletes at the ceremony, but the event still meant plenty.
Stallings is heading to Yale, having picked the Bulldogs over a handful of Ivy League schools including archrival Harvard.
Yale, as a member of the Ivy League, does not award athletic scholarships or participate in the National Letter of Intent program.
But going to Yale is about much more than just football.
“I'm definitely relieved and definitely hopeful,” Stallings said. “I'm looking forward to all of the opportunities that Yale has to offer, not only athletically, but also academically and internship-wise. I'm just excited and hopeful for what's ahead.”
One of the large group of onlookers Wednesday was Southmoore senior principal Julia Black.
College seemed a long ways off in 2009 when then-freshman Stallings had a talk with Black.
“She said that was her hope for me, that I would have that opportunity to go to an Ivy League school,” Stallings said. “To have people that have been so invested in me here at Southmoore and giving me an opportunity to work hard to reach a place like Yale really means a lot.
“It was definitely something that I looked forward to early on.”
Black said it was easy to spot the potential in Stallings early on.
“Jackson is a very determined young man,” Black said. “He's very ambitious; he's very mature for his age but very focused. He relates well with his peers, relates well with others and he's very goal oriented.”
Black got emotional watching not only Stallings but several other athletes in the class make their college decisions public.
“The best part of my job is to watch young people achieve their goals,” Black said. “I held it together all week, all day today but whenever all of our student-athletes were lined up and signing their letters, that's when I tear up a little.
“It's all tears of joy because I want all of the students to see these young men and women and know that they too can achieve their goals.”
Stallings spent several months deciding between Yale and Harvard.
Now that he's picked his side, he's especially looking forward to Nov. 23 when the Bulldogs meet Harvard at home.
“It's war now,” Stallings said. “Relatable down here, it's OU-Texas; It's OU-OSU.
“They call it The Game. It's one of the oldest established football games in the history of sports, so I'm definitely blessed to have the opportunity to play for them and go after an Ivy League title for four years.”