WARNER ROBINS — Versatility and years of varsity experience merged to create dividends for a pair of Houston County High football players Wednesday.
Defensive lineman Justin Kitchens and receiver Craig Presley signed letters of intent to continue their education and footballplaying careers in a ceremony at the school.
Kitchens will attend Purdue University while Presley signed with Fort Valley State.
A transfer from Americus before his sophomore year, Kitchens worked his way into the starting lineup as an offensive lineman. He played some tight end as well before settling at defensive end for his senior year.
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"That time on offense helped me because I know how the linemen set up," Kitchens said. "I know how to read what they're going to do and how they might react to what I do on defense."
During this past season, Kitchens was second on the team in tackles and recorded two sacks.
Presley earned his way into the starting lineup as a freshman. Beyond life in tough Region 1-AAAAA, the ninth-grader was schooled daily in practice by defensive backs like Quentin Banks, now at UGA.
"Being in the role of a starter it was a major thing and it carried through in my 10th, 11th and 12th grade," Presley said. "cause it goes through 10, 11th and 12th grade what I've got to do on my role on the field ... it helped me out with this decision. And I know going into next season at Fort Valley, I'll be ready for the next level."
Both young men are also entering collegiate programs in transition.
Purdue and Fort Valley State both recently hired new head football coaches. In the case of the Boilermakers, there is some continuity because Danny Hope was the offensive coordinator for retired coach Joe Tiller.
"The whole (Purdue) staff has been on me since the beginning," Kitchens said.
While visiting West Lafayette, Kitchens had former Houston County quarterback Brandon King as his host.
"He showed me around the campus," Kitchens said. "He was a big factor in my decision."
He added that King warned the recruit to be prepared for lots of snow; especially this time of year. While admitting he's no fan of winter wonderlands, Kitchens said neither the cold nor the distance from home were big enough factors to prevent him from choosing Purdue.
"You can get a great education there. It's a Big Ten school. Overall, it's a good place," he said.
Kitchens (245 pounds) will need to add some weight to his 6-fee-5-inch frame. By contrast, Presley's size (6-1, 175) will make him an early matchup problem for SIAC cornerbacks.
"Length is a big advantage when you're going up for jump balls," he said, "and body size -- like when you catch an out route and then shake off a defender. It's a big advantage, my size."