Ryan football players, Drew Sanders, left, and Emani Bailey, right, sign their national letters of intent with assistance from Ryan coach Aaron De La Torre at the Ryan High School Field House on Wednesday.

All week, Ryan’s Drew Sanders and Emani Bailey have had only one thing on their mind: doing all they can to prepare for and win Friday’s Class 5A Division I state championship game. But for a few brief moments Wednesday morning, the duo took the time to wrap up their plans for life after high school football.

Sanders signed his National Letter of Intent to Alabama while Bailey did the same with Louisiana-Lafayette at a special ceremony at Ryan. Overall, Ryan had three players sign. Along with Sanders and Bailey, Cortt Gentry signed to play baseball at New Mexico Junior College. Gentry is also Ryan’s star deep snapper.

Sanders said the ceremony was a fun and brief break from the busyness of this championship week.

“It feels good. Now I’m just worried about winning a state title,” Sanders said. “We’re back to focusing on state.”

Ryan coach Dave Henigan spoke to the crowded room and praised all three players for their dedication to athletics, academics and their opportunity to go play at the next level in their respective sports.

“It’s a little bit interesting to do this during the [football] season, but it’s a good problem to have,” Henigan said. “I’m so proud of these guys and their families; it’s a great day. One of the things I like to say every year is that this is a wonderful treat to be able to play college athletics for the next four years. Not many people have that opportunity.”

For Sanders and Bailey, Wednesday’s ceremony was never about making any surprise decisions or flipping commitments at the last minute. While Sanders was originally committed to Oklahoma, he has been pledged to Alabama since April and hadn’t wavered on that despite receiving attention from practically every school in the country.

A five-star recruit according to 247 Sports, the 6-5, 232-pound do-it-all Sanders has lined up pretty much everywhere on offense this year while accounting for 29 touchdowns (12 receiving, 11 rushing, 6 passing). He’s also a terror defensively. He moved to Ryan as a junior after playing at Lake Dallas and Colleyville Heritage as a freshman and sophomore.

“The education side is huge, but they’re also one of the best football programs out there,” Sanders said of Alabama. “It’s a win-win, and I’m really excited about it.”

Meanwhile, Bailey has been tied to Louisiana-Lafayette since he committed this summer. Bailey, whose cousins are former Ryan greats James Battle and Jarvis Moss, has never missed a start during his now three seasons on varsity — a span of 46 games (including Friday’s title game).

Going into Friday, Bailey has rushed for 1,644 yards and 24 touchdowns.

“I’m very happy, and I know this is where I’m going to be for the next four years. I’m glad it’s finally over,” Bailey said. “I’ve been focused on getting this done as well as the task at hand, which is to leave my mark before going off to college. After we complete our goal, it’s time to go back to work again.”

Other Denton-area signings

Eight other Denton-area athletes also inked their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday.

Guyer sent four players to the collegiate level in Grant Mahon, Seth Meador, Trace Jewell and Devin Goree.

Mahon, who has been committed to Oklahoma State since July 2018, finally put pen to paper on Wednesday. The 6-4, 270-pound defensive lineman has made 43 tackles and recorded four sacks, to go along with two fumble recoveries.

Meador officially signed with Air Force and leads Guyer in receiving this season. He has hauled in 61 catches for 1,269 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Jewell, who has missed most of the season with a torn ACL, inked with Navy. The Wildcats’ sack leader on defense, Devin Goree, signed with Missouri State. Goree has tallied 15 sacks this season to go along with 12 quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.

In Lake Dallas, the Falcons sent two players to the collegiate level.

Defensive back/athlete Kobee Minor signed with Texas Tech and wide receiver Brandon Engel inked with Air Force.

Minor intercepted five passes this year, blocked three field goals and finished second on the team with 72 total tackles. Engel, meanwhile, caught 10 passes for 202 yards and three touchdowns. He also spent time at quarterback, throwing for 320 yards and a score.

Elsewhere across the Denton area, Aubrey offensive lineman Ian James committed to UTEP. Liberty Christian’s Collin Gamble inked with Cal.

STEVE GAMEL can be reached at 469-360-3611 and via Twitter at @NewspaperSteve.

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