Atlantic City High School seniors Jerron Searles and Ismail Naji will continue their football careers in college after accepting full athletic scholarships last week.
Searles, 17, is heading to Delaware State University. Naji, 18, will attend American International College in Springfield, Mass. Both players, who helped the Vikings go 6-4 last season, signed their letters of intent on Thursday.
"We have two kids we can point to that have another opportunity to play ball and be college graduates," Atlantic City coach Thomas Kelly, 38, said Monday. "When we took over the program, that's what we were shooting for. The wins are great, but seeing these kids going to college is the biggest goal we have."
Searles, of Atlantic City, will play tackle for the Hornets. A second-team Cape-Atlantic League All-Star, he said he is looking forward to the harder training that college football requires. Delaware State plays in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA), and finished 3-7 last year.
"The weight training, the nutrition and the strict conditioning I think will be achievable," Searles said Monday. "The college coaches mostly tell me their conditioning and working out is really hard, and I'm trying to get faster."
Searles visited Delaware State's campus in Dover in late December.
"It was comfortable. I could see myself going down there," Searles said. "I got to meet some of the players. It was genuine. A real homelike feel to me."
Before choosing Delaware State, Searles said he also was recruited by American International. He and Naji had talked about the possibility of continuing as teammates in college.
"I was a little disappointed that we weren't going to the same school," Naji, of Brigantine, said about Searles' decision. "But I was always happy for him. I think I was the first person he told besides coach Kelly, so I was very happy for him."
Naji, a first-team Press All-Star wide receiver, caught 26 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. He hopes to be a factor right away for the Yellow Jackets, who play in the NCAA's Division II Northeast-10 Conference and finished 6-4 last season.
"I can bring (to them) what I brought to Atlantic City," Naji said. "I know it's a much different level, but I'm going to be working hard this offseason to get to that level. They'll see a lot when I get up there. If I start, I'm going to bring a lot to the team."
The 6-foot-4, 193-pound Naji said he looks forward to finding chemistry with Yellow Jackets quarterback Kevin Arduino, who was the Northeast-10 Rookie of the Year in 2011.
"He was telling me he can't wait to throw me the ball, so I know it's going to be good when I get up there," Naji said. "I can't wait to play at this school and see how he plays. I want to start my freshman year and see how it goes."
Kelly, who called both Naji and Searles "foundation players," said the Atlantic City program is proud of each of them.
"I think they each made great choices," Kelly said. "I think both programs are up and coming and are getting kids that are hard working. On the other side, (Naji and Searles) picked great schools. They have a lot to offer them. It's good as a coach. You want to see these kind of matches made."
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