Free safety Eilar Hardy, strong safety Mike Jamar-Brown and cornerbacks Tamani Carter and Kris Strange combined to give the Pickerington High School Central football team one of the most dominant defensive backfields in the state last season.
The Tigers went 11-1 overall, 7-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division to capture a fifth consecutive league title and advanced to the Division I playoffs for the fifth season in a row.
Their defense gave up only five points and 150 yards per game, and posted six shutouts.
Each starter in the defensive backfield has earned a Division I college scholarship.
On Feb. 2, Carter (Michigan), Hardy (Notre Dame), Jamar-Brown (Buffalo) and Strange (Eastern Michigan) signed their letters of intent. In addition, offensive lineman Tyler Burch signed with Fairmont State, a Division II program in West Virginia.
"We've never had five players sign national letters of intent this early in the year before, and the fact that they're all continuing their football careers in college is testimony to the hard work that they put into the sport," Central coach Jay Sharrett said. "It's not a surprise that all four of our defensive backs are going to play Division I college football, because they're all solid tacklers first and foremost. They didn't just sit back and provide coverage."
Carter, who originally made a verbal commitment to Minnesota, became the first player to commit to new Michigan coach Brady Hoke on Jan. 20 after taking an official visit.
The first-team ThisWeek Super 25, all-district and all-league selection was a timely playmaker on both sides of the ball for the Tigers, who outscored opponents 435-60 last season.
Carter had 43 tackles, six broken-up passes, one fumble recovery and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns. He also was Central's leading receiver with 21 catches for 352 yards and a touchdown.
"It definitely was a stressful decision," Carter said. "Michigan was my latest offer and that's where I wanted to go. It's definitely going to be exciting to be playing in front of all those people. I'm looking forward to playing in the big stadium."
Michigan finished 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten Conference last season.
After considering Michigan State, Hardy made a verbal commitment to Notre Dame after visiting its campus a second time in June. The Irish went 8-5 in coach Brian Kelly's first season.
As a senior, Hardy had 63 tackles, five tackles for loss, six broken-up passes and returned an interception for a touchdown to earn first-team ThisWeek Super 25 honors.
The first-team all-district and all-league selection also helped spark the Tigers' offense and special teams. He rushed for 330 yards and six touchdowns on 43 carries, had a 99-yard kickoff return and returned a punt for a score.
"I've known I've wanted to go to Notre Dame for a long time, so it feels great to finally get this signing done," Hardy said. "I've had a great career at Pickerington Central, and I led our team to a great season as a senior, and I feel like I'm ready to move on to the next level."
Jamar-Brown received eight scholarship offers and took official visits to Cornell and Eastern Michigan in December. Two weeks after taking an official visit to Buffalo in January, Jamar-Brown gave first-year coach Jeff Quinn, who was hired on Dec. 22, a verbal commitment.
"I like the new coaches and the team, and it seemed like a good program and a good campus," said Jamar-Brown, who had 106 tackles and an interception as a senior and was recruited as a safety by Buffalo, which went 2-10 overall and finished 1-7 in the Mid-American Conference last season.
Strange was recruited by several schools, including Iowa and Wisconsin, but after receiving a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan coach Ron English in late November he made a verbal commitment.
As a senior, Strange had 60 tackles and three interceptions and returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown to earn first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district honors.
"A lot of different coaches were looking at me, but Eastern Michigan has some of the most experienced coaches in college football, so I think it's the best opportunity for me to learn to improve," Strange said. "Their defensive coordinator (Phil Snow) was a (linebackers coach) for the Detroit Lions for four years (2005-08) and I think I can learn a lot from him."
The Eagles finished 2-10 overall and 2-6 in the MAC in 2010.
The former Central teammates will face each other on the field next season. Michigan will play host to Notre Dame on Sept. 10 and to Eastern Michigan on Sept. 17, and Buffalo and Eastern Michigan could play depending on the MAC schedule.
"We've talked about how it's weird how it's set up, that we'll be playing each other's teams this fall," Strange said. "Me and Tamani will be living only seven miles apart, and we're planning on still hanging out together all the time. We'll all play against each other in college, but we'll always be friends."