Dontae Aycock looked out from behind a long table tucked in between bookshelves in the back of Chamberlain's media center and smiled at the crowd.
He adjusted his hat as men and women with cameras moved into position, then took a breath and picked up a blue pen.
He had spent his life running the triple option, from house to house, relative to relative, anyone who would have him, who could have him.
From Atlanta to Detroit to Chicago to Tampa.
And now he stared down at his future, looked back up one more time, signed his name on one page then another.
Next stop: Auburn.
• • •
Wednesday was a happy day for Aycock and deservedly so for a kid as likable as he is gifted.
Auburn will be the next stop in a life filled with them.
Born in Stone Mountain, Ga., Aycock spent his childhood on the move, living with his parents, then just his mother, then father, then grandparents, then stepfather, then cousin.
His parents were never together. Times were tough. Rufus Aycock didn't make enough money, never even owned a car. Veronica Smith moved back to Detroit. Aycock shuttled back and forth.
When he was 9, Veronica died of a brain aneurism, he was no longer talking to Rufus and he started spinning out of control.
"I didn't take it that well,'' Aycock said. "I didn't care about anything anymore. I hardly went to school and when I did, I didn't do anything.''
His grandparents couldn't control him. "I was a handful.''
He was sent to live with his stepfather, Darren Armstrong, in Chicago.
His new house had strict rules.
The first one: no C's.
"I think that's why to this day I still don't get C's,'' Aycock said.
He moved to Florida after eighth grade to live with his brother, Dwight Smith, at the time a Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive back. But that same summer, Smith signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, and before Aycock could follow, Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city and his plans.
He had a choice: It was back to Chicago, or he could stay with cousin David Roston in Tampa, where he has thrived.
"I survived because I never gave up,'' he said. "And I had good people around me.''
• • •
After four years, he leaves as, arguably, the greatest football player Chamberlain has produced.
Aycock was shorter than most quarterbacks but bigger and thicker than all of them. He made fans of those who watched him run the triple option with aplomb.
He won the Guy Toph Award this past season as Hillsborough County's top player, passing for 1,491 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushing for 1,406 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Heavily recruited, he committed to Georgia Tech three weeks ago but changed his mind Monday.
Nothing against Tech, he says. Auburn was just a better fit.
Either way, he will be close to Rufus, who lives in Atlanta, about an hour away. The two connected for the first time since he was 9 at Georgia Tech's Junior Day in 2007.
"I just said let me call him up and see if he wants to come; just to see him,'' Aycock said. "It was good. We talk about twice a week now.''
• • •
Aycock wishes the long recruiting process had ended more smoothly than it did. In the end, though, he is pleased with his decision.
His swerve has drawn criticism from Georgia Tech followers, but he made the right choice if what he wants is to be ready in four years or so if the NFL comes calling.
At Georgia Tech, he was going to be a quarterback. Run the triple option. Hope to get drafted as a running back. The track record of those who have taken that path is not good.
At Auburn, he will be a running back. At a school quite successful at producing NFL running backs.
In the end, pragmatism won out.
"My dream has always been to play in the NFL," Aycock said. "If I went to Georgia Tech, I was going to play quarterback. They were going to switch me to running back for the draft, so why not start in college.''
Aycock just turned 17. He is a kid. He changed his mind.
Chamberlain coach Billy Turner will always love Aycock, even if he did not necessarily agree with his decision. Thinking ahead to the NFL when making a college decision worries him, the odds against him making it being what they are.
The fact that Auburn came in so late, meaning Aycock was not on the top of its list like he was at Georgia Tech, concerns him.
And hey, Aycock gave his word, and that has to count for something right?
"But how can you be mad at a kid for going to Auburn?" Turner said.
Besides, coaches do it all the time. Last year, Colorado State pulled an offer from Chamberlain's Justin Bell at the last second. Other players have been told via text their offers were no longer valid. Colleges make promises they have no plans of keeping
This is how the game is played, and everyone who plays gets a little dirty.
"I have to live with this decision for the next four or five years,'' Aycock said. "I have to live it. I have to do what makes me happy.''
He deserves that much.
John C. Cotey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org