TAMPA — Today at 2 p.m. in the auditorium at Clearwater Central Catholic, Conner Dorris will join other Marauders in a signing day celebration, at which he'll say goodbye to a lauded high school football career and finalize plans for his future.
But unlike most who will be signing their names on the dotted line on the biggest day of the year for college recruiting, Dorris won't just be signing up for four years of college athletics.
He'll also be committing to a career.
Dorris, a linebacker/fullback combo who will play football for the Naval Academy, is one of at least five athletes in the bay area signing to attend a U.S. service academy. Plant City quarterback Landon Galloway, Freedom lineman Dillon Browne and Jesuit pole vaulter Nick Catchur will sign to attend Air Force, while Plant City golfer Kellyanne Hurst will join Dorris at Navy.
Signees of both the Naval and Air Force academies are required to serve a minimum of five years in that military branch after their athletic careers are over. Football players with a future in the NFL have the option of serving two years in the reserves to fulfill that commitment.
All five athletes had opportunities to attend and compete at other colleges or universities. That made Dorris' decision to attend Air Force one of the hardest he's ever had to make.
"You're committing to something you know that's going to change your life," he said. "You're looking 10 years ahead. That's the hardest part. You're not thinking like a normal kid; you've got to look past it."
Like Dorris, Galloway admitted he never really considered the military as a post-high school option. In fact, when Plant City assistant coach Greg Meyer would bring up the idea, Galloway brushed it aside. He knew he wasn't ready to give up football.
On Jan. 10, an offer from Air Force to play quarterback meant he didn't have to choose between the two.
Air Force had shown interest in recruiting Galloway as an athlete following his junior season with the Raiders, but it wasn't until the wide receiver was moved to quarterback — and Galloway began succeeding at his new position — that colleges began getting more serious about their interest, Meyer said.
Galloway, a former UCF commit who accrued 1,661 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season under center, said he fell in love with the Colorado Springs campus in a visit last weekend and formally announced his decision on TV on Tuesday.
Raised in a structured household by his aunt and uncle, Galloway is used to leading a disciplined life, he says. He knows the Air Force will challenge everything to which he's been accustomed, but it's a decision he's confident is the right one for his future — in an out of football.
"It takes (discipline) to a whole other level, especially when you have a bunch of guys that have to go through the same stuff as you as far as basic training," Galloway said. "I think it only brings you closer and makes you better as a football team."
Athletes at service academies must go through six weeks of basic training in the summer prior to their freshman year. Catchur, a 2013 Class 2A state titleist in the pole vault and Jesuit's record holder in the event (15 feet), may be a conditioned athlete, but he admits he's nervous about being ready for the grueling physical demands of boot camp.
In the back of his mind, though, will be one of the three core values of the Air Force's mission: Service before self.
"Coming to Jesuit, the 'Man for Others' attitude and way of living and trying to embody that kind of helped play a role in wanting to continue this," Catchur said.
Dorris, who will red shirt next season while attending the Naval Academy Prep School before moving to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, knows that his signature in today's ceremony holds a lot of weight. Now, he's just a kid whose love for and talent in football opened the door for a unique opportunity.
But in 10 years when his minimum commitment is over, Dorris knows that same opportunity will have turned him into so much more.
"I never dreamed of being in the military, but it's an opportunity," he said. "You come out, and you're a different person."