Strom Thurmond head coach Lee Sawyer took time before the National Signing Day event for Kenyatta Dunbar and Jauveer Hammond to say a few words to those gathered at the school's field house.

“On behalf of our players and coaches, we're very thankful for their contributions on and off the field,” he said.

Those contributions were among the best in the area this season, with Dunbar – who is headed to Gardner-Webb – leading the team with 88 tackles and also picking off three passes. Two of those interceptions sealed important games for the Rebels, the first in a region title battle with Midland Valley and the other in the state playoffs against North Myrtle Beach.

Hammond, now headed for The Citadel, completed 136 of 231 passes for 1,745 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing 201 times for 1,341 yards and 11 more scores. Both of those stat lines were among the top five in the area. Both were All-Aiken Standard first team selections, made the North-South All-Star game and were chosen for the Border Bowl, where Dunbar was the South Carolina defensive MVP.

“Both of them have been invaluable to us,” Sawyer said, noting that each player had been a full-time starter for three years. “I think that's a good gauge; if a player is good enough to start as a sophomore, that usually leads to a scholarship.”

For Dunbar, his college destination has been known since October. He chose the Runnin' Bulldogs over Western Carolina, Mercer, Wofford and a walk-on offer at Furman, and he said that time has only confirmed that decision.

“When I first did it a couple months ago, it was there. I just took it,” Dunbar, who plans on majoring in occupational therapy, said. “I really felt welcome there. ... I just loved the campus.”

An inside linebacker for the Rebels, Dunbar will play in the same spot at Gardner-Webb. He'll also be in the same group as another former Rebel linebacker, Aaron Cook, and both of those factors helped him feel comfortable about his potential transition.

“It makes me feel pretty good,” he said. “And I know going into their program, I'm going to learn a lot more about my position.”

Sawyer said the move up to college wouldn't be necessarily a cakewallk for Dunbar, who will also need to “bulk up,” but Sawyer said staying in his current position will help.

“That's always difficult, but for Kenyatta, that should be an easier transition,” he said.

Hammond, who has said he wants to major in accounting, could have a more challenging task ahead of him for several reasons. First of all, after starting off as a defensive back before moving to quarterback for the Rebels, he'll be playing slot back for the Bulldogs. Hammond was undaunted by the change.

“When I went up there, they showed me a lot of film, and I feel like what their guys are doing, I can do,” he said. “I may can do it better.”

Sawyer was equally confident in his former signal-caller.

“Yeah, it's going to be a little different for him,” he said. “I wouldn't bet against him being able to play anything.”

A number of family members, classmates and school dignitaries were in attendance at Strom Thurmond's field house, which was built prior to the 2013 season. Also among the group was a contingent of local Citadel alumni, who were there to support a player they are ready to welcome into the fold. They joked about Hammond's pending haircut to go from dreadlocks to a military style, but mainly they expressed their excitement.

“It means a lot that they took the time out to visit me, and I'm just a young man that's trying to get in their footsteps,” Hammond said.

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.