Ten years ago they were lined up on opposing pee wee football teams dreaming of this day.
Now, it's finally official — Darius James, Naashon Hughes and Tyrel Stokes are signed, sealed and delivered college football players.
After 11 months of holding firm to their word, Harker Heights senior OL Darius James and LB Naashon Hughes joined DB Tyrel Stokes in officially signing their national letter of intent to the University of Texas and Sam Houston State, respectively, during a ceremony Wednesday on National Signing Day at Harker Heights High School.
"Growing up, you think all your friends are going to make it big, but just the fact that we could do it is just great," said James, the nation's consensus No. 1 center prospect and Texas' top recruit. "We never saw it like this, but we saw it like this."
James said it was especially rewarding to sign alongside best friend and future college roommate Hughes, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound tweener who originally committed to the Longhorns in May despite only having a grey shirt offer on the table.
"Just going to college with somebody you grew up with, it's just a real honor to know you'll have somebody you can trust up there ... it's going to be real nice," said James, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound OL prospect.
After originally committing to Stephen F. Austin two weeks ago, saying he felt pressured to make a commitment on the spot, Stokes changed course this week and officially signed with two-time FCS national finalist Sam Houston State.
"It's amazing. I've been dreaming of this day forever, and to be signing with my friends is an amazing feeling," said Stokes, a Texas APSE 5A second-team all-state defensive back who racked up a team-high 140 tackles and broke the Knights' career tackle record with 252 in just two years on varsity.
Stokes had also received some late interest from Baylor, but with no official offer on the table decided Sam Houston State was the place for him.
Hughes, who's older brother Camrhon is a freshman offensive tackle at Texas and was there for the signing ceremony along with the rest of the larger-than-life Hughes clan, repeatedly held off aggressive suitors from other top-tier BCS programs until Texas finally forked over a full scholarship in early December.
"This is great, this is the best feeling ever," Hughes said. "You work for what you want, I mean I worked for that full offer and I got it. It just shows that whatever you want you just have to work for it."
James and Hughes were key pieces in a small-but-stacked 15-person signing class for Texas, which suffered several late de-commitments like Belton TE Durham Smythe, who signed with Notre Dame.