SEBRING - For the last two seasons, A.J. Gayle and Jacquae Peart have been challenging each other on the gridiron. Whether it was during a game or in practice, both players were always pushing each other to improve.
Now the hard work has paid off in getting to the next level, as Gayle and Peart both signed to play football at Dean College next fall.
"We're excited," Peart said. "We had planned to go to the same school, and we wanted to choose the best one, and I think we did."
The university, located in Franklin, Mass., is a perennial contender in the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Bulldogs have had eight consecutive winning seasons and have captured the Northeast Conference four of the last seven years.
"They're a top team," Peart said. "They've got a good coaching staff with a lot of guys who have been there for a while. And a lot of their guys go on to play at Division I colleges."
But success isn't the only thing that drew the pair to Dean. The opportunity to advance to a larger football program was also alluring.
"A.J. and Peart have taken care of business academically," Blue Streaks football coach LaVaar Scott said. "So they might not have to stay there for the full two years. If they continue to stay focused in the classroom and do what they know they can do on the football field, they might only be there for a few months before being opened up to getting recruited again."
Scott, a Sebring graduate who played football at the University of Miami, has sent over 40 Streaks to the college ranks during his three-year tenure as coach.
"I tell all of the guys, there is an opportunity out there," Scott said. "We help them take care of what they need to do on the field and in the classroom. We want these kids to have the opportunity to get a higher education."
"Even if it's in Alaska," Scott joked.
Over the summer, Gayle and Peart said they plan on working out and mentally preparing themselves for the trip north.
"I've only been as far as Tallahassee," Peart said.
And when asked about what would be the toughest thing to adjust to regarding college life, in unison, the pair said "snow."
"I'm looking to get back and play at a college in Florida," Peart added.
Under Scott's direction last season, Gayle and Peart saw playing time at a myriad of positions on both sides of the ball. Peart primarily played linebacker while Gayle handled running back duties. The pair said they plan on pursing those positions at Dean.
In an injury-riddled senior campaign, Gayle played in five games rushed for nearly 300 yards and scored one touchdown.
Peart, meanwhile, had a terrific year, amassing a team-high 92 tackles, 13 for loss, along with two sacks and two forced fumbles. He was the Streaks' defensive captain and was selected to play in the prestigious Florida Athletic Coaches Association North/South All-Star Classic, which brings together some of the state's best football talent. Peart was also voted by area coaches as the Highlands Today 2013 All-Highlands Football Player of the Year.