ST CHARLES – As the sun officially set on their high school football careers, St. Charles East players Clayton Isbell and Nick Garlisch noted the brotherhood forged on the team as they both ceremoniously signed their next steps in life.
"These are my brothers," Isbell said in a nod towards teammates in the front row, as family and friends alike gathered in the school's learning resource center to support two of the program's brightest stars making their formal college decisions.
Garlisch followed: "I'm gonna miss the bond that you develop with the whole team [by] being with them every day. We've been playing against or with most of these guys for most of our careers, so it's pretty cool that they're here."
Both players took advantage of college football's new early-signing period, which was officially approved in May, on Wednesday afternoon. The inaugural period is from Dec. 20-22, a 72-hour window to formally announce the athlete's collegiate Division I decision.
Traditionally, the first week of February is reserved for final commitments, but the early period serves as an opportunity for already-decided players to nail down their destinations without the wait.
Garlisch, a running back and defensive back for East, signed his National Letter of Intent to play at South Dakota State University, though he had known of his destination since last year.
The 6-foot,195-pounder will play safety for the Jackrabbits of the Missouri Valley Conference after initially being offered as a cornerback, and is looking to study something health/medical related.
"The relationship I developed with the coaches," Garlisch said on what helped seal the deal.
Garlisch's mother, Bridget, remembered a past game where South Dakota came out to watch her son play, and he suffered a bloody nose following a crushing hit.
"He didn't skip a beat," she said. "The coaches were kinda blown away by the way he handled that. From that point on, they were really just keeping an eye on him and watching him."
Isbell, who took over quarterback full-time this season after playing safety as a junior, is slated to return to the defensive backfield for Illinois State, also in the MVC. Isbell joins 19 other recruits in the early signing day class, and Illinois State was his first offer.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder's recruitment came a little late, as it picked up between his junior and senior seasons.
"[Illinois State] really likes the way I move, the way I move quick on my feet [plus] my ball skills," Isbell, who has aspirations of being a college football coach, said on the program fit.
Isbell and Garlisch, who both go to college on full-ride scholarships, were two major components of an East program that saw tremendous success over the past two years. The Saints went a combined 20-4 and won an Upstate Eight River title in 2016. St. Charles East won three playoff games the last two years, and took eventual Class 8A champion Lincoln-Way East to the wire.
"That's every Dad's dream for your kid to go play ball [in college]," Isbell's father, Clayton Sr. said. "I thought I saw a lot of athleticism out of him when he was little...I always knew as a little kid. I always hoped and wished."
• St. Charles East linebacker Abe Swanson, who verbally committed to Grand Valley State University, will sign his NLI in February.
• Batavia OL Nolan Eike formally signed his NLI to play at Central Michigan University in the Mid-American Conference.
•No players from St. Charles North, Geneva, Marmion, Burlington Central or Kaneland participated in the early signing day period.