BALTIMORE, Md. -- It was less than 12 hours before Dunbar football players were scheduled to sign their letters of intent, and head coach Lawrence Smith was in his car on his way to Pennsylvania looking for a hat.
Smith was conducting his search for linebacker Gary Onuekwusi, who did not have a Temple hat to wear during the signing day celebration at Dunbar High School on Wednesday. Dunbar's seven other Division I-bound football players had hats representing their chosen colleges.
"It isn't about a hat -- he earned it. That's what I wanted to do to make him feel a part of today," Smith said. "That's what we do as family."
Onuekwusi was one of eight Dunbar student-athletes to sign national letters of intent to Division I programs Wednesday -- a single-season school record. Smith said he expects another 12 players to sign with Division II or III programs by the end of the school year.
Among the players signing Wednesday are: Tavon Austin (West Virginia), Courtney Bridget Jr. (UNLV), Antonio Brown (Morgan State), Sean Farr (Louisville), Horace Miller (Louisville), Davon Muse (Central Michigan), Onuekwusi (Temple) and Anthony Watters (Howard).
Those eight players provided the backbone of a Dunbar program that won three straight Class 1A state titles and produced the state's all-time leading rusher in Austin.
"It was definitely a great day. This is a great moment for me, my family, the school and the area, the school and Baltimore," Miller said. "I'm not just excited for me, but also the other players. I'm real proud of them. We've done great things, and we're going to continue to do them."
For the players, students, teachers, coaches and parents in the Dunbar community, this day is about more than just signing to play college football.
As each player was introduced, the school and the amount of each scholarship were announced to roaring applause in a packed auditorium. These student-athletes were on display as examples of what others in Baltimore can strive to achieve.
"This means a great deal to the student body, first of all. These student-athletes have sat in classrooms with their peers, and the students know how hard they've worked to attain these scholarships," Dunbar principal Stephen Colbert said. "It's going to have an impact on those students who are non-athletes -- realizing that they had a double burden in a sense. Being on the field, being in the classroom, managing time -- it doesn't just happen."
We're going to remember this day for a long time to come.
--Dunbar principal Stephen Colbert
"It means a lot for the school, because a lot of people think we're just this little school in east Baltimore. We always tell our kids to seize the opportunity," Smith said. "Tavon [Austin] can't go to each and every one of those schools [that showed an interest in his talents], but now you're talking about Davon Muse, our backup running back, who had a great season [now] with a Division I offer. That's because of what [Muse] did when his opportunity came about."
Miller experienced firsthand what this has meant to people in the community.
"It's not just the high school. Random people that I've never met congratulate me," Miller said. "I'll just be walking around and it'll be some random person. That right there makes me proud -- to see people that care about others."
That kind of caring might have been exemplified best by Smith's getting in his car after work that day and returning from Philadelphia at 11 p.m. Tuesday just to hand one of his players a hat. But from the attendance and the noise coming from the Dunbar auditorium, it is clear that signing day was not just for the players.
"We're going to remember this day for a long time to come," Colbert said.
Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com