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South's Cela headed to NCAA Division III powerhouse
Alex Cela
Photographer Birk Herrath snaps a shot of Alex Cela, flanked by his parents, Eric and Shalon, during his March 24 signing ceremony in the South Effingham gym. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

GUYTON — Alex Cela is set to be plugged into a football powerhouse.

During a ceremony in the South Effingham gym March 24, Cela signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Mount Union in Alliance Ohio. The NCAA Division III school has won a record 13 national championships since 1993.

“They are the standard of Division III football,” South Effingham head coach Nathan Clark said. “I guess you could say they are the Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State of Division III.”

The Purple Raiders, whose last national title came in 2017, are currently 2-0 and ranked No. 1 during a season that was moved to the spring because of COVID-19.

Cela worked hard to land the opportunity to play college football, promoting himself with statistical information and video highlights on social media. Division III teams don’t offer athletic scholarships but their coaches can recruit without the contact restrictions in Divisions I and II.

“He’s a fine young man with high character,” Clark said. “He was a true senior leader this year for the football team — and this summer going through (COVID-19 protocols).”

Cela, who served as a captain in the season opener against Metter, had to lead from the sideline for more than half the season after suffering a broken collarbone while playing quarterback in the fourth week against Effingham County. The injury occurred in the first quarter.

“That was extremely difficult for everybody but he understood what he had to do to get himself ready for the next level when that took place,” Clark said. “He continued to be a good leader for the football team and he was very driven with a great attitude. He was a very, very hard worker and he started lifting weights as soon as he was able to rehab and get back into it.

“He’s working hard right now. He even comes in sometimes extra before school.”

Cela, who has competed in organized sports since he was 6 years old, started for the Mustangs as a wide receiver as a sophomore and junior.

“He played extremely well,” Clark said. “He scored several touchdowns and had a whole bunch of yards.”

Cela, who also saw action for the Mustangs as a kick returner and holder on special teams, moved to quarterback because his team needed him.

“Going into his senior year, he probably knew that he was the best receiver on the team but he wanted to accept the challenge to be the quarterback,” Clark said. “He worked really hard in the offseason, even through COVID-19 on Zoom conferences with (offensive coordinator Loren) Purvis, and learned the entire offense. He understood the offense better than anybody else on the team.”