Ryan Ripken was the center of attention Monday morning as four Gilman seniors signed Letters of Intent with four Division I programs.
"It was a very tough decision for me," said Ripken, the 6-foot-6, 200 pound son of Orioles Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken. "There was no pressure from my dad or my family, but I found I felt very comfortable there when I visited. I feel South Carolina will give me every opportunity to develop as a player and as a person.
"I wanted to step out of the box. It will be a challenge on the baseball side and from the school size. Gilman is a small private school and South Carolina, there's about 20,000 kids there. You're really on your own, further away from family. But I'm up for all the challenges. South Carolina will give me the best chance to go forward in my life and I want to go forward and take on challenges head on."
Beside him at a table in the school's athletic center Brandon Casas (Maryland), Thomas O'Neill (Yale) and Seve Llanio (Delaware) all showed broad smiles as they ceremonially signed their letters.
"This is a big day for Gilman," said Gilman baseball coach Larry Sheets, a former Orioles teammate of Cal Ripken. "Baseball is a serious sport at Gilman and it's important for people to know. These four guys, being where they are, have nothing to do with me. They've each taken their talent and made the most of it and in doing so they've laid a strong foundation for the sport to build on here."
Kelly Ripken, Ryan's mother, took photos during the news conference, a warm smile never leaving her face. Afterward, she said the choice of school had been all Ryan's.
"He talked to Cal and to me," Kelly Ripken, a Maryland graduate, said. "We talked about the pros and cons and then he made the decision. I'm excited for him. Ryan has always loved the warm weather in the South. He felt good on the campus. And the coaches are very professional. I think he felt at home there."
She noted the Ripken family has lived "a big life," that Ryan has grown up in the spotlight and because of that is well prepared to handle the new independence he'll get away from home.
"He's very mature for his age," she said. "He's got an outgoing personality and he's a leader. Part of his decision came from the idea of wanting to do something completely different. And I think it will be good for him to just be one of the boys there on campus for awhile."
Each of the four signees had choices. Ripken, who hit .353 as a junior, said he and his teammates always talked "about our opportunities. We're all close. But what we wanted for each other was the best opportunity for the individual."
Casas, a pitcher, chose Maryland from 20 others because "they showed the most committed effort in recruiting me." O'Neill, who plays shortstop, picked Yale because he is interested in pre-med studies as well as baseball, And Llanio, who also pitches, signed with Delaware because it has a strong business program "and a strong college environment, which is what I wanted."
Ripken chose South Carolina over Maryland, Coastal Carolina and Wake Forest.
"Maryland was very tempting, being from Maryland, being it's my home state, being close to family, said Ripken, who was recruited as a first baseman. "It was definitely tough. But I wanted the overall right fit. There was no bias, it was just that South Carolina offered me everything as a baseball player and a human being. It offered new things and new adventures."
The four Gilman seniors will also be eligible for the Major League draft in June, and could opt to sign a professional contract if selected and forego attending college.