ATWATER — It was only two years ago that Buhach Colony High School held a small gathering in the principal's conference room to celebrate national signing day.
Last year, it was moved into a more spacious dance room to accommodate more people.
On Wednesday, close to 200 people gathered in the theater on campus as 10 athletes were honored for their commitments to play at four-year schools next year.
"There's not a bigger room on campus," said Thunder football coach Kevin Swartwood, who had eight of his players up on stage posing for pictures and celebrating with family and friends.
"Hopefully we can fill this theater every year. It doesn't matter what division they're going to me. As long as they're going to school."
Buhach Colony athletic director Scott Wine began the ceremony by making sure he pointed out that the 10 athletes had a combined 3.85 GPA.
One by one, the athletes were introduced. Those that had to sign national letters of intents, signed them and then posed for pictures.
The ceremony was highlighted by football players Aaron Cochran (Cal-Berkeley), Joe Marquez (Air Force) and Jayce Webster (Air Force) officially signing with Division 1 colleges.
"Today means everything is valid," Cochran said. "No more verbal agreement, everything is official. They have my signature."
Cochran was nationally recruited by schools like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Notre Dame. However, once he made his decision to attend Cal a couple weeks ago, he hasn't wavered.
"I never had any second thoughts," Cochran said. "I've been totally sure since I committed. I had second thoughts up until I took my official visit on January 18th."
Marquez enjoyed the moment, even posing for photos wearing what his family called his "Top Gun" glasses.
"It's a big relief to me, not only knowing where I'll be the next four years, but the next 10 years in my case," Marquez said. "It relieves a lot of pressure."
Marquez will be teammates once again with Webster at Air Force.
"Today means a lifestyle change for me," Webster said. "It's the beginning of something different. It's my future."
Also signing on Wednesday for the Thunder was swimmer Noelle Farrar, who will attend Cal State East Bay.
Volleyball player Rachel Andrews was recognized even though she hasn't decided between Sonoma State and San Jose State.
The other Buhach Colony football players moving on to four-year schools include: Stefon Gold (Menlo College), Cody McWilliams (Menlo College), Steven Strasser (Alderson-Broaddus College), Leon Miles (Southern Oregon) and Tyson Coffey, who is deciding between Lewis & Clark College and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
"It's amazing to have this many people," Miles said. "We also have friends at Merced High signing today. I think this 2013 class is one of the best classes in this area for a while."
Cochran had no problem sharing the spotlight with his classmates. He even said it was his goal not to be the only athlete signing his senior year.
"It makes today a lot bigger to have 10 people here," he said. "We want to make a tradition here of student-athletes bettering themselves and going on to the next level."
Merced Sun Star staff writer Shawn Jansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 385-2462.