Kade Renfro, a two-year starter at quarterback for the Stephenville Yellow Jackets, took the first step up to the next stage of his football career — NCAA Division I — Wednesday evening when he signed a letter-of-intent to play football for the University of Mississippi.

“I’m extremely ecstatic and extremely blessed,” Renfro said on Thursday of his signing, noting that he is still experiencing an emotional high, but is eager to get back to work again in preparation for the 2020 football season with Ole Miss.

Renfro said that freshmen football players will report to the campus in Oxford, Mississippi on Jan. 14. He is graduating early, and his last day of school at SHS was to be Friday, Dec. 20. Renfro said he will be able to return to Stephenville to walk the stage with the rest of the Class of 2020 in May.

Renfro was one of 11 football players who made their commitments official on the early signing day to play for the Rebels. Ole Miss, one of seven schools in the Southeastern Conference’s West division, finished its 2019 season with a 4-8 record (2-6 in conference play). After head coach Matt Luke was recently fired, Florida Atlantic University head coach Lane Kiffin was announced as the Rebels’ new coach on Dec. 7.

During the signing ceremony, held at Barefoot Campus Outfitter, SHS head football coach Sterling Doty said that Renfro not only was one of the team’s four captains, he wore that “C” designation “the right way,” representing the school well both on and off the field.

“That’s what I’m most proud of — the man he became, and the man he’s going to be,” Doty told the large crowd gathered to witness the signing and congratulate Renfro.

When asked about Renfro’s future as a collegiate quarterback, Doty said, “I think he’s got a lot of potential, and most important is his hard work and determination. When you put all those things together, you’ve got a chance to be successful.”

Earlier, the 6-4, 196-pound Renfro had previously made a non-binding verbal commitment to attend the University of North Texas to play football.

Doty noted that Renfro made his recent connection with Ole Miss when he got a phone call from Jeff Lebby, who had been an assistant coach at Baylor University under the former Bears and Stephenville head coach Art Briles. Lebby was hired on Dec. 12 by Kiffin to be his offensive coordinator. Lebby had been offensive coordinator at the University of Central Florida.

Another Stephenville connection at Ole Miss now is Randy Clements, a longtime Baylor assistant coach who also worked on Briles’ football staff in Stephenville.

A former all-state SHS quarterback, the late Jevan Snead, played quarterback for Ole Miss for three seasons (2008-2010).

Renfro flew for his official visit to the Ole Miss the campus on Dec. 13. He met Kiffin and the rest of the Rebels’ new coaching staff before making his decision, Doty said.

“They were saying I was the only (quarterback) they were going after in the 2020 (recruting) class. Loyalty menas a lot to me,” Renfro said. “I just (wanted) to be developed as a quarterback and go someplace to have a chance to grow and prepare for the next stage.”

He said the campus was “gorgeous,” but his new relationship with the players and coaches he met during his visit was the deciding factor. Renfro said he plans to attend the Ole Miss business school, studying commercial real estate and entrepreneurship.

Kiffin, who had been the head coach at Florida Atlantic since December 2016, is a high-profile name in the football world. He is a former NFL head coach (Oakland Raiders, 2007-2008), and his college coaching stops included a stint from 2014-2016 as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Alabama.

Kiffin, quoted on Wednesday on the website Saturdaydownsouth.com, said of Renfro, “Kade is a really good player who has a big upside. At that position especially, just like all of them, we looked, we started from scratch and thought that he had a really big upside, someone who hasn’t played a ton of football. He is still maturing from a growth standpoint, growing into his body. But he’s very competitive and has really good touch on the ball. I think he has a bright future.”

In an online Mississippi Clarion Ledger article, players listed as Ole Miss recruits who inked letters-of-intent on the early signing day were — along with Renfro, who was described as a pro-style, three-star quarterback — included one running back, one tight end, two offensive tackles, three linebackers, one defensive end, two defensive backs and one defensive lineman.

At the invitation-only Elite 11 Regional Football Camp held last March in Houston, Renfro opened some eyes with his performance. He was named as the Most Valuable Player among the approximately 80 quarterbacks competing in that event for exposure with the college scouts.

In Stephenville’s 11 games this past season, Renfro passed for 2,372 yards (an average of 215.6 per game) and 17 touchdowns. He completed almost 60 percent of his throws (156 of 263), with 11 interceptions.

The Jackets had an incredibly tough schedule, including a non-district contest versus Argyle to open the season and their district matchup against defending state champion Waco La Vega. The Jackets finished the season at 6-5 when they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Argyle.

“I really do believe he was playing his best football down the stretch,” Doty said of the 2019 campaign, which was his first as the Yellow Jackets’ coach.

Renfro earned three varsity letters in football, and even had some playing time at quarterback his sophomore year. He helped lead the way to a 7-4 record as a starter his junior year in 2018, passing for 1,502 yards.

Renfro and his parents, Justin and Stephanie Renfro, live near Desdemona on a ranch. His older brother, Kase, played football with the Yellow Jackets through his junior year, and graduated last May.