Before the signing formalities took place Wednesday morning, Conway Christian football coach and athletic director Michael Carter furnished an introductory challenge to the student body assembled in Eagle gymnasium.

"The very first thing college coaches ask me about a recruit is ‘What kind of character does he have?’" Carter said. "That was easy for me with Andrew (Dather) and Tanner (Stevenson). Their character is off the charts. They’ve set the example young athletes need to follow."

Stevenson, a quarterback, will go across town to join the University of Central Arkansas program. Dather, a wide receiver, signed with Harding University, which has been recruiting him since the beginning of his high school career.

"These two are very talented in what they do, but they are also high-character guys," Carter said. "In 20-something years of coaching, Andrew Dather is probably the best overall athlete I’ve ever coached. He’s going to be a difference-maker for the Harding program.

"Tanner has a huge upside, and we’ve seen that from his sophomore to junior years," Carter said. "He’s just been a quarterback for two years. I think he’s a perfect fit for UCA’s offense and he’s still learning. He also may be the most high-character, God-fearing young man I’ve been associated with. He’s taught me things. And this get coaches’ attention when I tell them that."

Stevenson passed for 5,564 yards in a two-year career at quarterback. He rushed for 1,401 yards and accounted for 87 touchdowns. Dather, on the receiving end of most of Stevenson’s passes, had 2,703 career yards in receptions and 51 touchdowns. He ran for 17 more scores.

"I liked the character of the coaching staff and the atmosphere there," said Dather about Harding. "Their staff really kept on contacting me and made me feel they really wanted me to play for me. So, it was an easy decision to choose Harding."

Stevenson’s mother (Libby) played basketball for coach Ron Marvel and the UCA Sugar Bears.

He will be an invited non-scholarship player at UCA, the same status in which Seth Allison, an all-conference linebacker, began his career. He cannot be listed on UCA’s official recruiting list until he is admitted to the university.

"It was a great opportunity to stay at home and play for a Division I football team," he said. "Their offense fits well to what I’ve been doing the last two years and I’m looking forward to growing more and learning in what they do."

(David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or