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Jersey numbers special to football players

By Jeffery Armstrong

For years, football coaches have told their players to represent the name that's on the front of the jersey (the name of the school or pro team), not the name on the back of the jersey (the players' last names).

Well, for high school football players, there's no last name on their jerseys, so what's important to them is the jersey's number. Many players pick a certain number because it means something to them; some players are handed numbers by their coaches, but use that number to signify something they like.

North Clayton High's Donnell Sanders was one of those players whose jersey number was picked by his head coach Don Shockley.

"We picked Donnell's jersey (No. 51) because it was a long, steady process of making him a defensive end," Shockley said. "We gave him a number of a defensive tackle at first, then got him his current number now."

Sanders, a junior defensive end, is okay with his current number because one of his favorite NFL players wears it.

"51 is Takeo Spikes' (of the Buffalo Bills) number and he's at the top of the list of my favorite NFL players," Sanders said. "I like having his number."

North Clayton senior defensive tackle Reginald Fountain wears No. 56, just like former NFL star Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants.

"I try to be the best at my position like he was the best when he was playing," Fountain said.

Several other Clayton and Henry county football players choose numbers that are the same as their favorite players in the NFL.

Riverdale High defensive players Matt Griffin and Corey Jones-Edwards both chose numbers of current NFL players Warren Sapp (Oakland Raiders) and DeAngelo Hall (Atlanta Falcons).

"Warren Sapp is my favorite player and I wear No. 99 in honor of him," Griffin, a defensive tackle, said. "I try to play just like him."

Jones-Edwards, a cornerback, wears No. 4 like the Falcons' cornerback Hall and for another reason.

"It also stands for four years of hard work," Jones-Edwards said.

Martez Austin and Christian Twiggs of Henry County High also wear the same numbers of they're favorite NFL players. Austin, a junior fullback, wears No. 40 like fullback Mike Alstott of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Twiggs, a junior running back, wears No. 30 like former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis.

"Mike Alstott is one of my idols in the NFL. He and I have the same initials, we play the same position and we have the same birthday," said Austin, whose birthday is Dec. 21.

"Davis was one of my favorite players back in the day," Twiggs said.

People close to some football players have been the inspiration for the jersey numbers. Mundy's Mill junior running back Erroll Wynn chose No. 2 because he remembers watching former Lovejoy running back Tashard Choice run well with that number.

"When it's all said and done, I want people to remember me as the best No. 2 in this area," Wynn said.

Riverdale seniors Aaron Smith (44) and David Knight (53) have worn their numbers ever since they were young.

"I wore 53 my very first year playing football as a kid and I made sure i had it during my senior year," Knight said. "It could be my last year with it if i don't get a scholarship."

Some guys have unique reasons to wear their numbers. Senior Riverdale running back Normiez Reeves wears No. 5 because he graduates in 2005. His senior teammate, free safety Marquis Hargrove, chose No. 8 because that number never ends and he hopes his football career can do the same.

Mundy's Mill junior middle linebacker Afu Okosun chose No. 1 because he is the leader of the defense and he had to show people he was serious about his game. Okosun's junior teammate Kerry Leonard, a free safety, chose No. 8 because he wanted to stand out.

Perhaps the most inspirational use of a jersey number is the No. 12 worn by North Clayton kicker Shaka Bangura. The senior wears 12 in memory of his late cousin Brima Attgagu Bangura, who played pro soccer in his home country of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

"Every time I put my jersey on, I think of him and what he did for me over the years," Bangura said.