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Southern Crescent is springboard for pro athletes

By Doug Gorman

I'm often asked by friends and family members how many former high school athletes from my coverage area have gone on to play in the pros?

I'm never really sure how to answer that question because I don't really know. To be honest, I have never been star struck around professional athletes, so I guess that's why I've never kept a running tally.

If you stay in the sports writing business long enough, it's only logical former high school athletes will make it to the major leagues, NFL or some other professional league.

Still, this has been a very good year for professional athletes with ties to the Southern Crescent.

Both Kyle Davies and Matt Murton made their major league debuts this summer. Anybody who watched Davies pitch at Stockbridge High School and Murton play for both Eagle's Landing and Georgia Tech shouldn't be surprised by their rapid climb to the Majors. They have always been great competitors.

Even though Davies has split his time between Atlanta and the minors, and Murton with the Cubs and their farm system, both former area high school stars have made the most of their rookie seasons.

In high school, Davies was a hard-throwing pitcher who drew scouts to his games every time he pitched. Murton had the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat, and often did.

Although Davies went to the pros straight out of high school, and Murton after three stellar years as a member of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, both have had a rapid rise to the big leagues.

Their first-year major league numbers indicate both should have productive careers.

Through Tuesday night, Murton was batting .333 with two home runs and five RBIs.

Davies deserves plenty of credit for helping the battered and bruised Braves' pitching staff through some rough times this season. His 7-3 record and 57 strikeouts proves he could be in the majors to stay.

Although the Braves are using Davies as a middle reliever right now, it's only a matter of time before he finds a regular spot in the team's starting rotation.

Davies and Murton aren't the only professional athletes with ties to the Southern Crescent.

Perhaps the best is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Although I wasn't here to watch Ward's heroics at Forest Park, his 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns his senior year are still being talked about.

Ward isn't just a good receiver, he's a great receiver. The four-time Pro Bowler, who also enjoyed a great career at the University of Georgia, is about to become the Steeleers' all-time leading receiver. That puts him in big company when you stop to think great receivers like Lynn Swann once played for the team.

Ward should close out his career with the Steelers after signing a four-year deal this week.

Race car driver and Stockbridge resident Jimmy Kite has been making a successful living on the Indy racing circuit for years. This year, he also started driving on the NASCAR truck series.

Over the years, Kite has raced in the Indy 500, won five various racing series titles and pocketed more than a million dollars.

Like the rest of these athletes, he's also a class act.

Who knows who the next professional athlete will be? With college's full of athletes from this area, and minor league-racing circuits also home to drivers from the Southern Crescent, the professional athlete pipeline will no doubt continue.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor for the Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com )