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Tech football standouts offer advice to middle-school players

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Morgan Burnett still remembers playing in county championship games for North Clayton Middle School, but the results weren't what he would have liked them to be.

Before he was a standout at North Clayton High School, and starting games for Georgia Tech, Burnett was playing for the Tigers in the 2002 and 2003 Clayton County championship games. The Tigers lost both games, despite entering the 2002 game with a 5-3 record, and going in to the 2003 game with an undefeated record.

Now the Tigers have a chance to finally win the championship they didn't get when Burnett was a defensive player at the school. The team will play Riverdale Middle School for the 2007 championship, on Thursday at 6 p.m., at Twelve Oaks Stadium in Lovejoy. Admission to the game is $4 per person.

Burnett, and fellow Georgia Tech players, and Clayton County natives, Tashard Choice (Lovejoy High School) and Jamal Lewis (Jonesboro High School), surprised the Tigers with a visit to wish the team good luck in the championship game.

"It feels so good to see them playing for the championship again," said Burnett, before he spoke to the team. "Being back here makes me feel like I'm still a part of this team."

Burnett, Choice and Lewis fielded questions from members of North Clayton's football team about how the Georgia Tech players got to the college level.

The trio told team members that good grades, knowing what their priorities in life should be, and staying out of trouble, will help them become the college players of tomorrow.

"You cannot go around acting like a thug," Lewis said. "You have to get good grades in school, and be a good citizen in the community," he added.

"When you're in school, you should be focused on your school work," Burnett added. "Don't worry about football during that time. Football is for after school."

The Tech players also took a few questions about what it's like to play football in the college ranks, and how it compares to playing in Clayton County. Burnett used the game-day atmosphere of his first college game, at Notre Dame, to illustrate his point. "I told Jamal right before Kickoff, 'Man, this is nothing like playing at Tara Stadium.' "

North Clayton Middle School Coach Cepada Cloud, who was Burnett's middle school coach, said it fills him with pride to see Clayton County players, like Burnett, Choice and Lewis, representing the county every Saturday.

"It makes me proud to see a student from Clayton County go to a school like Georgia Tech and play football," Cloud said. "That represents excellence, not just on the football field, but in the classroom as well. We all know Georgia Tech is not the easiest school to get into. You have to have good grades to go there."

Finally, the college players urged the North Clayton Middle School youngsters to enjoy themselves during the game. "Just have fun out there, and play hard all four quarters," Choice told the Tigers.

For the players on North Clayton Middle School's team, the visit was more than just a group of college players coming back to give them advice. "It's nice to know, as a young player, that older players are looking down to you and making sure you keep your head on straight," said Dennis Johnson, the quarterback for the Tigers. "It means someone cares about us."