By Rory Sharrock
There's no denying the fact that the Southern Crescent is loaded with talented student-athletes.
This past academic year, every school in the region featured several players signing college scholarships to continue their education and athletic careers on the next level.
While in the past there have been a host of local athletes that have made headway in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), a little known secret that is spreading like wildfire is the pipeline from the region to Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland in the North Georgia mountains.
"Our coaches have always recruited North Georgia and the greater Atlanta area. When they (TMC coaches) find kids that are good students and athletes, it makes other aspects of the coach's job easier," said Truett-McConnell director of athletics David Elder. "The coaches also work to build a good rapport with the high school coaches and that helps to add to their recruiting foundation."
Currently, there are six former local high school players enrolled at Truett-McConnell College competing on various sports teams including freshmen Amber Young (Stockbridge, softball), Shaquana Bleach (Morrow, women's basketball) and sophomores T.J. Foster (Union Grove, men's soccer), Christian White from (Eagle's Landing Christian Academy, baseball), Clint Harrison (Henry County, baseball) and Noah Watkins (Union Grove, baseball).
This mighty six pack will have some company next semester with basketball star Brandon Hosley, soccer phenoms Lamin Sawaneh, Brian Garcia, Michaela Dabney and Katie Stuart, all of which hail from Jonesboro, hoopsters D'Amber Hood of Dutchtown and Alexandria Lett of Morrow, right-hand pitcher Charles Williams Jr. of Stockbridge as well as Union Grove baseball teammates Josh Flippin and Micah Jones help add to the local flare on campus.
"I really like that it's a small environment. I can get my work done and it's a better learning opportunity for me because of the smaller classrooms," said Lett. "When the coach (Carlie Anderson) showed me around, I really felt comfortable and I knew it was the school for me."
Truett-McConnell College is a small Baptist school and a member of the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association (GJCAA).
The school participates in nine sports including baseball, golf, cross country, fast-pitch softball along with men's and women's basketball and soccer.
While there will be several familiar faces on campus, along with the student-athletes, the men's and women's head basketball coaches also have ties to the community. Both Cory Baldwin and Carlie Anderson spent time playing and coaching at Clayton State University before calling Truett-McConnell College home.
Baldwin just wrapped up his second season coaching the Bears where he finished 19-10 and 5-7 in conference play.
At Clayton State, he served as an assistant for five years under Gordon Gibbons from 2001 to 2006.
During his stint under Gibbons in Morrow, the Lakers went 97-49 and became a household name in the Peach Belt Conference.
With such a glorious past in the Southern Crescent, it's no wonder he came back during his recruiting trip and landed Hosley, who led Jonesboro in scoring this past season.
"They've been recruiting me since my 11th grade year.
They really showed me a lot of love and support, so I chose this school," said Hosley.
Anderson, however, not only worked as an assistant coach at Clayton State, but she also was a player on the Lady Lakers' squad.
In her lone coaching year under Dennis Cox, she was a part of the greatest women's team in Clayton State history. Anderson was an assistant on the Lady Lakers' 2007 magical ride that took them to the Division II Women's Final Four.
As a player, she was a lethal 3-point shooter, setting a school single-game record by connecting on eight shots from behind the arc. Anderson holds the all-time mark with games played at 117 and 3-point attempts with 470. She also ranks second in 3-point field goals made with 131.
Anderson, who graduated from Clayton State in 2006, concluded her rookie season with the Truett-McConnell Lady Bears with an 11-16 mark and 4-8 in the GJCAA.