Special photo / Henry County’s Jamal-Rashad Patterson has an opportunity to be a big contributor this season for Stanford.
We warned you in August there’d be a local flavor to this college football season when we picked 10 Southern Crescent players to watch.
How’d they do?
Some aren’t done (it is bowl season after all), but here’s a look at how the Southern Crescent made its mark on Saturdays.
Gunn finished up a winding football journey — from Jones County to Luella to Georgia Military College and, lastly, to Georgia State. But the 6-foot-1, 185-pound defensive back made the most of his senior season. Gunn stepped into a starting role and finished with 56 tackles (42 solo), four tackles for loss, two interceptions and two pass break-ups. He more than doubled his tackle total from last season and finished his two-year career with the Panthers tied for the career record for interceptions (four). Certainly, Gunn and Georgia State would’ve like to go better than 1-10.
Herrera’s season is not over. The sophomore linebacker out of North Clayton gets one final game when Georgia takes on Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on New Year’s Day. That wasn’t the plan, though, when the Bulldogs went into the SEC Championship against No. 2 Alabama with a place in the BCS National Championship at stake. A 32-28 loss ruined that chance. But Herrera has been impressive nonetheless with 67 tackles (32 solo), two tackles for loss, two pass break-ups, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Georgia could lose as many as four linebackers this offseason to graduation and the NFL Draft. Georgia defense, say hello to your new leader.
A lot was expected of Johnson this season. The junior running back was coming off a nice sophomore year at Wofford. He’d rushed for 967 yards and nine touchdowns on 110 carries, leading the Southern Conference with 8.8 yards per carry. It put the Union Grove graduate on the College Football Performance awards watch list. Instead, Johnson was plagued by injuries — first to his toe, then to his knee — that forced him to miss three games. He finished the season with 499 yards and three touchdowns on 73 carries. The Terriers lost 14-7 to North Dakota State in the FCS playoffs.
William & Mary
He made history as the first true freshman wide receiver to play since 2005. How’d the former Ola star follow that up? By starting all 11 games and catching a team-high 55 passes for 897 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 1,130 all-purpose yards led the team. He had several 100-yard receiving games and a few multiple touchdown performances. His season earned him second team all-Colonial Athletic Association honors despite William & Mary finishing a disappointing 2-9 overall and 1-7 in conference. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder will return next season as one of the top playmakers in the conference.
Over three seasons, the former Henry County wide receiver had largely been unheard from. His career totals were hardly those expected of a four-star recruit — six catches for 66 yards. Patterson finally emerged this season. He caught 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, four carries for 59 yards and had a couple great moments. Like his 70-yard touchdown catch against Washington State. Or his 54-yard reception that set up a score in an overtime win against Arizona. Now, he has a chance to shine in the Rose Bowl.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder’s journey from Sandy Creek to Union Grove to Eagle’s Landing Christian is paying off at California. After a freshman season in which Sebastian’s duties were relegated to special teams, the defensive back started to make a name for himself. Sebastian started four out of 11 games this season and finished with 56 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and 1 pass break-up. In his first career start, Sebastian had 14 tackles against Arizona State. A disappointing 3-7 season cost Bears coach Jeff Tedford his job, but Sebastian was excited on Twitter about the hire of new coach Sonny Dykes.
It’s hard to follow up 174 tackles and two All-Big East awards in your first two seasons. So a “mere” 66 tackles, five pass break-ups, four forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 1.5 tackles for loss and second team All-Big East honors might feel like a step back. Ask Smith, a red-shirt junior defensive back from Riverdale, if he cares. His Louisville Cardinals are playing in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 against Florida and many consider him to be one of the top safety prospects for next year’s NFL Draft. That’s an impressive leap for Smith considering he was just a two-star recruit coming out of high school.
The former Union Grove offensive lineman had to enjoy 2012 more than last season. After going 3-7 a year ago, Richmond finished 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Those two conference losses were by a combined 12 points. And the year was filled with plenty of positives. Speir started in all 10 games he played and helped Richmond’s offense average 33.2 points and 411.8 yards per game. Even better, the Spiders’ offensive line allowed just five sacks all season and produced two 1,000-yard passers. Not to mention a 35-29 victory over then No 2-ranked James Madison.
He planned to have at least five interceptions himself. “I’m capable of more than that, but I’m going to be reasonable,” Sweeting said to Ramblinwreck.com before the season. Sweeting has zero in what has been a tough season for the Yellow Jackets’ defense. But the former Luella standout started all 13 games and has 55 tackles (42 solo), six tackles for loss, five pass break-ups and one sack. Sweeting had six tackles and a fumble recovery in Georgia Tech’s loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship. He has another chance to impress pro scouts against Southern California in the Sun Bowl.
The former Riverdale standout isn’t the only Southern Crescent graduate on the Eagles’ roster, but he was definitely the busiest. The junior defensive back started 12 out of 13 games, including Georgia Southern’s 23-20 loss to North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals. Westbrook finished with 43 tackles (32 solo), seven pass break-ups and two interception, including one he returned 72 yards for a touchdown against then No. 25-ranked Samford. That makes for career totals of 135 tackles, 16 pass break-ups and five interceptions. And Westbrook still has his senior year left to play.