Photo by Jerry Jackson
Lovejoy senior players Tyrell Brown (No. 1), Zane Fields, (7), and Travis Custis, (22), lead the podium with coach Al Hughes after accepting the Class AAAAAA runner-up trophy following their loss to Norcross in the championship game at the Georgia Dome.
There were triumph victories and near misses. Some local athletes played on the big stage of a high school state championship and one who made it to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.
This year’s sports accomplishments includes a high-round NFL draft choice and a 16-year-old tennis phenom that turned pro.
There was no state title winner, but Lovejoy football and Drew boys basketball gave it a shot. Former North Clayton golf star Mariah Stackhouse closed out a standout career with an individual title. The Clayton News Daily sports staff takes a look at the biggest moments of the 2012 sports season:
1. Lovejoy football makes the state finals — again
With the return of 16 starters, there was no question that Lovejoy was going to be a quality team this season. The question was if the Wildcats could compete in the highest classification against some traditional powerhouses in South Georgia and Gwinnett County.
After a 13-2 record and trip to the state finals, the Wildcats more than answered that question. A star-studded roster of Div. I caliber players carried the Wildcats back to the Georgia Dome where they lost 21-14 to Norcross in the finals. The Wildcats would hold the lead in that game until the fourth quarter. To prepare his team for the grueling playoffs in the state’s highest class, coach Al Hughes put together a challenging non-region schedule that included a trip to Moultrie to take on Colquitt County, where the Wildcats lost 14-7, after having two touchdowns called back because of penalties.
In the course of reaching the finals, Hughes became the first coach to lead a Clayton County team to back-to-back final appearances. He also became the first county coach to win 100 games. In addition, Lovejoy won its third straight region title and has compiled a 26-0 record against region competition during that span.
The Wildcats entered the season not ranked among the state’s Top 10, but that quickly changed when they give Colquitt County all it could handle in that earlier season loss. Lovejoy garnered enough votes to be ranked, and stayed in the rankings throughout the season as they mounted a 12-game winning streak.
2. Cordy Glenn becomes Southern Crescent’s highest NFL draftee
When Riverdale native Cordy Glenn’s name was called early in last April’s NFL draft, the former University of Georgia offensive lineman became of history in the Southern Crescent.
Picked 41st overall by the Buffalo Bills, the 6-foot-5, 348-pound player from Riverdale High School became a part the highest player ever selected from the Southern Crescent in the draft. The previous highest was former North Clayton star Morgan Burnett, who was selected 71st overall in the third round of the 2010 draft by the Green Bay Packers.
During his career with the Bulldogs, Glenn spent most of his first three season playing guard before making the switch to tackle in his final season. At Georgia, Glenn had 50 starts, including 18 at left tackle, in 53 career games. Leading up to the draft, many had projected Glenn to go as high as the first round. In his last season at Georgia, Glenn was part of a Bulldogs offense that averaged 244.5 yards passing and 408.5 total yards last season. For his career, he was credited with registering 63 blocks that resulted in touchdowns.
“I’m surprised he was still here,” ESPN NFL analyst and Super Bowl-winning coach Jon Gruden said. “He was a legit first round pick.”
Prior to his college career, Glenn played for Riverdale from 2003-07, playing under head coaches Nick Davis, Kevin Jones and Jamie Reed. He was a freshman and sophomore on the Raiders' last state playoff teams.
By the time he was a junior in high school, Glenn weighed just shy of 300 pounds and quickly became a coveted prospect. He was a four-star prospect by several recruiting websites, one of the top 150 high school seniors in the Class of 2008 and signed with Georgia over offers from Alabama, LSU and South Carolina.
It marked the second straight year that a former player from Riverdale was drafted. In 2011, former Raiders lineman Will Rackley was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round with the 76th pick overall.
3. Jonesboro boys and girls teams make Final Four
Jonesboro became the first school in county history to have both its boys and girls basketball teams appear in the state semifinals in the same season. The Lady Cardinals won 13 straight games to reach the semifinals for only the second time in school history, its first since 2009. Jonesboro, under coach Michael House, lost 51-35 to Southwest DeKalb at the Gwinnett Arena last March. The team finished with a 25-6 record. It was the first time the team had been back to the playoffs since that final four run during the 2009 season.
For the boys, it was the second straight semifinals appearance. The Cardinals lost to powerhouse Miller Grove, which featured state player of the year Tony Parker. It was the second straight season that the Dan Maehlman-coached team lost to Miller Grove, which went on to win its fourth straight Class AAAA title. Jonesboro, a guard-oriented team, finished the season with a 26-5 record.
It was a two-year process for the girls team to get back into the state tournament.
In House’s first season, a year after the Lady Cardinals reached the semifinals, Jonesboro dropped to 13-13 after graduating three starters.
During the 2010-11 season, Jonesboro dropped to 11-15 with several underclassmen in the line-up.
Last season, they finally put it together to win the Region 4-AAAA title and reach the semifinals.
A week after a dramatic comeback against region foe Lovejoy in the quarterfinals, the boy’s team didn’t have an answer for the much-taller Miller Grove squad. Jonesboro only had one starter over 6-foot-6 in its lineup, which allowed Parker to dominate the paint.
4. Drew plays for boys basketball state title
In only its fourth year of existence, Drew made a name for itself on the state level with an appearance in the Class AAA title game. The Titans lost to powerhouse Columbia in the finals at the Macon Coliseum. It was the first time since 2003, when Jonesboro lost to Wheeler in the Class AAAAA finals, that a county team had played for a championship.
Coach Jarrod Davis built this team from an incoming group of freshman and a couple transfer players. He also had an offensive lineman turned center to man the paint. The Titans (28-5) became the first team in school history to play for a championship.
A collection of eight talented seniors won the Region 5-AAA title en route to the classification championship game. The previous season, Drew lost in the quarterfinals in its first trip to the state playoffs.
5. North Clayton reaches basketball semifinals
Armed with one of the top players in Class AAAA and the state, North Clayton won its first region championship since 1993. Marcus Hunt became one of the best players in North Clayton history by finishing his four-year career with 2,189 points. Aside from his individual accomplishments, Hunt helped the team win the Region 4-AAAA title after a 19-year title drought.
The Eagles, who finished the season with a 20-11 record, lost 74-67 to Southwest DeKalb in the state semifinals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center. Hunt finished the game with 40 points against fifth-ranked Southwest’s star-studded lineup.
For the first three quarters, Southwest DeKalb cruised as it built a 53-42 lead going into the final quarter.
At that point, North Clayton started to make a game of it.
The Eagles pulled to within 58-57 when point guard Dionte Agard hit a jumper with 4:25 remaining. However, North Clayton could get no closer.
“We kept pushing it,” said Hunt, who had signed with Georgia Tech earlier in the season. “We played hard the entire game. I think we proved a lot of people wrong this season that didn't think we would make it this far.”
It was the first time since 2007 that North Clayton had made it to the semifinals.
6. Drew has first football signing class
For most college football junkies, National Signing Day is almost like a holiday. It is the day that high school seniors can officially sign their college scholarship offers.
Drew finally joined in on the festivities when six former players signed their letter-of-intent in front of a small gathering in the school’s media center. Coming off its first-ever state playoff appearance, the anticipation was building for this day.
Signing scholarships on February 1, was Bradley Street (Alabama State), Eric Ansley (Marshall), Devon Miller (Catawba), Antonio Garcia (Troy), Jadarius West (Hutchinson Community College), and Trey Stallworth (Alabama State). This was the team’s first senior class since opening in 2009 as the county’s newest school.
The first player in school history to sign an athletic scholarship was Precious Person, when she signed with Rutgers in November of 2011.
Drew played without the luxury of a senior class its first three years, but the team was still able to have some football success. It followed the first varsity season with a playoff team in 2011. The school opened with a combination of students pulled from the North Clayton and Riverdale districts.
7. Mariah Stackhouse closes career with title
When she competes in the Georgia High School Association state golf tournament, it is a safe bet Mariah Stackhouse will win it.
The North Clayton senior closed her career by firing a 5-under-par 67 at Bartram Trails Golf Course in Augusta for a four-shot win in Class AAAA on May 7. The Stanford signee wrapped up her decorated high school career with a third state title.
She won Class AAAA as a freshman (2009) and sophomore (2010). Stackhouse did not compete in the state tournament in 2011 because of a scheduling conflict.
“I knew I wanted to go out and win, and I also knew it was my senior year,” Stackhouse said, “so I wanted to shoot a lower number into the 60s and show everyone that I’ve improved.”
At the 2012 tournament, Stackhouse had three bogeys, but she made up for those miscues with six birdies and an eagle on the par-5-No. 4.
The 2012 win was her largest margin of victory at the GHSA state tournament. As a freshman, she shot a 71 for a one-shot win, and her 72 as a sophomore gave her a two-shot victory.
“It feels good,” Stackhouse said. “Especially after having not been able to win last year. I wanted to come back and see if I could reclaim the title.”
8. Rodney Smith has breakout season and knee injury
Most fans around the county know Rodney Smith as a slick fielding second baseman on the Mundy’s Mill baseball team. But after a breakout season on the gridiron, Smith has made a name for himself as one of the top underclassmen in the area.
He rushed for 1,575 yards in only nine games for the Tigers, who came within a game of making the state playoffs. Smith sustained a torn ACL injury in the first quarter of the Tigers win at Ola. He had already rushed for 196 yards on seven carries in the game.
The junior running back recently had knee surgery and will likely miss this upcoming baseball season. He is expected to rehab in time for next football season. As a sophomore, Smith was named all-region after helping the team reached the baseball playoffs.
9. Taylor Townsend,16, turns pro
Taylor Townsend has played all over the world as a top-ranked tennis player. She has drawn comparisons to some of the top professional players. The one-time Drew High student and daughter of the school’s principal has been called one of the up-and-comers in the tennis world.
Earlier in December, the 16-year-old standout decided to pursue her tennis career full-time when she elected to turn pro. She joined Lagardere Unlimited and will accompany a list of top tennis players that include World Tennis Association’s No. 1 player Victoria Azarenka and previously top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.
Sports Illustrated featured the Stockbridge resident as a “Future Game Changer” in its July issue.
Townsend, currently the No. 1 junior player in the world, won girls singles and doubles titles in the 2012 Australian Open while also snagging crowns in Wimbledon and US Open Junior doubles. She was a member of the USA’s winning 2012 Junior Fed Cup team.
Gary Townsend said Taylor felt like turning pro was the logical next step to advance her career.
“I think it’s what she wanted,” he said. “It’s a good time for her. She’s accomplished about everything she possibly could accomplish on the junior level. She’s young, she’s strong and I think it’s a good time. This now gives her opportunity to get paid for what she does.”
10. Former Lovejoy player makes Olympic team
Most fans around the county know Rodney Smith as a sIt is not too often that an athlete from the Southern Crescent makes an Olympic team, but former Lovejoy basketball guard Mike Lenzly made that accomplishment. Lenzly, who was born in Oxford, England in 1981, made the Great Britain Olympic team for the 2012 Games.
Ironically, the Olympics were played in London this past summer. Great Britain went 1-4 before being eliminated from the competition. After a solid career at Lovejoy, the 6-foot-2 shooting guard played at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He has been selected to the Wofford College Athletics Hall of Fame.
Lenzly currently plays professionally in the Czech Republic.