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PERFECT PLAYER: Building the Southern Crescent’s ideal athlete

Staff illustration

Staff illustration

College coaches make annual trips to the Southern Crescent area to scout a deep talent base.

This season has produced another talent crop of players at all positions. There is an abundance of strong-armed quarterbacks, top-notch receivers and gifted running backs.

Did we mention speed?

The Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald sports staff searched the area to put together the perfect player. Taking the best attributes of six players from the area, a perfect player was pieced together.

LEADERSHIP

On a team with all-state caliber players and major college recruits, Lovejoy defensive lineman Nathaniel Norwood is not afraid to take charge.

He’s usually the first player on the practice field, and the most vocal one for the 10th-ranked Wildcats.

“He gets after it,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes says.

Not only is Norwood, who has committed to play at Jacksonville State, a vocal leader, but he also leads by example. The undersized defensive lineman is one of the team’s top tacklers.

While his natural position is linebacker, Norwood sacrifices himself for the team as he plays on the interior defensive line.

ARM

Donovahn Jones was still three years away from playing quarterback for Dutchtown High School and yet already the training began.

The summer before Jones entered high school in 2009, he spent countless hours in the gym with varsity head coach Jason Galt, a former college quarterback. Together, they started to re-program Jones from an athletic middle school quarterback into a true varsity-caliber thrower.

“At first it was hard,” Jones said.

Indeed, Galt spared no detail. They started with Jones’ grip on the football — moving his pinkie finger to the third lace from the bottom — and covered everything from footwork to mechanics to vision.

Now, Jones can throw the ball over 60 yards on the first try, can read defensive coverages and make a variety of passes. Though he committed to Missouri to play wide receiver, several colleges recruited the 6-foot-3, 185-pounder to play quarterback.

“Last year, I didn’t really trust my arm,” Jones said. “Now, I trust it.”

HANDS

Arshad Jackson is a big target.

The 6-foot-6, 235-pound senior can be an imposing figure for most high school defensive backs who are usually much smaller.

He is listed as a tight end, but Jackson is more of a hybrid-type receiver who can stretch the field. Although he only has seven receptions this season, Lovejoy quarterback Alejandro Bennifield knows he is a reliable player in the clutch.

Jackson, who also plays on the basketball team, scored the team’s only touchdown in last season’s state championship game at the Georgia Dome.

He has committed to play at Auburn next season.

UPPERBODY

There is no questioning Travis Custis’ work ethic when it comes to the weight room. And it shows on the football field.

“I got to get that work in every day,” said the Lovejoy senior running back.

The 6-0, 212-pound record-setting running back is one of the top running back prospects in the state. Last season, he rushed for 1,839 yards and 30 touchdowns.

He proved to be really durable because of his dedication to the weight room. Custis benches 395 pounds and squats 435 pounds.

It usually takes a couple defenders to bring him down.

Custis, who has committed to play at Georgia Tech, owns the majority of the Lovejoy rushing records.

LEGS

Compact and powerful are probably the best descriptions for North Clayton running back La’Darrius Mathis.

The senior is only 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds but is considered one of the top running backs in the Southern Crescent. Against Grady last week, Mathis had two rushing touchdowns and a touchdown reception as the Eagles comeback attempt failed.

“La’Darrius has that ability that you can’t teach,” North Clayton coach Max Wiltz said. “He is real strong. This season, he has become more of a leader.”

On the season, Mathis has 222 yards rushing in two games.

FEET

Taurean Ferguson is a football player with track speed.

The senior wide receiver/defensive back was more known for his track accomplishments more than his football honors before the season begin. Ferguson was the 110-meters hurdle runner-up last spring at the state meet. He also finished third in the 300 hurdles.

Ferguson gives the Cardinals a deep threat with his speed at wide receiver. In addition, he has the ability to cover receivers because of his speed.

This past spring, he gave a verbal commitment to play football at Vanderbilt.