Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers.
During Clayton County football’s media day this summer, Al Hughes was readily vocal about it. New Mount Zion head coach Ervin Starr was convinced about it. Drew coach Jarrett Laws was downright adamant about it.
Clayton County knows good football. Clayton County has played good football, and Clayton County has produced exceptional football players who have gone on to excel at the sport’s highest level.
On Tuesday, the Georgia High School Football Daily came out with a list of former Georgia high school football players that made this season’s opening-day rosters in the National Football League. With 91 players, Georgia trails only California (207), Texas (200) and Florida (189) for the state that boasts the most players.
Stephenson leads Georgia with five players. Marist had four, and Statesboro and Sandy Creek are tied for third, sporting three NFL players a piece.
But here’s where Clayton County can stick its chest out a bit. Of the 10 schools in Georgia that have at least two active NFL players this year, Clayton County has two of them.
Former North Clayton standouts Morgan Burnett (Green Bay Packers) and Kyle Love (New England Patriots), and Riverdale alums Cordy Glenn (Buffalo Bills) and Will Rackley (Pittsburgh Steelers) represent the county well.
Burnett, drafted in the third round of the 2010 draft, missed much of his rookie season when he tore his ACL shortly after recording his first interception in Week Two of the that season. He still got a Super Bowl ring as the Packers would go on to beat the Steelers that year for the title.
Love, despite being an undrafted free agent in 2010, has become an increasingly integral part of the Patriots defense, tallying 33 tackles and three sacks as a defensive tackle who played in all 16 regular season games last year.
Glenn and Rackley are both Riverdale grads. Rackley is currently on the Steelers’ injured reserve, while Glenn, picked by the Bills in the second round of the 2012 draft, has been their starting left tackle so far this season.
Glenn is the highest drafted player from the Southern Crescent.
Add to that list former Jonesboro star and current Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglass and Lovejoy’s second all-time leading rusher Tashard Choice now with the Buffalo Bills, and Clayton County should hold its own in the discussion of the state’s NFL-caliber talent.
Still it seems that Clayton County continues to get the stepchild treatment — especially when the scope of comparison narrows to just the metro Atlanta area.
Maybe the current, less-than-flattering perception of Clayton County in other areas trickles over into how people view its football talent.
Over the years, the county has endured school board scandals and loss of accreditation that have marred the school system’s reputation.
Would people really downplay Clayton’s football success because of school system struggles? Laws believes it isn’t a stretch.
“That seemed to make people think that we are inferior,” Laws said during media day. “It seems to translate over to the football field, as if we’ve had a subpar brand of football.”
The list of former Clayton stars who are now current NFL standouts should suggest otherwise.
Laws believes that the true respect won’t come until a Clayton county school wins a state title. Morrow was the county’s last state champion, back in 1987. Lovejoy was a Class AAAA state runner-up last season.
I believe it shouldn’t take all of that. High school teams have won championships with hardly a trace of NFL-caliber athletes on their rosters.
And the Clayton County natives that are getting major clock on NFL rosters aren’t exactly glorified waterboys.
Four of the six players are either starting for their teams or have had some extensive experience on an NFL squad’s starting lineup.
The future looks bright as well for the county. Lovejoy alone has five players committed to playing Division I football in 2013.
In a few years, the Wildcats could be Clayton County’s Stephenson. Jonesboro’s Cameron Sutton (Tennessee) and Taurean Ferguson (Vanderbilt) are headed to play for arguably the best college football conference in the land.
And there are others — talented high school freshman and sophomores who may be poised for NFL greatness beyond our current knowledge.
After a little over a year of covering football in this area, I feel safe in saying that I’ve seen some of the best football players Georgia has to offer.
And my advice to anyone who would beg to differ is this:
Don’t judge a county just by its titles.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielCStovall