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STOVALL: School spirit lives on after playing days are done

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

With each story and event I cover and each player, coach, racer, parent or fan I encounter, I’m further reminded of how much high school sports means to this community.

It further hits home when I see former high school standouts who are either a few months or several years removed from their alma maters return to show their faces again.

What makes it truly impressive is the fact that these players don’t just care about the hallowed halls of the schools they personally walked through.

They love their entire county — the whole Southern Crescent area — enough to where they are more than willing to spread the wealth of knowledge and their collegiate — and in some cases, professional — experiences with anyone who will listen.

I saw it first hand Monday when observing defending Class A football champion Eagle’s Landing Christian’s summer workout. As 50 ELCA athletes were littered across the practice fields, I noticed one who was noticeably bigger and more mature looking than the rest.

He donned a San Francisco 49ers shirt, and looked like he could’ve easily made the roster. Turns out I was almost right. He was Jamal Patterson. Stanford graduate, now 49er hopeful.

The former product of Henry County High came to ELCA fresh out of San Francisco’s minicamp to share his expertise with the Chargers. But what was striking about it was the fact that he didn’t see himself as a super star to the ELCA kids.

It was almost as if he considered himself an equal.

“I learn from these guys just like I hope they learn from me,” said Patterson, a 2009 graduate of Henry County. “I get out here and workout with these guys, and it’s better than just being somewhere working out by myself. It’s kind of an iron sharpens iron sort of thing.”

How remarkable that Patterson doesn’t view his “iron” as anything bigger, better or sharper than the students he visits.

Thursday at a 7-on-7 passing “friendly” between Locust Grove and Strong Rock, I saw Patterson again. This time, he was out supporting his cousin, Locust Grove freshman Noah Holland.

Patterson also has another cousin who plays for Henry. He said he’d be there Thursday evening for a tournament that some of the Warhawks were playing in.

I think it speaks a lot to the humility of these athletes, as well as the love these athletes have for their schools and the legacies that they’ve built over the years.

Jonesboro has the Douglas brothers, Harry (Atlanta Falcons) and Toney (now with the Golden State Warriors). Former North Clayton star, and current Green Bay Packer Morgan Burnett will be in town this weekend for a football camp.

Former Forest Park and Pittsburgh Steelers star Hines Ward has a street in Forest Park named after him. He’s given back generously to the Forest Park community and high school in the past.

And even players who are just recently removed from their high schools like former Lovejoy players Jermaine Hough (Jacksonville State) and Rico McWilliams (South Carolina) find joy in coming back and sharing with the up-and-comers who are either trying to carry on or rebuild the legacy that their star-studded predecessors began.

I talked with Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield Thursday morning after some of his linemen were wrapping up a workout, and he remarked how the talent in the Southern Crescent has risen considerably over his 21 years of coaching in the area.

I can’t help but to think it’s because the area’s stars are unselfish enough to come back to town and allow those who look up to them to get an up close and personal gaze, perhaps allowing some of their success and drive to rub off on them.

Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald Newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1