Attention Southern Crescent, your athletic talent stock is rising, and investors — aka college recruiters — are starting to take notice.
No longer can football be taken lightly south of Atlanta and north of Macon. ELCA, Stockbridge and Dutchtown. Lovejoy, Jonesboro and Riverdale.
The athletes that grace these teams’ rosters look like men. And judging by the recent playoff appearances and championships, they are playing like men too.
College recruiters are now, more than ever, raiding the two-county area for it’s talent — and coaches.
Consider Stockbridge. Between two players alone — Kendarius Webster and safety Javon Brandon — you have almost 30 scholarship offers.
Locust Grove’s Cortez McDowell is consistently rated as one of the top safety prospects in the nation. Webster isn’t too far away. Lovejoy’s DeMarques Gates already as committed to Ole Miss — one of close to 35 schools that offered him.
In fact, as I mentioned in our new Southern Crescent sports blog, The Buzz (shameless plug) earlier this week, there are a eight of our players mentioned in the top 150 recruits based on a list from 247sports.com. They are:
McDowell (No. 9)
DE Andrew Williams, ELCA (No. 20)
Gates (No. 28)
OL Justin Brown, Lovejoy (No. 31)
Webster (No. 36)
WR Rashad Canty, Riverdale (No. 96)
QB Dalton Etheridge, ELCA (No. 101)
DE Chinedu Okonya, Riverdale (No. 117)
And these are just who they have mentioned. Often recruiting services only look to the title contending teams — the power programs — in order to fill out their lists of top flight talent.
But don’t let the records fool you.
Apparently 247sports.com has yet to discover Eagle’s Landing running back tandem, Corey Holloway and Sedrick Palmer.
Perhaps they’re not up on Jonesboro quarterback Mario Atkinson who was one of the most prolific passers in the area in 2012. Head-turning Mundy’s Mill running back Rodney Smith showed last year that his athletic chops aren’t just limited to the baseball diamond.
Before tearing an ACL, Smith almost single-handedly willed upstart Mundy’s Mill to its first playoff appearance since 2007. Or Dutchtown’s Rodell Shorter who’s big season at wide receiver last year is “garnering lots of interest from colleges,” according to new Bulldogs coach Kevin Jones.
Don’t forget Malik Barkley — also of Dutchtown — who, at running back, was recently voted to the Under Armour Rising Seniors football team. Then there’s Stockbridge running back Malik Bryan who seemed to get better as last season progressed, and Brandon who will also get a crack at starting quarterback duties for the Tigers. And Forest Park’s Brandon Williams may be the area’s best kept secret.
And those are mostly just skill players. Not to mention the two or three virtually unsung players that annually seem to emerge. There are more, especially in the trenches, and you’ll read about them later as the summer progresses.
But suffice it to say, these aren’t just the best football players in the area. These are some of the top athletes in state, and in some cases, the nation.
With at least four teams who could legitimately challenge for state championship runs in 2013, that means dozens of high-caliber players are dotting the landscape.
Hold your head up high and enjoy the ride, Southern Crescent. I have a feeling that the best is yet to come.
Gabriel Stovall covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @GabrielStovall1