All-class player of the year: Grayson’s Nkemdiche stands out like few others

Grayson football coach Mickey Conn remembers when he decided Robert Nkemdiche was special.

“It was the first time I saw him,’’ Conn said. “He was in the eighth grade. He returned a kickoff about 80 yards. He was 6-4 then, so he was twice the size of everybody on the field, and he could fly. It was pretty obvious.’’

It still is.

At 6-foot-4 ½ and 270 pounds with 4.6 speed over 40 yards, Nkemdiche stands out in a way that few underclassmen or defensive linemen have in Georgia high school football. He’s only the second junior ever to be named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-classification player of the year, an honor first given in 1981. Washaun Ealey of Emanuel County Institute was the first in 2007.

Nkemdiche is the son of Nigerians. His father is a doctor. His mother is a legislator in her native country who returns to Georgia only a few times a year. Their son didn’t start playing football until he was 13.

Five years later, Nkemdiche led Grayson to its first-ever state championship. He had 18 sacks and 18 other tackles behind the line of scrimmage this season.

His growing reputation – Nkemdiche is rated the No. 1 class-of-2013 college prospect in the nation by one recruiting site – drew conspicuous double- and triple-teaming, but it freed up talented teammates to dominate opposing offenses.

Grayson allowed 38 yards rushing per game. No player rushed for 100 yards. Only one team did it. Colquitt County had 101 yards in the semifinals.

But what made Nkemdiche stand out more was his impact on offense. He rushed for 528 yards and 17 touchdowns on 107 carries. In the Class AAAAA championship game against Walton, Nkemdiche carried eight times on Grayson’s first scoring drive on the way to a 24-0 victory.

“What he does on offense is harder to deal with than what he does on defense,’’ Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “It’s like a bowling ball. When it goes in there, they’re going to fall over. He’s as impressive a physical specimen as I’ve seen in 15 years of coaching.’’

Conn first began using Nkemdiche as a running back in the playoffs last season, when Grayson surprisingly reached the semifinals. It was more about short-yardage situations then.

Now, Nkemdiche might enter at any time. Conn said a big back is more effective in today’s game because so many defenses are designed to stop spread offenses. They’re faster, but not as physical.

“There were some games where we wanted to soften up a defense,’’ Conn said. “Nothing softens them up like a dose of Robert up the middle. It’s hard to stop 270 pounds running a 4.6.’’

Nkemdiche’s future will be interesting. Grayson returns nine starters on defense, a fact that depresses some opposing coaches.

“He has no business playing in high school,’’ Kell coach Derek Cook said after facing Nkemdiche in August. “He is ready for college right now, physically. He would be a candidate to go straight from high school to the NFL.’’

But Nkemdiche doesn’t talk much about recruiting or the NFL, Conn said. He has offers from Georgia to Oregon, but hasn’t narrowed his choices much.

“His humility is something that ought to be discussed, too,’’ Conn said. “He’s been getting this attention since he was in the tenth grade, but he’s grounded. He acts like a high school kid.’’

AJC all-classification players of the year:

2011 – DL Robert Nkemdiche, Grayson

2010 – QB Tim Byerly, Chattahoochee

2009 – WR Da’Rick Rogers, Calhoun

2008 – ATH Greg Reid, Lowndes

2007 – RB Washaun Ealey, ECI

2006 – DB Eric Berry, Creekside

2005 – QB Antonio Henton, Peach County

2004 – LB Tray Blackmon, LaGrange

2003 – RB Darius Walker, Buford

2002 – OL Zeb McKenzey, Parkview

2001 – DB Jeff Francouer, Parkview

2000 – RB Monte Williams, Commerce

1999 – LB Travis Harris, SW DeKalb

1998 – WR Reggie Brown, Carrollton

1997 – RB Joe Burns, Thomas County Central

1996 – RB Paul Freeman, Brookwood

1995 – QB Quincy Carter, SW DeKalb

1994 – LB Takeo Spikes, Washington County

1993 – RB Rod Perrymond and DL Travis Stroud, Dunwoody

1992 – QB Mike Bobo, Thomasville, and LB Marcus Williams, Valdosta

1991 – QB Rodney Hudson, LaGange

1990 – QB Eric Zeier, Marietta

1989 – RB Garrison Hearst, Lincoln County

1988 – RB Herbert Mingo, Clinch County

1987 – LB Curt Douglas, Lincoln County

1986 – QB Greg Talley, Valdosta

1985 – QB Billy Ray, Dunwoody

1984 – RB Keith Henderson, Cartersville

1983 – QB Vince Sutton, LaGrange

1982 – RB David McCluskey, West Rome

1981 – RB Ben Logue, North Springs

31 comments Add your comment


December 23rd, 2011
11:30 am

Nkemdiche is well deserving of the award.

Is there a top 5 or top 10 list to see how everyone finished up?


December 23rd, 2011
12:07 pm

remember all those guys well-He may very well be the best of the bunch..Most of those guys were successful college players and Henderson played on a Super Bowl team.


December 23rd, 2011
12:53 pm

He is a beast. Really enjoyed watching play a couple times this year. Would love to see him as a Dawg.


December 23rd, 2011
4:08 pm

if he enjoys all those hard practices in great weather, he should go to san diego state for college.

Lincoln County Dawg

December 23rd, 2011
4:39 pm

Sure would love to see the kid in Red and Black.

I believe it will take a phenomenal year by UGA, and a down year by Bama in 2012 in order for that wish to come true, however.

bitter chip towers

December 23rd, 2011
5:46 pm

uh!!!!—–1980—-hershal walker—-duh


December 23rd, 2011
6:57 pm


December 23rd, 2011
7:17 pm

Is he going to have the same vehicle allowance as the current Bama tailback?

Todd Holcomb

December 23rd, 2011
7:47 pm

BamaBornDukie – There’s no top 10 for the award. I can only say that Nkemdiche was a slam dunk. Some of the other contenders were Tyren Jones of Walton, Deshaun Watson of Gainesville, DeAngelo Brown of Savannah Christian, Taylor Lamb of Calhoun.

Todd Holcomb

December 23rd, 2011
7:50 pm

The AJC first awarded an all-class player of the year in 1981. Ben Logue was a big deal in his day. Went to Michigan, didn’t do squat as a player but graduated from there and did well for himself in business. If there had been a ‘80 winner, it would not have been Herschel. He was ‘79. In ‘80, probably would’ve been Cedric Jones of Lowndes or Robert Lavette of Cartersville. That’s old old school. :) Those guys scored a bunch of TD’s in college, too. Not as many as Herschel.


December 23rd, 2011
8:24 pm

I remember Ben Logue. In 1978-79 I was pup at Lakeside HS and had an unreal running back who would have been the all state selection by the name of Melvin Dorsey. Absolutely sinle handed destroyed Clarke Central, Griffin, etc. in the playoffs.


December 23rd, 2011
8:33 pm


Football Fan

December 23rd, 2011
8:43 pm

Hopefully UGA will get him. His brother is at Ole Miss, but they are terrible.


December 24th, 2011
4:20 am

We played against Logue in the 5 AA playoff, he was a bruiser, one of the best ever from the metro area. He should have stayed instate, he would’ve been worshipped instead of largely forgotten. Probably should’ve gone to Tech.


December 24th, 2011
9:42 am

I expect him to go to Ole Miss with his brother.

Special K

December 24th, 2011
12:38 pm

BAMA all the way.

A person SMART enough to know......

December 24th, 2011
2:12 pm

I expect he will be smarter than his brother and pick a school that is better in developing a STUDENT athlete. He may avoid the SEC schools all together. The kid is about as sure a lock for the NFL so he should get an Education first.

Jason English

December 24th, 2011
3:36 pm

Wow! This is no blog….you delete any post that does not align with your opinion. I would like our paper to have “good” blogs. People, as long as it is not offensive, should be able to participate. They can’t! You delete thim. Guess that I will e-mail Mr. Joseph, because you won’t respond. You just delete!

Bleed red

December 24th, 2011
8:19 pm

I can say this is the best football player to every play the game in ga and great sportsman ship hate to no teams have to face him one more year


December 25th, 2011
4:25 pm

Is there an all-class all-state team?

Ram Proud

December 25th, 2011
8:49 pm

I like being on the field after a Grayson game and watch Robert run around and hug everybody. Grounded as they come…

Monroe's First Redcoat

December 25th, 2011
11:18 pm

I got to cover a couple of Grayson games this year for “another service”, as they say. Nkemdiche is a man-mountain among boys. He looks like he’s sculpted from freaking granite, and he moves like someone a foot shorter and 130 pounds lighter. I look forward to seeing his senior year, and whoever lands him in college has an instant All-American in the flesh.


December 26th, 2011
5:22 am

@Bleed red: Nkemdiche is a great player, no doubt. But the best player to “every” play the game in Georgia (I assume you meant “ever”) was unquestionably Herschel Walker, who was also the best player ever to play the game in college. There is simply no comparison. He was, and still is, a genetic freak, the likes of which we may not see again in our lifetime. Case in point: Nkemdiche is 6′4″ and 270 and runs a 4.6 second forty. Herschel was 6′1″ and 220 running a 4.2 second forty–in 1979, when 300 pound linemen didn’t exist anywhere. He had a 48-inch vertical leap. Like Nkemdiche, Herschel was focused, driven and humble–and smart, finishing his senior year at Johnson County as class valedictorian. Just FYI. The year 1979 was a while back, but we should not have such short memories.

It’s interesting–the list of all-classification players includes four pretty good (i.e. All-Pro level) NFL players (Travis Stroud, Garrison Hearst, Takeo Spikes, Eric Berry),a few great college players who never did much in the pros (Eric Zeier, Mike Bobo, Reggie Brown, Keith Henderson, Joe Burns), one pretty good pro baseball player (Jeff Francouer) and a bunch of absolute washouts (i.e. Ben Logue, Tray Blackmon, Paul Freeman and, of course, Washaun Ealey). Seems this award is not predictive of greatness at the next level–but then again, I guess it shouldn’t be.


December 26th, 2011
8:10 am

Anyone ever considered if he was a legal GHSA player?? Not making accusation, just observation that he was 6′4″ in 8th grade and he’s 6″4.5″ now. He only grew half inch?? Reminds me of the 4 senior Aftricans that play basketball for Lanier County. Came in as freshmen and haven’t grown an inch their whole high school career. At 14 they were completely filled out, thick, facial haired young men. Just a thought.


December 26th, 2011
9:27 am

Rodney Hudson is a name I haven’t seen in a long time. He led LaGrange to a national championship back in 91… then he stole a computer or something and wooosh off the map he goes forever.


December 26th, 2011
9:31 am

heeldawg I agree with you… except for one thing.

“There is simply no comparison. He was, and still is, a genetic freak, the likes of which we may not see again in our lifetime. ”

physicaly there were and will be similar atheletes like Walker (granted not many). It was Walker’s mental aspect that made him so great. In fact, one could argue it was a form of mental illness. But it made him so focused on atheletics to such a degree he became the best ever. He was one in a billion and we very well may not see another ever like him.


December 26th, 2011
1:01 pm

@sean….I’ve seen pictures of Nkemdiche from 2009 and although he was 6′4″ at the time……He looked like a 14 year-old kid in terms of his facial maturity. In terms of his growing only 1/2 inch over the past 3 years I can relate as I was basically my full adult height when I was a 14 year old eight grader. People grow/develop at different rates.


December 26th, 2011
4:48 pm

UGA just pay him like Bama does their top in state prospects . Why do you think players have been flipping to Bama at the last minute.


December 27th, 2011
1:35 pm

smart money is on Bama. Conn was there on the ‘92 team and he’s already sent one Lorenzo Washington (he was on the 2009 NAt’l Champ team and a 3 year contributor on the D-Line. It would be great to see him in red and black, but it’s a long shot. If yo haven’t seen the kid play, you owe it to yourself. On a related matter, if you haven’t seen a high school game lately, especially in Gwinnett – a-la Grayson, Brookwood, Peachtree Ridge and North Gwinnett, you are missing the best entertainment value in Atlanta. Lastly, Bufird, when are you going to nut up and play 5A or 6A ball? If Marist can play up 2 classifications, don’t you think you should?


December 27th, 2011
1:41 pm

@sean – I checked his Birth Certificate in the 8th grade. The GFL requires certified (raised seal) originals at registration day. Now, I’ll be the first to confess that I’m no documant expert, especially when it relates to out of country certificates, but he’s legit. As an 8th grade coach in Gwinnett, I routinely coach kids 6′3″ to 6′5″ who weigh in at 220-250. It’s scary, and in no way compares to the football that most of us played in the 70s, 80s or even early 90s. I can tell you this, the next Nkemdiche will be signing up for 8th grade ball this March at a Gwinnett high school near you.


February 17th, 2012
8:05 am