Stephenson’s talent mostly home grown in DeKalb parks

Ron Gartrell has produced dozens of college prospects over the years. (ajc.com photo/Chip Towers)

Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell has produced dozens of college prospects over the years. (ajc.com photo/Chip Towers)

When Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell is informed by an assistant coach that a reporter is there to get a look at his team’s dozen-plus college prospects, he laughs and rolls his eyes.

“I’m going to have to fire that guy,” he says of assistant coach Corey Johnson. “He’s telling lies about us.”

He was joking, of course. But like any head coach, Gartrell is not about to brag on his kids in the dawn of a new season.

But like it or not, Stephenson’s mass production of college prospects is the real deal. And while this year’s numbers are extraordinarily high, it’s something the DeKalb County school in southeast Stone Mountain has been doing for years.

“The last time we had this kind of a group was probably the 2002 team, I think, when we had Reggie Ball and Kregg Lumpkin and T.J. [Gartrell] and Israel Root and all those guys,” Gartrell said. “That team ended up with 15 kids going to college, including five Division I signees. This group has a chance to be in double-digits; I’ll just leave it at that. But it’s been amazing. I can’t believe we’ve been able to perform at the level that we have with the players we’ve had over this number of years. It’s just unbelievable.”

DeMario Minter, Anthony Cannon, Marcus Ball, Jermaine Cunningham, Alex Washington, the list of top-shelf players Stephenson has produced goes on and on. So what’s the secret to producing all this talent?

“A lot our kids are kind of home grown,” Gartrell said. “They come out of Wade Walker Park and the Central DeKalb Youth Association, they come out of Redan Park. We get some out of Stephenson Middle, some out of Lithonia Middle. We just kind of work with what we get. And we’ve been fortunate to get some kids that are willing to work hard and do the things we ask them to do.”

Gartrell said he doesn’t do anything special to facilitate recruiting interest from colleges. In fact, he’s adamant about not steering his players in any particular direction. He points out that his players have signed with every SEC school except Ole Miss and South Carolina. Both are recruiting Stephenson players this year.

“I just try to stay out of it as much as I can,” he said. “I leave my door open for [the players] because they’re to ones that have to go play and have to go to class. They need to decide. I encourage them to do all their research they need to do to make a good decision. I tell them, “Don’t make it based on some team you’ve loved over the years or the team colors or how they play on Madden or whatever. Make the decision based on your research. Talk with the coaches but realize the coaches are movable. So don’t sign to play with a coach because the coach might not be there.’”

Stability has also been a factor at Stephenson. Gartrell’s current staff has been intact since 1998. And former players regularly return to mentor and coach. Minter, Root and Cannon were all helping out Monday as volunteers while their professional playing careers are in flux.

“These guys have had shots at the NFL,” Gartrell said. “They come back and talk to these kids. They work out with them. They run with them and they give them an idea what it takes to perform at the next level. I think that has a lot to do with it. And our off-season strength and conditioning program is probably second to none. We’ve developed a great weight program through Reggie Ball Sr. Donald Sellers, our defensive coordinator, has been very successful as a track coach. Those guys have put their heads together to give us a 12-month program. Injuries are down and our team speed is up and are kids are always getting better.”

Yet the one thing Stephenson has been unable to produce is a state championship. Gartrell — the only coach the Jaguars have ever had — has led them to six region titles, made the state semifinals once and the quarterfinals four times. He’s 106-45 (.702) heading into Saturday’s opener against McNair.

Gartrell said he’d like nothing more than to win a state title for Stephenson, but it’s not what defines him. He’s more interested in his players getting opportunities beyond high school. Fifty-one have earned some kind all-state honor. More than that ended up in college. More than a few of those have gotten a shot in the NFL.

So could this be the year for Stephenson, ranked No. 5 in Class AAAAA?

“It’s going to be interesting to see how things go,” Gartrell says with a grin.

43 comments Add your comment

dboy

August 25th, 2009
12:57 pm

All that talent and Tucker is still the top program in Dekalb Co. yr in and yr out. We played them in a scrimmage a week ago and they be us 10-0. 3 of Tuckers top players didnt even play.

dboy

August 25th, 2009
12:57 pm

Stephenson has players but no coaches!

brian green

August 25th, 2009
1:19 pm

At the end of the day u lost! No one cares Did u care a few years ago when stphenson lost in the playoffs and lumpkin didnt plat no we lost! So save that who did and didnt play for ya ego if that helps you sleep at night! Two at the end of the day if you are a jaguar u go to school free! Tahts what its about yeah we would love to get a championship! But it doest define us! Just like dominating Tucker does nothin for us but raise money for the program Thanks Tigers!!!!

Paddy

August 25th, 2009
1:36 pm

Scout.com reported a couple days age that Jake Skole has given a commitment to Ga Tech. Kid is from Roswel and is a safety. Is that true AJC?

Tucker or Stephenson?

August 25th, 2009
1:40 pm

Tucker Tigers all day. And just reading the ignorant ‘text’ message from Brian Green shows that Stephenson students are not that smart either.lol

Football Fan

August 25th, 2009
1:51 pm

I think its time for Stephenson to stop with all the bragging. We will see what the season hold for you guys.

Chip Towers

August 25th, 2009
1:52 pm

Paddy: Yes, Jake Skole committed to GT yesterday. A story will be posted here at 3 p.m.

r u serious

August 25th, 2009
1:55 pm

Tucker or Stephenson? U r IGNORANT I can almost bet my last dollar you have nothing to do with either team. You say Stephenson is not smart well dumb dumb who is going to college . How do you think they get in? All the HATING is not good go blog on something you know because football nor college is it . HATER -HATER-HATER

GeoffDawg

August 25th, 2009
2:14 pm

Reggie Ball was home-grown? I don’t think he got enough fertilizer.

GT

August 25th, 2009
5:05 pm

Reggie Ball, never has so little gotten so much publicity.

BuddUGA

August 25th, 2009
5:48 pm

Is assistant coach Corey Johnson the same Corey Johnsona that played defensive back/ receiver at UGA 10 years or so ago?

Chip Towers

August 25th, 2009
6:46 pm

BuddUGA: No he isn’t. The Corey Johnson to whom you refer is an assistant coach for Mike Parris at Jackson. That Corey Johnson played for Parris at Forest Park. . . . This Corey Johnson actually played for Gartrell at Shamrock and went on to play college ball (at Fla. A&M I think).

Darry Sneville

August 25th, 2009
7:22 pm

I’am a advocate High School football follower for the last 20 plus years.And I must say Stephenson,SWD,Douglas,and Washington always have superb talent but can never beat the less talented teams in the playoffs. Yes they down play not having titles because they haven’t won any. Parkview, Brookwood, Lowndes,Camden have less talent but better teamwork. Their is no ‘I’in team.Trust me those college bound players will again find themselves at home watching when ,December arrives no hate just facts from a brother who is a high school football fanatic.

joeinformed

August 25th, 2009
9:14 pm

IF TUCKER WAS THE BEST PROGRAM IN DEKALB THEN THEY WOULD BE THE TOPIC BUT THERE NOT SO STOP HATING… NOW FOR THE PAST TEN STEPHENSON HAS THE BEST PROGRAM IN THE STATE WHEN IT COMES TO PUTING KIDS IN TO COLLEGE BUT THE PROBLEM IS THE COACHES CANT TELL THEM HOW TO WIN THE BIG GAME BECAUSE THEY DONT HOW TO ADJUST TO THE TEAM WHO THEY ARE PLAYING AND THATS THE COACHES FAULT NOT THE KIDS BUT STILL WHEN OUR KIDS SEASON IS OVER MOST OF THEM CAN GET READY FOR THE COLLEGE SEASON COMING UP WHY MOST OTHER KIDS WILL BE AT HOME AFTER THE PLAYOFFS….SO END THE END WE STILL WIN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER THATS WHY WE HAVE THE BEST PROGRAM IN THE STATE IF YOU ASK ME….COLLEGE CANT BEAT THAT!!!!

Chip Towers

August 25th, 2009
10:40 pm

From Coach Corey above: He went to Texas Southern. I was close. That’s only slightly west of FAMU! :-)

Darry Tay

August 25th, 2009
10:59 pm

Guys less be realistic what do we remember most? Who signed on national signing day? Or who won the state championship?Everyone who applies themselves has the chance to go to college athelete or plain student.But to win that championship and earn that ring lives forever,don’t down play the importance and hollow ground a champion stands on.In the end only five teams each year are truly successful the others fell short as a team.

Coach

August 25th, 2009
11:27 pm

IT has nothing to do with I in team it comes down to only the best teams are in the playoffs talent level is a none factor at that time, these teams Washington , Stephensons, SWD & Douglas play good ball every
year, thats why they are in the playoffs almost every year, you should give any school credit who does that, if you have competed at a high level then you will know what I’m talking about, at that time either team could win , these team continue to knock on the door, they will be & are champions for playing at a high level every year. Wsshington has at least 6 D1 prospects Garrison Glass DT, Oklahoma State , KY, Auburn , Antonio Goodwin WR has committed to Auburn , Q Fortes QB, Auburn, Mississppi State, yet the AJC only focuses on Stephenson, not that they dont deserve the press they get, but Wahington & the other schools should get the same press AJC do your job & cover all of ATL thanks.

joeinformed

August 26th, 2009
12:24 am

Darry Tay- what you said was right but winning state is not everything….dont get me wrong i would love to see stephenson win state because once they do that then no one can say anything because for right now thats all they have to say about stephenson…..but only one can be a champion each year so does that mean that if you win your region have a 9-2 season is that not good because you didnt win state?….i cant believe that..and if everybody can just go to college then why dont they….why dont the state champs send all there starters to college because everyone cant go…its takes a little more than just applying yourself..your skills must be able to translate to next level…and people do remember who signed to who because when yours kids go d-1 you no that because they are representing you and your school….and i think getting your kids free education is more important then a state title but i still want one because i think that would put us at the top as it comes to programs in georgia or anywhere else….i think thats the only thing we are missing to get the full credit those kids and our school deserve for all the hard work…

Just Sayin

August 26th, 2009
12:38 am

I think that Dekalb is the most talented county in the state of Ga. The reason why Stepenson or SW Dekalb are not State Champions is because they lack a true passing game. Until they discover the forward pass, expect them to continue their playoff trend. What good is all that speed if you don’t put it in space. No, I am not a fan of the spread but if you have those kind of track stars, let them loosin up things for you. Both teams have the arrogance to think that they can play from TE to TE. No spacing at all! Maybe a pass on first down every now and again. Don’t wait until third and long to throw a predictable pass. When SW Dekalb won the State, they threw the ball. What happened? My rant is over, just tired of seeing my favorite two HS teams getting outplayed and outcoached. Continue to put those guys in college coaches. But, I yearn for a different brand of football!

fan

August 26th, 2009
12:52 am

if you ask me mays & washington gave tucker a good game i no they would not like to play them ever year when tucker did not make the playoff

fan

August 26th, 2009
12:56 am

as for stepenson you have talent but ever body have talent it is what you do with

joeinformed

August 26th, 2009
1:05 am

fan- you sound like you are trying to be a hater….and there’s different levels of talent but you are rite its what you do with it>>>

QBFan

August 26th, 2009
1:38 am

“Just Saying”… I agree with you in that Dekalb have the best football talent in Georgia. I also agree that a passing game is what takes a team to the next level. This season check out Redan High School QB, Akil Dan-Fodio. This junior has outstanding stats as a passing QB (check out his highlight video on Youtube). Redan may be on the rise this season, so don’t count them out!

no comment

August 26th, 2009
1:39 am

I also agree.

Lil Yodi

August 26th, 2009
2:40 am

Gresham Park!!

FOOTBALL PHENOM

August 26th, 2009
7:25 am

like lil yodi say gresham park all day. gresham park represent not just one school in the dekalb co., but every school in dekalb co. to include tucker, stephenson, mlk, mcnair, who will beat stephenson on saturday, lithonia, redan, cedar grove,columbia, swd snd so on. uget the picture. if you do a article on parks that develope home grown talent in dekalb co., you start at GRESHAM PARK. do not get it twisted. now,do that research

Decatur 4 Life

August 26th, 2009
9:18 am

I see a lot of GT people downing Reggie Ball, but he won some big games while at GT. Besides who else did you have to play quarterback? He was short but he was the best you guys had there at the time

Decatur 4 Life

August 26th, 2009
9:35 am

Darry Snelville you’re right about one thing recently its been Lowndes and Camden in the mix but in the past SWD was a perenial power deep in the playoffs. And at that time it wasn’t coaching, it was the referees. I can remember a Quincy Carter led team losing a heart-breaker to Valdosta in the dome one year and the next year watching him beat Warner Robbins on the way to their only state championship in 95. Then Camden wasn’t even heard of and Lowndes was just Valdosta’s intown rival. Even Douglass had excellent coaches and players in the late 80’s but ran into Chris Gardocki from Redan and some talented teams from Dunwoody. Bottom line these Gwinnett county schools just started to create a buzz and by the way the only state championship SWD won, they beat Parkview.

TRUE BLUE

August 26th, 2009
9:58 am

To the guys from DEKALB that think you have to pass the ball to win a STATE CHAMPIONSHIP. What do you mean by that, because if you do your research most passing team lost last year in the playoff. CALHOUN lost BUFORD AND FLOWERY BRANCH TO CAIRO. Then again CAMDEN COUNTY won running the ball, Tucker won running the ball, and WESLEYAN. If you know football the game is won up front with the big boys. You have to control the line of scrimmage. And for FOOTBAL PHENOM your MUSTANGS want score this SATURDAY. So DREAM ON, because STEPHENSON going to WHIP THAT AZZ.

Dekalb County Fan

August 26th, 2009
10:01 am

Gresham Park, Glenwood Hills all have a long history of producing talent. No one doubts that. In reference to Mcnair upsetting stephenson on saturday. You have gotta be smokin that good stuff. I have heard about the linemen that did not play last week and that you have all of these monster waiting for stephenson. I have a question if Carver was not scared what makes you think stephenson is?

Coach too

August 26th, 2009
10:18 am

The problem I have with most bloggers is that you speak from a lack of knowledge of the student-athletes we coach. I been a part of coaching staffs for those teams like the Parkviews and the Marist teams as well as on teams like the Douglass, Stephenson, and Westlakes. The biggest difference in coaching all of these great athletes is at Parkviews the only thing the coaches’ have to do is be a coach and part time mentor (its much easier to just focus on the game plan and players themselves) at the Douglass, Stephenson, and Westlakes you have to be a coach, mentor, and sometimes father to the issues that go on outside of the school not just focusing on football when you may have kids who need cloths or that father figure at that time. Not making excuses,but the Ron Gartrells, “Buck” Godfrey’s, Rodereick Moore, and Dallas Allens of the world should should not be snubbed for giving they’re players an opportunity to grow into men and go to college, just because they haven’t won a STATE Championship (excluding Godfrey) becasue as a parent at the end of the day I thatnk those coaches for assissting in sending my child to college NOT winning a STATE ring.

Just Sayin

August 26th, 2009
11:51 am

True Blue, I am not looking for a pass happy offense with those two teams. But, I am looking for a better ratio of plays. Something in the neighborhood of 70% running and 30% passing would be nice. They make it too easy for the defense to stop the run. Opposing teams watch film too and they know that if you stop the run, they are fish out of water. I like to keep the defense on their heels, always guessing what’s next. I am sure alot of you guys attend the games and hear the frustration from the fans.

Just Sayin

August 26th, 2009
12:00 pm

QBFAN, I will keep my eyes on Redan as well as the other Dekalb teams. I follow them all but I do have a pecking order. SWD, Stephenson, MLK, Redan, and Mcnair. MLK has a nice offense. They mix it up pretty good and maybe that’s part of the reason why Mack Brown is doing his thang.

FOOTBALL PHENOM

August 26th, 2009
12:02 pm

TRUE BLUE YOU NEED TO CHECK THE OVERALL RECORD BETWEEN MCNAIR AND STEPHENSON. U BETTER ASK YOUR BOYS ABT THAT SMALL 3 AAA SCHOOL IN DEKALB COUNTY THAT CONSTANTLY BET UP ON YALL WITH THAT “RED HEAT” DEFENSE. I WILL BE THERE ON SATURDAY TO WITNESS THAT “AZZ WHIPPING”. FROM 2002-2005 STEPHENSON BEAT MCNAIR ONCE, AND MCNAIR OUT PLAYED THEM THAT GAME. JUST BE READY CAUSE ON THING WE KNOW IS THAT MCNAIR WILL BRING SNOT BUBBLES TO PASS OUT.

FOOTBALL PHENOM

August 26th, 2009
12:18 pm

JUST SAYIN, DONT YOU DARE MENTION REDAN HIGH SCHOOL IN THE SAME BREATH AS THE OTHER ABOVE MENTIONED SCHOOLS. THAT AZZ PROGRAM COACH FLEETWOOD IS RUNNING IS PATHETIC. COACHES NOT GIVING KIDS EQUIPMENT TO PRACTICE, CLOSING THE WEIGHT ROOM DURING THE OFF SEASON SO THAT PLAYERS COUKD NOT LIFT. THAT PROGRAM IS A JOKE. GREAT THING THAT MACK BROWN LEFT REDAN. HE WOULD BE GOING TO FAMU INSTEAD OF FLORIDA FOOLING AROUND AT REDAN. REDAN NEED A NEW HEAD FOOTBALL COACH WHO ACTUALLY CARES ABOUT THEKID IN THE PROGRAM AND NOT JUST THE KIDS WHO HE THINK IS “THAT THANG”. I WOULD SEND A KID TO CLARKSTON OR TOWERS BEFORE I SEND A KID TO REDAN TO PLAY FOOTBALL.

Dekalb County Fan

August 26th, 2009
2:54 pm

football phenom let me give you better stats from 2004-2009. Mcnair started playing stephenson in 2004 and you actually won in 04 and 06, but that vaunted defense has giving up the azz for the last two years. 20-2 and 21-0. maybe if you brought back the coach from 04 you might have a chance. just in case you cant count shs 3 mcnair 2.

joeinformed

August 26th, 2009
5:00 pm

football phenom-another stat is the two games they did win they won by less then 6 points together….and another thing most of the players that play at stephenson either come wade walker or redan so where get gresham park beats me….not saying that alot of talent does not come out of there!!!

curan townsel

August 26th, 2009
6:49 pm

stephenson is the best team in georgia how i know that because i use to play four them and people always hatin g on them so yea

mano17

August 26th, 2009
10:48 pm

mcnairs head coach and the entire staff were let go today . the reason for this was insubordination which is some bullsh#t. they replaced a great man with a spineless coward of a coach named john april who in two yeard as head basketball coach won a …total of 4 games. also ever since he came to mcnair he had it in for coach mo and wanted his job

FOOTBALL PHENOM

August 27th, 2009
7:38 am

yeah i heard about coach moe departure, that is some BULL-ISHH. WHO EVER MADE THAT DECISION SHOULD BE FIRED AS WELL. coach moe was the best thing going for that school. he mase sur that all if his kid that did there part in the class room and on the field were showcased to continue there education and football careers beyond high school. stephenson high i take a backseat to the game on saturday without coach moe out there to lead his troops. how in the hell do you fire a guy 3 days before there first game of the season. why wasn’t this done early in the summer or at the end of the school year. we all should boycott the game and the school in support of coach moe. all 8th, 9th, and 10th graders from mcnair need to head over to cedar grove, and hook with coach nick and the boys u would not regret it.

AstroFan

August 27th, 2009
11:00 am

Over the years as a student and now a mentor at Douglass, I’ve learned there’s one big difference between Region 2-AAAAA and Gwinnett. YOUTH PROGRAMS. Just like they said in the story, Stephenson has players coming from Wade Walker, Central DeKalb, probably some from Gresham Park and two different middle schools. That is a lot of different mixing. Same way at Douglass. You have the best players from all over the city attending that school. More mixing. Parkview has one youth program at Mountain Park and they are the Panthers and they all play together from youth, to middle school, to Parkview. I’ve been to a Norcross work out, they have one big youth program and they come up together. So these kids are well coach and they’ve played together their whole lives, GIVE or Take 1 or 2 transfers here or there. But that makes all the perfect sense for a high school program. Go down to Valdosta and Camden County, they have the same exact system. These schools don’t need press to make them better. They win, they get press. That’s why AJC has set up shop in Gwinnett. They win, they get the press. Stephenson, Douglass and Washington are always going to their press, as long as they keep producing D-1 players. Which pretty much will always happen. When you’re in a youth program and it’s named after the high school program, that does something mentally to students, trust me I know. And if you’re a coach, you should know too. I would love to see the Astros win a champion sometime in my LIFETIME though. lol

THE ORIGINAL MADDOG

August 27th, 2009
8:03 pm

My son played at Tucker, started at Tucker, graduated from Tucker (his last year was Franklin Stephens First year) and walked on and played D-1 football last fall. Tucker had nothing to do with him going to college. No coach from Tucker made any calls for him or tried to help him in any way. The kid was qualified with good test scores and a GPA of 3.3 yet, we had to rely on others for help. Winning a state championship does not make your school a great program. Helping kids get a shot of making a better life makes your program great. Tucker may have some good players and a number of players in college but at this point, Frank Stephens has not helped any players get to college.
He don’t be fooled by the numbers. He makes no effort to sell colleges on players who are not “big time playes.” No matter what they they do in the classroom.
We can say anything we will about Coach Gartrell and Coach Buck Godfrey and others like them. Sure, maybe they should have won more state championships. But more than a ring which will tarnish over the years, they have the respect and admiration of young men whose lives are changed and forever better because they cared about their futures.

Amen

August 27th, 2009
11:41 pm

THANK YOU Original Maddog Very well put thats what its all about. Anyone who has a son know exactly what you are talking about!!!!!! THANK YOU .