It’s a fieldhouse not unlike any other fieldhouse, the one at North Paulding High. It’s basically just a big wide room with lockers around the edges and double-doors leading out to the football field.
Last Friday, this was Christian Conley’s auditorium. This was his stage. Only there were no lights or TV cameras or microphones present. Just 50 or 60 familiar faces in a room smiling toward him.
In the age of the 24-7 news cycle and the choose-one-of-three-hats commitment shtick, Conley went in another direction. He chose to go intimate and private with his college announcement.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound wide receiver committed to the University of Georgia on Friday in a short, unpublicized “non-ceremony.” The only people present were Conley’s immediate family, his coaches, his preacher, his principal, some of his teachers and members of the North Paulding football team who were unexpectedly summoned out of their classrooms that morning.
“Pretty much the students in the high school had no idea what was going on,” Conley recounted this week.
The only press release that was sent out was the one that went out afterward saying that Conley was now a Bulldog with a brief statement as to why. That and a note saying no interviews would be granted until after the weekend so he could rejoice in peace with his family.
“It was a decision I made and my coaches and my family,” Conley said of going low-key. “We sat down about a week and a half before and we talked about it and came up with what we thought would be the best way to do it. We decided on an intimate setting with just my family, my coaches and my teammates, because they are the people that helped me get to this point. I felt like they should be the first people to know and that I should celebrate with them first.”
Even Georgia coach Mark Richt was left out until the last minute. Conley called him Friday morning shortly before going public with the news.
“I said, ‘do you want me to be a Bulldog?,’” Conley recounted. “And he said, ‘well, yeah.’ And I said, ‘well, I wanted to let you know I’m going to accept your scholarship offer to the University of Georgia.’ He was real happy.”
As he should be. For not only are the Bulldogs obviously getting a young man of uncharacteristic humility and thoughtfulness, they’re also getting a pretty good football player at a position of great need.
Conley caught 81 passes for 848 yards and six touchdowns for as a junior at North Paulding, a three-year-old school in Dallas with an upstart program that will have seniors for the first time next season. But it has been in the combines and camps after last season that Conley has really impressed. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and was named MVP at a Scout combine in January. He is also an “A” student who will be an early enrollee in college.
All of which is why Alabama, Clemson, Georgia Tech and a dozen other schools came hard after Conley. They needn’t bother now that he has made his decision.
“All the mail that comes in now either to my house or the school that’s not from UGA is thrown away,” Conley said. “If it’s a questionnaire or something like that it goes to my coach so he can give it to another player so he can get recruited. I’m sticking with UGA.”
Loyalty clearly runs deep with Conley. I asked him if he was glad to have this decision behind him so he could concentrate on getting ready for college.
“I’m not focusing on getting ready for college,”Conley. “I’m focusing on becoming the best player I can for North Paulding High School. If I do that everything else will take care of its self.”
Yeah, this one is different.
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