A closer look at Georgia’s U.S. Army All-America nominees
Whitefield Academy's Kennard Backman is interviewed by Ken Rodriguez during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl luncheon Monday at Fox Sports Grill. (Photo by Chip Towers)
Like I mentioned in yesterday’s Ten at 10, I attended the U.S. Army All-America luncheon at the Fox Sports Grill at Atlantic Station Monday as the 2011 nominees from Georgia were introduced.
I’d like to thank Dennis Caniglia, president of the Atlanta Touchdown Club and the Greater Atlanta Chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame, and Erik Richards of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Football University, for the invitation and for the tremendous hospitality.
I interviewed a few of the guys afterward and you’ll see updates on them in the coming days and weeks. In case you missed it, I already posted a story on North Gwinnett quarterback C.J. Uzomah.
Meanwhile, Fox 5’s Ken Rodriguez served as Master of Ceremonies for the event and he actually interviewed all 20 nominees in attendance at about a minute or two at a time (Dalton OT Watts Dantzler and Buford RB Dominique Swope couldn’t make it). I took notes during that session and following are some quick recaps (listed alphabetically) on each of the nominees (thumbnail photos are courtesy of Rob Saye of SpeedTracs.com):
- Kennard Backman, TE/LB, Whitefield Academy: Backman might be the best prospect you don’t know about. He’s nearly 6-foot-4, weighs 220 pounds and ran a 4.62 40 at the Atlanta MVP Camp last month. And he’s very intelligent. He told Rodriguez he’s leaning toward Vanderbilt. Of course.
- Sterling Bailey, DE, East Hall: As I reported earlier this week, Bailey will announce his decision from a final five of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech and South Carolina on May 14 at 6:30 p.m. at his school. Bailey said that decision will be based on “comfort with coaches and players and feeling a spiritual connection with the coach.”
- Quan Bray, ATH, Callaway: Bray plays quarterback at his Hogansville high school but could play almost anywhere in college. “Some say running back, some say DB, some say slot receiver,” Bray said. “I’m trying to weigh my options and see.”
- Austin Brown, QB, Flowery Branch: Brown transferred from Habersham Central in order to play in coach Lee Shaw’s dynamic offense. “They’re working me hard and teaching me all kinds of stuff,” Brown said of his new school. “I think it’s going to help me with the recruiting process.”
Chris Conley, WR, North Paulding: Conley said he is peaceful about his commitment to Georgia last month and is concentrating on preparing for his senior season. Rodriguez asked what kind of receiver Conley saw himself as. “I like to think of myself as a possession receiver but I have the speed to get downfield.”
- Tarik Cook, C, Stephenson: Cook said he has narrowed the focus of his still-growing list of offers to Kentucky, Central Florida and Ole Miss. “They have my major, which is physical therapy, and my mom likes them, so that’s important,” Cook said, drawing a big laugh from the crowd. He hopes to make up his mind this summer.
- Xzavier Dickson, DE, Griffin: Rodriguez commented about how tall Dickson was and correctly guessed his 6-foot-4 height. A Top 10 recruit in the state, Dickson said he was “enjoying as of right now” the intense recruiting process. He said his decision will come down to “how fast I can get on the field and academics.”
Lamont Hardy, OL, Lovejoy: I didn’t realize how truly massive this kid is until meeting him in person. North Carolina State is the only official offer Hardy is holding but he said he’s getting interest from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Virginia and “a lot more,” including Oregon. “I was surprised by that one,” he said.
- A.J. Johnson, LB, Gainesville: Johnson, one of the top linebackers in the state, was once a Tennessee commitment before Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal. Now the Trojans are among the programs in hot pursuit. But would his parents be OK with him going to Los Angeles for college, Rodriguez asked. “They’re like, ‘that’s pretty far.’ But they say I can go visit,” Johnson said. As for when he’ll decide, Johnson said it’s “not going to be anytime soon.” He plans to “narrow it down to a final five this summer and take some visits this fall.”
- Marcus Mack, LB, North Atlanta: This under-the-radar prospect doesn’t have any major offers yet. But between his athleticism and academic acumen, they figure to come. Mack has a 3.6 GPA and is getting a lot of interest from Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Stanford and Vanderbilt. His size (6-2, 210) makes him a versatile football player. “I can play anywhere,” Mack said.
- Ira McCune, TE, Hillgrove: McCune (6-2, 250) is another versatile athlete who could play on either side of the ball and in fact is being recruited both as a tight end and defensive end. Right now he seems to be focusing on Tobacco Road in recruiting. “I love the campus at North Carolina and the academics at Duke.”
- Will Monday, P, Flowery Branch: Monday, who averaged 45 yards a punt for the Falcons, has already accepted a schoarship offer to Duke. “I like the education, the coaching staff, and I think I can succeed up there,” Monday said.
- Corey Moore, DB, Griffin: The Georgia commitment said he hopes to be able to enroll in college early. He said new secondary coach Scott Lakatos was a big reason he chose the Bulldogs. But, he added, his total focus is on helping the Bears win a state title because they were not at all happy with losing to Sandy Creek in the Class AAAA final four last year.
- Thomas O’Reilly, OG, Pope: The Auburn commitment told Rodriguez he chose the Tigers because of “the family atmosphere and being only two hours away from home.” He said he’s looking forward to senior season and thinks this will be Pope’s best team since he’s been there.
- Brian Randolph, S, Kell: Randolph said he is down to Georgia Tech and Tennessee and said his immediate objective is getting to know the Vols’ coaches a lot better. His brother attends Tech and was a walk-on there, so he knows the Jackets’ coaches very well. As for the recruiting process, he said “it’s been kind of stressful, but it’s good to be wanted. I know I’m blessed.” As for a decision timeline, he said, “I’m hoping to do it before the season, but I’m not going to do it until I’m ready.”
- Chris Sanders, DB, Tucker: Sanders, the first commitment of Georgia’s 2011 class, said he’s focused on getting Tucker back to the state championship. Asked what makes Tucker such a powerful program, Sanders said “because we work hard. We just try to out-work everybody.”
- Damian Swann, ATH, Grady: Rodriguez acknowledged Swann’s distinction as the top cornerback prospect in Georgia and asked him how he handles all the recruiting attention. “I just take it one day at a time. I’m just looking for a place I can call home,” Swann said. Swann said he’s getting the most intense recruiting interest from Alabama and Georgia.
- Stephon Tuitt, DE, Monroe Area: Tuitt, one of the most sought-after recruits in the state, said he never imagined garnering the type of attention he is getting, “especially considering my first year of football was in the ninth grade.” Tuitt (6-5, 252) has tons of offers but is focusing his attention mainly on Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida and Miami. The winner, he said, may be the one that best prepares him from his desired career path of sports medicine.
- C.J. Uzomah, QB, North Gwinnett: One of the top prospects in the state, said he doesn’t have a list of favorites but when asked who was recruiting him he rattled off “Georgia, Auburn, Clemson, LSU and USF.” Asked what he was looking for, Uzomah said, “just a place I came be comfortable at for four years; a place where I can wake up in the morning and feel good about being there.” Uzomah’s timeline is also undetermined but, he said, “my dad wants to get it out of the way. Every morning he’s like, ‘have you picked one yet?’”
James Vaughters, LB, Tucker: Rodriguez called Vaughters “the No. 1 prospect in Georgia,” and he might well be right with Vaughters have more than 30 scholarship offers. Rodriguez pointed out Vaughters’ left wrist being in a cast, which is opposite of the one he had in a cast last season. Vaughters said he didn’t want to talk about it but it was “no big deal.” He told me afterward it was a similar wrist surgery as he had on the other one and joked it was from “hitting people so hard.” He said the decision between his final eight of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Ohio State, Southern Cal and Stanford will come down to “which ones can compete for national championships, give me the best academic opportunities and the best opportunities to get to the NFL.”
- Avery Walls, DB, Union Grove: Walls, who has more than 20 scholarship offers, is generally considered a safety, even though, at 5-10, 185, he doesn’t have the traditional body type for the position. He was asked which secondary position is prefers. “I prefer safety,” Walls said. “I like kind of being the quarterback of the defense and seeing the whole field.” Walls’ has many offers faraway offers, including California, UCLA, Stanford and Michigan. “Distance is no factor for me,” said Walls, who plans to be an early enrollee.
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