A big deal was made two years ago when Robert Nkemdiche of Grayson was the first Georgia high school player since Herschel Walker to be declared the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation.
Now, another No. 1 has come along – Westover defensive tackle Trenton Thompson – but with perhaps less fanfare.
Nkemdiche was first-team all-state as a sophomore and the state’s all-class player of the year as a junior, when he led Grayson a state championship.
‘’Nkemdiche had the advantage of being in you guys’ backyard,’’ said Westover coach Octavia Jones, pointing to the media spotlight of metro Atlanta. ‘’That was the purpose of me two years ago putting a metro team on the schedule (Jonesboro) to get some attention. Maybe it would help people realize that people in southwest Georgia play good football too.’’
Thompson is the clear leader this week in the AJC’s list of best 10 defensive lineman in high school football for the 2014 season. Thompson was first-team all-state as a junior last season and led Westover of Albany to a school-record nine victories.
Thompson is one of only two interior linemen on the list. The other is Julian Rochester of McEachern, who has a chance to be the No. 1 national recruit in 2016.
The rest of this week’s top 10 are defensive ends. No other Georgia position is so loaded. Seven of the top 25 recruits in Georgia play the position, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. They are No. 9 Natrez Patrick of Mays, No. 11 Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, No. 13 Chauncey Rivers of Stephenson, No. 14 Arden Key of Hapeville Charter, No. 15 Austin Bryant of Thomas County Central and No. 17 D’Andre Walker of Langston Hughes and No. 24 Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta.
Hughes coach Willie Cannon on Walker: ‘’D’Andre plays with a chip on his shoulder. His motor is always on high in practice as well as games. He studies film of his opponents as well as himself to try and better himself and his teammates. He still has a large upside. He is so competitive. He helps lead our defense by practicing and playing extremely hard.’’
Stephenson assistant and college recruiting coordinator Corey Johnson on Rivers: ‘’Chauncey is a game changer. Opposing coaches identify him when game planning. He had 112 tackles 29 tackles for losses 21 sacks as a junior. He is very disruptive. He compares to (NFL players) Jermaine Cunningham and Bruce Irvin. Great pass rusher at 6-3, 248.’’
Thomas County Central coach Bill Shaver on Bryant: "Austin is a very versatile player. He began his career as a quarterback, then moved to outside linebacker and last season played defensive end. He is excellent at rushing the passer, but we also have a scheme in our defense where we can use him in pass coverage. He also plays tight end and has excellent hands and ball skills. Finally, he has a great motor and never gives up on a play. Most importantly he is an awesome young man, and character always shows up on the field for the good or bad.''
Not all of Georgia’s top 10 are high-profile recruits, though. The list is based more strictly on high school performance. That makes room for players such as Kenneth Brinson of Marist and Zach Morris of Ringgold.
Brinson, who got all-state recognition as a junior, is perhaps the state's premier three-sport athlete. He has won individual Class AAAA championships in wrestling (195 pounds) and track and field (javelin).
Morris, a three-star recruit who has committed to Duke., had 15.5 sacks and forced seven fumbles for a Ringgold team that won a school-record 11 games last season.
‘’I have been coaching for 36 years and have not found a better player on the defensive line,’’ Ringgold coach Robert Akins said of Morris. “Zach is an outstanding athlete with the size, strength, and speed to make him a dominant player. Typically offensive coordinators will run away from him, but we have developed some stunt techniques where he can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.’’
At Westover, Thompson is not just a blue-chip recruit. He is a producer. He had 38 tackles for losses and 12 sacks in 2013. Now, he has his pick from almost any college in the country.
‘’The biggest thing that stands out about Trenton is how quick off the ball he is,’’ Jones said. “People look at him and see how big he is and don’t realize how fast he is until you see how he runs by blockers while they’re still in their stance. And if somebody does engage him, he knows how to disengage and go to the football.’’
Top 10 defensive linemen for the 2014 season:
*Kenneth Brinson (Marist): Brinson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior defensive end, was named second-team all-state in Class AAAA by the Georgia Sports Writers Association and honorable mention by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last season. He finished with 63 tackles, 11 sacks, seven tackles for losses, 31 hurries and one forced fumble for a Marist team that went 11-3 and reached the state semifinals, where it lost to runner-up Carrollton 46-44 in four overtimes. Brinson is a star wrestler and track-and-field athlete. He is the Class AAAA wrestling champion at 195 pounds. He has won back-to-back state titles in the iscus. Brinson reportedly has scholarship offers from Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest, Alabama-Birmingham and South Alabama.
*Austin Bryant (Thomas County Central): Bryant, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior, is a four-star recruit who is rated as the nation’s No. 11 weak-side defensive end by 247Sports and the No. 12 strong-side defensive end by Rivals. He was named second-team all-region in 1-AAAAA last season after finishing with 58 tackles, 11.5 tackles for losses, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Thomas County Central went 8-3 and reached the first round of the playoffs. Bryant reportedly has scholarship offers from more than 20 BCS schools, with particular interest from Auburn, Florida State and Georgia.
*Andrew Butcher (Alpharetta): Butcher is a 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior who is listed as the nation’s No. 9 strong-side defensive end in the 247Sports Composite rankings and is rated as the No. 8 weak-side defensive end by Rivals. He was named first-team all-state in Class AAAAAA last season after recording 87 tackles, 16 tackles for losses, 11 sacks and two forced fumbles for a team that went 9-3, won its second region championship and reached the second round of the playoffs. Butcher has offers from about 15 BCS schools but committed to Tennessee last summer.
*Arden Key (Hapeville Charter): The 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior will play his senior season for the Hornets after being named the defensive player of the year in Region 6-AAAAA and a first-team all-state player during his junior season at M.L. King. Key is a four-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 10 weak-side defensive end in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He had a team-leading 87 tackles, 10 tackles for losses, 3.5 sacks and three fumble recoveries in 2013 for an M.L. King team that finished 7-4. He has scholarship offers from about 30 BCS schools, including 12 in the SEC.
*Zach Morris (Ringgold): The 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior had 114 tackles, 15.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses and seven forced fumbles for a Ringgold team that won a school-record 11 games and reached the Class AAA semifinals. Morris and teammate Slade Dale became the first Ringgold players to be named first-team all-state by the AJC since Houston Black in 1955, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Morris is a three-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 44 strong-side defensive end in the 247Sport Composite rankings. He committed to Duke last fall.
*Natrez Patrick (Mays): Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior, is a four-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 7 weak-side defensive end in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He was named first-team all-state in Class AAAAA last season after recording 83 tackles, 27 tackles for losses, 17 sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble and three defensive touchdowns. Mays went 8-4 and reached the second round of the playoffs. He has more than 25 offers from BCS schools and has gotten considerably strong interest from Alabama, Auburn and Georgia, according to 247Sports.
*Chauncey Rivers (Stephenson): Rivers is a four-star prospect who is listed as the nation’s No. 9 weak-side defensive end in the 247Sports Composite rankings and rated as the No. 9 strong-side defensive end by Rivals. The 6-foot-3, 248-pound senior was named first-team all-state in Class AAAAA last season after recording 108 tackles, 29 tackles for losses and 15 sacks. Stephenson went 9-3 in 2013, reached the second round of the state playoffs and held eight of 12 opponents to seven points or less. Rivers has about 25 offers from BCS schools but committed to Georgia in February after originally saying he would attend South Carolina.
*Julian Rochester (McEachern): Rochester, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound junior, is a five-star recruit who is the nation’s No 1 defensive tackle and No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He was named the sophomore of the year in Region 4-AAAAAA last season after finishing with 104 tackles (60 solo), 10 sacks and 14 tackles for losses. McEachern went 11-3 and advanced to the state semifinals. Rochester reportedly already has about 15 offers from BCS schools, primarily from the SEC and ACC.
*Trenton Thompson (Westover): The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior is the consensus No. 1 prospect in the state, according to 247Sports. Thompson was named first-team all-state in Class AAAA last season after finishing with 83 tackles, 38 tackles for losses and 12 sacks. Westover won a school-record nine games in 2013, allowed just 12.9 points per game and reached the second round of the state playoffs. Georgia, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Michigan State, Penn State and Tennessee are among close to 20 BCS schools that have made scholarship offers.
*D’Andre Walker (Hughes): Walker became the first first-team all-state player in school history when he was named to the Class AAAAAA team last season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior had 108 tackles (29 for losses), 21 sacks, seven forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown for a team that finished 10-2 and recorded five shutouts. Walker is a four-star recruit who is listed as the No. 12 weak-side defensive end in the 247Sports Composite rankings. He has received about 25 scholarship offers, with strong interest from Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee, according to 247Sports.
This is the sixth in a series of articles highlighting some of Georgia’s best high school players. They are chosen based primarily on their value and history as high school players, but their status as college prospects also is considered. Next week: Linebackers