Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Many of state’s best football players fight for college coaches’ respect

Georgia’s leading high school passer is going to a prep school, not because of grades, but to prove that Division I colleges that didn’t offer him a scholarship were wrong. 

East Hall’s Austin Parker is among several of the state’s most productive players who weren’t blue-chip recruits but who will be playing with chips on their shoulders at the next level now that National Signing Day has come and gone, leaving them in the shadows. 

The list also includes Chauncey Williams of Meadowcreek, the first player to break 2,000 yards rushing last season, and Calhoun linebacker Bailey Lester, the Class AAA defensive player of the year. Williams and Lester signed this week with West Georgia, a Division II school. 

‘’I have no answer on why Bailey is not at least an FCS player – very puzzling to me,’’ said Calhoun head coach Hal Lamb, who played at West Georgia himself in the 1980s and was a star receiver. ‘’He’s a very special player that a lot of FCS/Division I missed out on. However, he is going to a great program. West Georgia got a steal.’’ 

It’s not uncommon for even some of the most outstanding all-state players to sign with smaller programs. A year ago, Tylan Morton of Griffin set the state record for passing yards in a season. He wound up at Hines Community College in Mississippi, where he got the immediate playing time that he probably would not have received at a top four-year school. 

Another from 2016 was Caylin Newton, who passed for over 3,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 as a senior quarterback at Grady. The brother of Cam Newton, Caylin was ignored by Division I schools and went to Howard University, where he started as a true freshman and threw for 2,432 yards and rushed for 753 in 11 games. 

Newton and Parker are about the same size at 5-11, 185 pounds, which partly explains their recruiting predicament. Parker was 250-of-370 passing for 4,463 yards and 50 touchdowns in 12 games in 2017. He also rushed for 652 yards. He ranks fifth in career passing yards behind the likes of Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence and Jake Fromm.

‘’It has been a struggle to get people to realize that despite his size, he is a Division I player,’’ said East Hall coach Bryan Gray, who called Parker a ‘’sure fire SEC player if he was 4 inches taller.’’ 

Here are 12 players who just had great high school seasons, if not careers, but whose recruiting wasn’t followed so closely:  

Jacob Cendoya, Mount Pisgah Christian – The Class A private-school offensive player of the year, Cendoya is perhaps the most outstanding Georgia high school player who is still on the board. He threw for 2,940 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushed for 1,059 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2017. He had similar numbers as a junior. Savannah State and St. Francis have made offers. East Tennessee State and Georgia Southern were recruiting him until coaching changes. Citadel, Murray State and Kennesaw State have shown interest. “We aren’t sure what opportunities will come his way at this point,’’ his father, Jocko Cendoya, said. “We are still hopeful. He’s dying to play.’’

Montez Crowe, Troup – Crowe, a full-time starter for the first time in 2017, passed for 3,984 yards with 40 touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes (202 of 313) for a 9-3 team that advanced in the playoffs for the first time in six years. Crowe is 6-5, 210. Still considered raw as a quarterback, Crowe signed with Savannah State. 

Zion Custis, Lovejoy – Custis, a first-team all-state pick in Class AAAAAA, rushed for 1,943 yards and 27 touchdowns on just 185 attempts for a 6-5 team in a tough region. Defenses keyed on Custis, Lovejoy’s only real weapon, but couldn’t slow down the 5-8, 180-pound back. Custis signed with Southeast Missouri State. In posting his decision via Twitter, Custis threw a little shade at the nay-sayers, who served as motivation: “I want to thank those coaches who were willing to give me a chance to pursue my dreams at the next level and most of all I want to thank those who overlooked and doubted me.’’ 

Terrion Dangerfield, Norcross –Dangerfield was the Region 7-AAAAAAA defensive player of the year and the Gwinnett Touchdown Club’s inside linebacker of the year. Those are regions and counties with some pretty big names. Dangerfield had 148 tackles (89 solo), 25 tackles for losses and 4.5 sacks. Dangerfield, who is 5-10, 200, signed with Kentucky Wesleyan, an independent Division II program. 

Bailey Fisher, Rabun County – Few quarterbacks in history have been more productive than Fisher, who led Rabun County to its first state-championship game in 2017. Fisher passed for 3,341 yards with 43 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He also rushed for 1,283 yards and 27 touchdowns – giving him 70 total touchdowns. His 113 career TD passes rank fifth in state history. Fisher signed with Tennessee Tech and is already enrolled. 

Lavar Gardner, Columbia – DeKalb historically puts out more major D-I players than any other Georgia county, and Gardner was its leading tackler in 2017 with 89 solo stops in 11 games and 137 total tackles. A strong safety and linebacker, Gardner had 11 sacks and 21 other tackles for losses. He was first-team all-DeKalb and was the Region 5-AAAAA defensive player of the year. Gardner, who is 6-2, 190, is going to Samford, an FCS program that finished second in the Southern Conference last season. 

Truman Jones, Westminster – Jones, a defensive end and linebacker, was a Division I recruit but wasn’t particularly interested in that. He turned down numerous offers, including those from Northwestern, Vanderbilt and Virginia, to attend Harvard. ‘’Said a Harvard education is worth more than a D1 scholarship,’’ one Westminster coach said. “This kid is special. … He will destroy the Ivy League.’’ Jones also got All-America honors in lacrosse this year. He essentially destroyed Class AAA with 17.5 tackles for losses totaling 88 yards. 

Bailey Lester, Calhoun – Bailey, a linebacker, had 124 tackles, 12 sacks and another 15 tackles for losses for a team that won a state title with defense. The Yellow Jackets allowed only 8.4 points per game in the playoffs, holding No. 1 Cedar Grove and No. 2 Peach County to six points apiece and shutting out No. 7 Bremen and No. 4 Dalton (AAAAAA) in the regular season. Bailey has signed with West Georgia. 

Austin Parker, East Hall – There was suspicion that East Hall didn't play the toughest schedule, but then Parker threw for six touchdowns apiece in playoff games against region-champion Morgan County and perennial contender Westminster. East Hall won 50-36, then lost 59-57. Parker had exactly 1,000 passing yards in those two games. 

Steven Peterson, Harrison – If five-star recruit Justin Fields was Batman, then Steven Peterson was Robin. The pair made for Cobb County’s most dynamic duo. Peterson had 55 receptions for 1,132 yards (20.6 average) with 11 touchdowns in 12 games. It was his second straight season over 1,000 yards. Peterson is 6-2, 180. He had a preferred walk-on opportunity to join Fields at Georgia. Instead, he signed with Coastal Carolina, which just joined the FBS level. 

Chauncey Williams, Meadowcreek – Williams rushed for 2,112 yards in the regular season, the most of any Georgia player, as he led the Mustangs to their first playoff appearance since 1988. Not only was Williams the first first-team all-state player in school history, but he was the Georgia Sports Writers Association Class AAAAAAA offensive player of the year. That’s the highest classification, which includes several major D-I players from Lowndes’ Michael Barrett (Michigan) to Central Gwinnett’s Jarren Williams (Miami). Williams, who is about 5-10, 185, is headed to West Georgia, a Division II school. 

Jordan Young, Heritage-Conyers – Young went from a two-star recruit to a four star in a matter a days last  month and signed with Florida State this week. In fact, he was a blue-chip recruit just  long enough to commit to Tennessee, then flip. But he didn’t have a major Division I offer until at least a month after his senior season, when he put up 1,562 receiving yards, the most in Georgia, with 17 touchdowns. Young is 6-3, 185, and he’s the reigning Class AAAAAA 100-meter hurdles champion. But he didn’t go to recruiting camps, nor played wide receiver full-time until he was a senior.

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