Hundreds of Georgia football players signed college letters of intent on Wednesday, but that didn’t include several of the state’s most successful high school players.
About a dozen first-team all-state players are still looking for landing spots or even offers, and several others will attend junior colleges. And that’s not unusual.
That list of unsigned includes star quarterback K’hari Lane (pictured), whose 56 touchdown passes for Class A public-school champion Macon County broke Hutson Mason’s single-season state record. Lane put together one of the most amazing seasons in Georgia history – 3,740 yards passing and only two interceptions. He threw five TD passes in a game eight times.
Lane was the subject of an profile this week by Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report. The in-depth story is titled ''Hidden in Plain Sight.''
‘’I can control what I can control,’’ Lane told Kramer. “I come from a small town where there is nothing but football, and I love it. I am going to come in and work.’’
For now, Lane’s offers to four-year schools are limited to Grambling State, Southern, Hampton, Savannah State and Morehouse.
Lane’s tale just shows that an all-state high school career doesn’t always translate into household-name offers.
While all-state teams do not all include all of the state's best players, as it's much more difficult to make all-state in the highest classes, they do provide a revealing cross-section of the successes and the struggles of football players whose dream is to play at the next level.
And size is often an issue.
Lane is about 6 feet, 1 inches, 230 pounds. And quarterback is the toughest position in which to land a big offer. Even Mason, whose record Lane broke, had no D-I offers until late in his senior season, when Georgia got in the picture. Schools typically sign only one pure quarterback per year.
Another obstacle can be grades.
Griffin quarterback Tylan Morton, a slender 6-foot-4, threw for a state-record 4,741 yards, also breaking a record held by Mason. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes and led an offense that put up 43.4 points per game.
Morton signed on Wednesday with Hinds Community College in Mississippi. Morton’s father, Gerald, concedes that grades kept his son from something bigger.
‘’Tylan didn’t take school work seriously his freshman and sophomore years, and it was due to being immature,’’ Gerald Morton said. ‘’I along with his mother have to share some of the blame. Football should've been taken away his freshman year. [But] Tylan has done a 180-degree turnaround these last two years and is doing much better.''
Gerald Morton said his son was recruited by four-year schools, including Georgia, that now will watch his progress and could have a scholarship waiting in two years. Hinds has been a stopover for several NFL players, including Anquan Boldin and Malcolm Butler.
''We are happy that Tylan at least has an opportunity to play ball and get a free education,'' his father said. "If he ever gets the chance to play D-1 ball, he understands what I have been preaching. Playing football is an honor and privilege, not a right.''
Several first-team all-state players are taking the junior-college route, many to far-away schools and places they'd never heard about or seen before.
For example, Kelvin Johnson, a linebacker from Spalding, is soon to be visiting ASA College in Brooklyn, the only junior college with a football team in New York City. He'll probably land there or another JUCO program, Spalding coach Nick Davis said.
Another all-state player likely bound for a JUCO school is Jones County receiver Nick Singleton, who had 227 receptions for 3,310 yards in his career and went over 1,000 yards against last season out of the state's toughest region, 1-AAAAAA.
All-state players already signed with JUCO schools include Tez Raybon of Warner Robins (Highland Community College in Illinois); Thomson running back Michael Thomas, the state’s leading rusher at 2,335 yards (Holmes Community College in Mississippi); Cartersville defensive lineman Torrian Scrutchins (Ellsworth Community College in Iowa); Clinch County defensive lineman Octavius Morris (Northeast Oklahoma); and Fitzgerald defensive back Josh Reliford and lineman Jason Poe (both Hutchinson Community College in Kansas).
Raybon’s coach, Mike Chastain, said Raybon – who 6 feet, 7 inches, 350 pounds – is the best lineman he’d ever coached and can play for an Division I school in the country if he has a good two years at Highland.
For unsigned and lightly recruited players, a perceived lack of size or speed is probably the main culprit.
Prince Avenue Christian was 12-1 this season in Class A, and its best all-around player was Noah Campbell, who had 45 tackles and over 1,000 all-purpose yards scored touchdowns five ways.
‘’I know he can play, but it’s hard to get them to bite on 5-8,’’ Vandagriff said. ‘’He has plenty that want him to walk on, but very few talk money.’’
At Heard County, Peyton Ehlers is as good a D-lineman as the school has ever had, but is only about 5-10, which is short by college standards. He has an offer from Shenandoah University, a Division III school in Winchester, Va. D-III schools offer can't offer athletics scholarship money.
Another all-state Peyton - Peyton Backer of Rabun County - has a preferred walk-on opportunity at Georgia Southern. He’s about 6-2, 260. The Hope Scholarship makes waking on to state schools attractive, but it's still not a full ride, and some really need that.
Tattnall Square’s Ahmad Barron, who rushed for 1,540 yards on just 160 carries, is welcome as a walk-on at many schools, but is hoping for more financial aid, said Chance Jones, his coach.
‘’He needs something a little better than what he’s got for it to be possible,’’ Jones said. “It’s been pretty frustrating to manage the lack of interest in such a good back and great person.’’
Ron Seibel of the Macon Telegraph profiled Barron earlier this week.
‘’All coaches want size nowadays,’’ Barron (5-7, 165) told Seibel. “But my heart? You can’t judge that.”
Some players are told they are not fast enough, although it would be hard to convince opponents of Twiggs County that Ja’mon Height is slow. He rushed for 1,706 yards in just 12 games.
Height has an offer from the University of the Cumberlands and a few junior colleges. His coach, Ashley Hardin, actually thinks Height would have better shot trying to be a long-snapper. Hardin calls him a natural at it, and some major Division I schools are offering scholarships for those kinds of specialists.
For other all-state players, it can be a numbers game.
Columbus offensive lineman William Nana-Fabu had three Division I offers that were rescinded when those schools got other commitments. Nana-Fabu has a 4.2 GPA and preferred walk-on opportunities at Georgia and Georgia Tech, according to his coach, Philip Marino.
Landmark Christian linebacker/running back Lofton Tidwell, probably the best two-way player in Class A this past season, is another who likely will wind up a preferred walk-on at an ACC or SEC school. Tidwell rushed for more than 4,000 yards in his career and was an all-state linebacker as well in 2016.
Tidwell, like Nana-Fabu, is an excellent student, and colleges are looking for that in walk-ons because they have a limited number of admissions exceptions for roster players, and they like to reserve those for full-scholarship players.
Tech and Georgia also have expressed interest in a walk-on spot to Holy Innocents’ defensive lineman. According to his coach, Ryan Livezey, had an offer from Army but didn’t want to attend a military school.
“He’s good enough to play low D-I, but his height [6-1] is hurting him,'' Livezey said. ''If you know of anyone still looking for a DL, please send them my way.’’
Most place-kickers and punters don’t have many paid options.
Mill Creek’s Brenton King signed with Georgia Tech, and Cairo’s Cole Phillips signed with Marshall. Brooks Buce of Greater Atlanta Christian will be a preferred walk-on at Georgia. Heard County’s Trey Wiggins will probably wind up at Berry or West Georgia. But most of the rest will look for walk-on opportunities or give up football.
And some all-state players do just that - move on with life without football.
Emanuel County Institute linebacker Trent Smoyer has been accepted into the Naval Academy, but won’t play football there.
Wide receiver Ryan Reid, who caught 66 passes for 1,250 yards for Class A private-school champion Fellowship Christian, also hopes to attend a military college but will not play football.
Athens Academy defensive back Rolf Reynolds will stay in his hometown and attend the University of Georgia as a regular student.
Wesleyan's Harrison Cook, who caught 70 passes for 1,081 yards, plans to be a regular student only. He hasn't decided where.
Sooner or later, they all call it a career.