All Systems Go
In Gwinnett County, the competition is
fierce due to a powerful combination of
coaching, a large talent pool, integrated
youth leagues and elite training facilities
BY FLETCHER PAGE
IT’S A LITTLE AFTER 2: 30 P.M. IN EARLY May, and I’m standing in the locker room at Peachtree Ridge, watching a colleague of mine set up for a photo shoot with a pride
of Lions that are for-sure future college players.
One by one, members of the team enter (it
seems like there’s a hundred of them), strapping on solid blue helmets and using the buddy
system to yank white mesh jerseys over shoulder pads. Spring ball is in full swing, and Coach
Mark Fleetwood is on his A-game with both his
planning for practice and public relations.
“Are you guys with The Magazine? Rivals?
Scout? You’ve all come through here lately,”
There’s lineman Orlando Brown, who’s committed to Tennessee, and safety Nick Glass is
already aligned with Georgia. Receiver Myron
Burton and tailback Jordan Ellis shuffle in, too.
Both those guys will probably end up at either
an SEC or ACC school. There’s no telling what
other hidden gems are getting dressed for practice, either. And to think… this team didn’t make
the playoffs last season. In fact, this team had
a losing record last season. That’s life when
you’re playing in Gwinnett County at the highest
level of football in the state.
“We got our [butts] kicked last year,” Fleet-
wood said. “Life in the big city, that’s where we
are. I told my players, ‘You look at this and do
what you want, but it is what it is.’”
The Lions were state champions in 2006,
winning it all only four seasons after the school
opened its doors. They played for the title
again two years later. But last season didn’t
go so well: a 4-6 record in Fleetwood’s second
season in charge after winning eight in his in-
augural campaign. Thinking about all of it, the
quick ascension to the top, the drastic turn for
the worse, the amount of talent providing hope
for the upcoming season – it’s the embodiment
of Gwinnett County football.
THERE ARE NOW NEARLY 900,000 PEOPLE
living in Gwinnett County. Think about that for a
moment. There are at least five states (six if you
count the District of Columbia) that don’t have
that many people.
The takeoff began in the 1970s, when the
county’s population increased by 130 percent
to over 150,000 by 1980. The next decade saw
the total jump to over 350,000. By 2000, there
were nearly 600,000. The creeping and crawling of people into the area came from Fulton
and DeKalb Counties, both of which are located
west of Gwinnett.
Schools like Brookwood and Parkview, both
less than ten miles from some of DeKalb’s east-
ern-most high schools, were the first to benefit
from the flight. Coach Dave Hunter arrived at
Brookwood in 1987, a year after the Broncos
went 1-9. Hunter won at least eight games in 13
of the next 14 seasons, including a 33-6 record
in his first four years.