I- 85. Grayson, Peachtree Ridge and Mill Creek,
to name a few, opened up to accommodate
Gwinnett’s population boom.
It didn’t take long for football to soar as well.
When a new school was created, so too was another program hungry for ultimate success. Implied pressure from the community came along
with new schools opening up. Other schools in
Gwinnett are winning now – why can’t we?
While each new school didn’t pull kids away
from Parkview and Brookwood specifically, the
demographics of the northern neighborhoods
has created a shift in the football power structure over the last six or seven years.
“The northern part of the county is where
they’re building new houses and where parents
are moving in with kids,” Hammock said. “A lot of
people in the Brookwood and Parkview districts
are older families that don’t have young kids
anymore. They’re not building any new startup
neighborhoods where you get a lot of kids.”
Peachtree Ridge was a contender virtually
from the start, winning that title in 2006. Gray-
son won its championship in 2011. Mill Creek
advanced to the quarterfinals of the 6A playoffs
last season, while Archer, a program that began
four seasons ago, had a winning record in 2012.
With the number of schools increasing, so too
did the number of high-caliber players. The pool
kept growing and so did the fish swimming in it. In
2002, nine players from Gwinnett signed to play
for FBS schools. By 2012, the number was 19,
led by Grayson’s Robert Nkemdiche, the No. 1
recruit in the nation.
A national scouting director for the U.S. Army
All-American Bowl, Erik Richards has been in
charge of the Gwinnett County Youth Football
League for over 25 years. He’s seen the rise in
talent from the ground up.
“Each class gets better and better. In the
2014 class there’s probably going to be ten
All-Americans. Out of one county, that’s pretty
strong and there’s probably three or four others
that are All-American quality but you can only
take so many from one county.”
While the numbers are impressive to outsiders,
opposing coaches have to deal with an unsym-
pathetic reality. They have to play these teams.
Chuck Wiley knows about competition. He
played in the NFL for nearly a decade. An assistant at Chattahoochee High in Fulton County,
Wiley says his team can keep up in region 6A
against nearby schools. But last season, Chattahoochee drew eventual champion Norcross
in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have 1,800 kids in our school,” Wiley
said. “Norcross, they’ve got over 3,500 kids.
They’ve got third and fourth teams. We’ve got a
second team, but we don’t have the talent pool
to pull from. They’re loaded at every position,
and we’ve got guys playing both ways. We just
don’t have it like they have.”
Norcross coach Keith Maloof
Wiley argues that Chattahoochee shouldn’t
be in the same classification as Gwinnett
schools that boast over 3,000 students. He’s
doesn’t want to make excuses either, though.
“We deal with it. We just go and compete,”
he said. “That’s all you can do. In my humble
opinion, though, I think we should be playing in
5A. It’s brutal. It’s just hard.”
THE WEATHER IS WARMING IN LATE APRIL,
as sunscreen and shorts are mandatory at the
Nike NF TC Camp at Buford High School. I can see
the football stadium, my eyes unable to read the
details on the scoreboard. I know it all already –
23 region titles and nine state championships.
A clear advantage, anybody who wants to
attend Buford may do so because it’s a city
school with its own tax base and philosophy it
doesn’t have to share with county schools.
Sure that helps. But I’m standing in a sea
of green faux-grass. I can run any direction for
hundreds of yards and still be on this surface. A
facility that clearly contributes to the cause, three
football fields made of turf and perfectly lined play
host to hundreds of recruits on this day. Current
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray once joked
that Buford had better facilities than his Bulldogs.
He’s not kidding. The “University of Buford”
has facilities the likes of which most colleges
would love to have.
And the high school team doesn’t even practice
here. It has its own fields across the street. I’m
standing at the section of the massive Buford athletic complex, which hosts camps and community
functions and the ever-important youth league.
It’s unclear if Richards envisioned this when
he took control of the league, but it’s cultivating
a winning culture like never before.
“All the little Wolves from 6-years-old all the
way up through eighth grade are going to learn
the Buford system here,” Richards said. “They’ll
be around Buford football, be around the
coaches. That’s true at Brookwood, Norcross,
Parkview, North Gwinnett and on. It’s a true
Each season over 200 teams play more
than 1,000 games. There are 19 associations,
teams with districts roped off the same way
high school populations are determined.
If you’re on a course to play for Parkview in
high school, you’ll play youth football in the
From there, kids run systems with similar
plays and terminology as the high schools.
Head coaches like Fleetwood, North Gwinnett’s
Bob Sphire, Grayson’s Mickey Conn and others
spend time with the kids and youth coaches.
Richards doesn’t bury his belief – he thinks
his program is the best in the country.
“The high school coaches open up their doors
to my coaches to come do clinics all year long,”
he says. “It’s a factory right now. It’s definitely
the top in the nation.”
Years back Richards made a crucial, contro-
versial decision that he says has paid dividends.
In most youth leagues, there’s a weight limit
for kids to run the football, play quarterback
and wide receiver. This measure is in place for
safety, so that a kid more advanced physically
doesn’t injure smaller players.
Richards, however, lifted all weight restrictions. He uses current North Gwinnett top-level
recruit Dante Sawyer as an example. Sawyer
is now one of the nation’s premier defensive
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FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL GEORGIA 2013