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UGA-Auburn game could be decided by Gwinnett grads

Gwinnett grads litter a number of football rosters in the Southeast, but very few matchups lately have brought as many locals together on the same field as Georgia and Auburn.

Those two teams meet again today and the outcome may very well hinge on former Gwinnett standouts, since a handful likely will get significant touches on offense.

Auburn's top running back, junior Brad Lester, and top wide receiver, Rod Smith, are both Gwinnett grads - Lester went to Parkview, Smith to South Gwinnett.

Georgia's Brannan Southerland (Greater Atlanta Christian) and Mikey Henderson (Buford) also have scored their share of meaningful touchdowns for the Bulldogs this season. Meanwhile, Bulldog kicker Brandon Coutu, a Collins Hill grad, also could play a major role, as could freshman linebacker Rennie Curran, a Brookwood grad.

Lester has only played in four games this season after sitting out the early season with an academic issue. But since returning, he's rushed for 330 yards and three TDs and also has five catches for 56 yards. The quick back averages more TDs per touch than any player in Auburn history - he scored 17 TDs his first two college seasons, including a team-high 10 as a sophomore.

Smith, known by many South Gwinnett fans as "Dreek," is Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox's go-to target. The junior has a team-best 43 catches for 593 yards and five TDs and has 22 more catches than the Tigers' No. 2 receiver.

Henderson has made huge plays in recent seasons as Georgia's punt returner, but he's been just as important this season as a wideout. He has caught two of the Bulldogs' biggest TDs, the game-winner in overtime against Alabama and a critical scoring grab in the win over Florida. He has 16 catches for 226 yards and averages 13.5 yards per punt return.

Southerland is a vital player on Georgia's offense at the starting fullback, even as his touches have declined this season. He's still scored four TDs and has caught eight passes for 46 yards.

Coutu has made 13 of 18 field goals and all 34 extra-point attempts, leading Georgia with 73 points.

FOOTBALL

Cunningham named Tulane's top student

Norcross grad Brooks Cunningham, taking a redshirt year as a freshman on Tulane's football team, was named the school's student-athlete of the month. Cunningham is playing on the scout team for his redshirt year.

SOCCER

MSU's Dallas named to SEC team

Mississippi State senior soccer player Stephanie Dallas, a Brookwood grad, was named to the Southeastern Conference Community Service Team for her good work in the community.

Dallas, a goalkeeper, participated in at least 10 community service events, including a Thanksgiving food drive, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Read Across America.

Johnson gets academic honor

Greater Atlanta Christian grad Jennifer Johnson, a junior soccer player at Auburn, was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District first team for the second straight season. Johnson, who has started 58 consecutive games for the Tigers, maintains a 4.0 GPA in criminology and psychology.

Locals honored by Great South

Four Gwinnett grads, all playing for Piedmont College, were selected to the All-Great South Athletic Conference men's soccer team.

Shiloh grad Drew Griffin, Mill Creek grad Jorge Pradilla, Grayson grad Josh Seabrook and Parkview grad Chris Leone made the all-conference list. Griffin (20 goals, 2 assists) and Pradilla (13 goals, 10 assists) were first and second in the conference in points.

Mill Creek grad Jacob Brown, also at Piedmont, made the league's All-Freshman team. Brown scored both goals in Piedmont's penalty-kick loss to Huntingdon in the conference tourney.

Pradilla also made the All-Academic team along with teammates Patrick Kaminski (North Gwinnett) and Ben Pyle (Peachtree Ridge).

Owen named all-tourney

Shiloh grad Daria Owen of Georgia College and State University was named to the Peach Belt Conference All-Tournament Team. The sophomore scored a game-winning goal in the tourney vs. Clayton State.

VOLLEYBALL

DeMarrais named top freshman

Brookwood grad Kalin DeMarrais was named the Great South Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year in volleyball.

The Piedmont College standout had the league's third-highest hitting percentage (.258) and finished with 272 kills, 296 digs and 57 service aces. DeMarrais helped Piedmont upset five-time defending champion Maryville in the conference tourney, earning a trip to Division III nationals.

TENNIS

Ballard wins tennis title

Parkview grad Lindsey Ballard of Tennessee-Chattanooga won the Flight B-1 singles title at the Southern Intercollegiate Championships in Columbia, S.C.

Ballard was undefeated in the tournament with a victory over Tennessee State's Tera Byrne in the finals.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.