Tyrece Gaines saw the direct route to major college football that his friends and fellow Norcross wide receviers Darius Hanks and Brice Butler followed the past two years.
Hanks, now at Alabama, and Butler, now a Southern California, both signed out of high school with big-time powers while Gaines toiled away at Butler County Community College (Kan.). His hope was to move on to a major college like his buddies, and it's a goal that he is very close to seeing happen.
Gaines, one of the nation's most coveted JUCO wide receivers, said Friday afternoon that he will make a decision in the next couple of weeks between Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Oregon.
"I'm 90 to 100 percent sure I'm going to (Oklahoma)," said Gaines, who considers Ole Miss his No. 2 choice at this point. "They're losing three receivers and they've got an outstanding quarterback (Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford) who can throw the ball. It's like a family there and I like that.
"And I just like the way they compete every day in practice. I got to see one of their practices and I really like the way they compete."
It took quite a journey for Gaines to get to this point.
His last season at Norcross was 2005, when he had 35 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns as a junior.
He didn't play in 2006, but joined Butler, perhaps the nation's best-known JUCO power, the following season.
Although he played in a run-heavy offense at Butler the past two seasons, Gaines was the leading receiver and No. 1 passing option both years as the Grizzlies won back-to-back national championships.
He caught 23 passes for 424 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman in 2007, then had 28 catches for 490 yards and nine TDs this year.
The two years at Butler aided Gaines' development on and off the field, he said.
"Out at Butler, there's nothing really. There's completely nothing, maybe five or six stoplights," Gaines said.
"That was the place I needed to be to humble myself. There's nothing to do but football and school. That's all I did, football and school."
While he developed academically and in other areas, Gaines also did some physical growing at Butler. A wiry, 6-foot-3, 180-pounder in high school, he now is powerful 218-pounder.
"I'm a lot bigger and a step or two faster than high school, a whole lot faster than I was," Gaines said.
Former Eagle Greenstone gets
All-SEC, American nods
Collins Hill grad T.J. Greenstone, a starting defensive tackle at Vanderbilt, received several postseason honors the past two weeks.
Greenstone made the coaches and Rivals.com All-SEC Freshman teams along with a second-team spot on the College Football News Freshman All-American team. He had 29 tackles, five for losses, this season.
Curran named UGA's defensive MVP
Georgia's coaching staff gave linebacker Rennie Curran, a Brookwood grad, the Bulldogs' defensive MVP award at the team's annual season-ending gala last weekend. Fullback Brannan Southerland, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad, was a winner of the David Jacobs Award for his courage, spirit, character and determination in coming back from injury. Southerland and Peachtree Ridge grad Drew Butler received All-SEC Academic Awards.
GAC grad Christian Robinson, who is sitting out a redshirt year, was given the Outstanding Scout Team Award for offense.
Rodriguez gets all-region honors
Wittenberg (Ohio) sophomore Manny Rodriguez, a Central Gwinnett grad, was named third-team All-North Region last week by D3football.com. He also was a first-team all-conference selection this season.
Rodriguez made 65 tackles (five for losses), had an interception and forced a team-high four fumbles. He also averaged 17.5 yards per kick return.
In addition to starting all 20 games of his football career, Rodriguez also made seven appearances last spring as a right-handed pitcher on Wittenberg's baseball team.
Dyer, Union have big seasons
Rolando Dyer and four other Gwinnett grads were key players in the best season ever for Union College, which finished 9-3 and ranked 11th nationally among NAIA teams. The team also earned its first playoff berth.
Dyer, a Central Gwinnett grad, had 29 catches for 518 yards and eight touchdowns. His teammates included Grayson's Chandler Priest and Meadowcreek grads My-Kel Ammons, Justin Morris and Chad Thomas.
Kelley, Lockett star for Owls
Gwinnett grads Greteya Kelley and Gia Lockett have played very well the past few weeks for Kennesaw State.
Kelley was named the Atlantic Sun Conference player of the week on Monday. The Collins Hill grad had 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three steals in an 80-63 win over USC-Upstate.
She also is the reigning Atlantic Sun defensive player of the year.
Later Monday night, Lockett delivered a huge performance for the Owls.
The South Gwinnett grad scored 36 points - a Division I record for the program - in an 82-61 win over Georgia Southern. She scored 24 first-half points on 9 of 11 shooting (5 of 6 from 3-point range). She made 14 of 17 shots overall in the victory.
Wiedeman gets school award
Georgia College and State University sophomore Reece Wiedeman was selected as his school's athlete of the week on Tuesday. He was rewarded for a 25-point, 11-rebound game as the Bobcats defeated Carver Bible.
Mercer back on court
South Gwinnett grad Mike Mercer made his debut at South Florida this past week after a transfer from Georgia. The quick guard scored 12 points, but his team lost 70-55 at home to Niagara.
Hawkins is school's first All-American
Parkview grad Sarah Hawkins, a four-time All-Peach Belt Conference selection, was named an NCSAA All-American first-teamer, a first for her program.
The senior defender also was a first-team All-Peach Belt Academic Team selection. Teammate Stephanie Parrish, a Grayson grad, was a third-team academic selection.
Georgia College's Kelli McLane (Brookwood) and Georgia Southwestern's Elizabeth Keller (South Gwinnett) made the all-academic second team.
TRACK AND FIELD
Dobbs breaks school record
Western Kentucky freshman Kara Dobbs broke the school pole vault record in her first college meet with a 11-foot clearance at the Middle Tennessee State Christmas Invitational.
The height, which topped Dobbs' Grayson record by two inches, was good for a first-place finish.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or via fax to 770-339-8081.