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Gwinnett Grads: New opportunities

When Zach Lankford's picture pops up on the Alabama-Birmingham football page, it's eye-catching. Thanks to the hair.

The long, thick hair takes up most of the frame, much to the delight of the Dacula grad, who finally has the freedom to don his preferred hairstyle.

"I've always wanted long hair, but in high school (Dacula) Coach (Kevin) Maloof was so strict," said Lankford, a junior. "At UAB my freshman year, the coach told me if I didn't cut my hair that I couldn't travel so I shaved it close. It's kind of in between my (team photo) now and short. I want to have it long for my senior year though."

It isn't the only freedom that Lankford gets at UAB.

Primarily a blocking tight end at Dacula, the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder felt like another lineman. He caught passes in certain situations, but was more important as a blocker since he was bigger than the offensive tackle lined up next to him.

"We didn't need to throw to win in high school," he said.

UAB has Lankford more involved in the passing game, and it's a role he has enjoyed. He still does plenty of blocking from his two positions - H-back and tight end - but also has caught 13 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest game was five catches for 68 yards and a TD against Houston.

He lines up in various positions, making his role even more exciting.

"I move around everywhere, it's one of those dynamic positions on the field," Lankford said. "It makes it a lot more fun to be catching passes. It makes you feel so much more involved in the offense."

His new role was on display for his friends and family earlier in the season. UAB's game with Tennessee was on TV and he dropped a pass on the Blazers' fourth offensive play.

He went on to catch two more passes and get his helmet knocked off, so he logged plenty of air time.

"Everybody I talked to said, 'Zach, I saw you drop that pass on TV,'" he said.

Unfortunately, Lankford's team hasn't had too many highlights. UAB is 2-6 heading into a game today with Southern Miss.

"We've just got to believe in ourselves," Lankford said. "We've lost some games on some heart-breaking stuff, a Hail Mary, a defensive guy intercepts a pass and then fumbles. ... We've just got to develop that winning attitude. That's going to help a lot."

FOOTBALL

Hendrix sets Furman mark

Despite a loss to Appalachian State last Saturday, Furman wideout David Hendrix broke the school record for most receptions in a season by a freshman.

The Buford grad now has a record 32 catches for 408 yards and a touchdown, easily surpassing the old season mark of 26. He had six catches for 61 yards against Appalachian State.

CROSS COUNTRY

Kreutzers rule Peach Belt women's meet

Clayton State senior All-American Allison Kreutzer won her second career Peach Belt Conference championship race last weekend, while younger sister Kara, who runs for Augusta State, placed eighth.

The elder Kreutzer was named the conference's runner of the year after running the 5K course in 19 minutes, 25 seconds. Her 15 career cross country victories is a conference record.

Kara Kreutzer was named second-team all-conference after finishing eighth in 21:09. Both sisters attended Providence Christian in Lilburn.

Three other locals placed in the Peach Belt's top 25, led by North Georgia's Meghan Riggin of North Gwinnett in 22nd. She was followed by the Georgia College duo of Heather Raines (Collins Hill) and Dani Destiche (Brookwood) in 23rd and 24th.

Helton gets Peach Belt honor

Columbus State runner Stewart Helton, a Brookwood grad, placed eighth at last weekend's Peach Belt Conference Championships to earn second-team all-conference honors. Helton ran the 8K course in 27:52.

Collins Hill grad Rob Manning finished 12th in 28:48, earning Georgia College athlete of the week honors for the performance. Teammates Erik Ottoson (Collins Hill) and Colin Conroy (Mill Creek) were 19th and 21st, respectively.

Clayton State's Jarrid Casimir, a Dacula grad, was 20th.

Westbrooks shines at region meet

Grayson grad Rebecca Westbrooks, a freshman at Young Harris College, placed second at the Region XVII Cross Country Championships and helped her team to first place. Young Harris moves on to the upcoming national meet Nov. 8.

Westbrooks, who played basketball at Grayson, is in her first season as a cross country runner.

SOCCER

Johnson gets academic honor

Auburn senior Jenn Johnson, a Greater Atlanta Christian grad, was selected this week to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District IV Team. Johnson, a first-team selection for the third straight year, will now be placed on the national ballot - she was a second-team All-American last year.

Johnson carries a 4.0 GPA in psychology and has been a starting defender for Auburn since stepping onto campus prior to the 2005 season. With her start Friday night against Alabama, she has started 81 consecutive games, sixth-most in Auburn history.

Having played as both a center-back and an outside back this season, she leads the team in minutes played while assisting on a pair of game-winning goals this season. A team captain this year, she spent this past summer as an intern with the FBI in Washington, D.C.

Brookwood grads lead North Georgia win

North Georgia's women's soccer team pulled out a 2-0 victory over Armstrong Atlantic last Saturday with major contributions from two Brookwood grads.

Freshman Natalie Douglass scored the game-winner, her third goal of the season, in the 81st minute. North Georgia added an insurance goal six minutes later.

Saints goalkeeper Jessica English, also a Brookwood, grad made three saves for her fourth shutout. She made a sprawling save just before halftime and a nice save on a volley in the 77th minute.

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.

SideBar: IN FRONT OF THE CAMERAS

A quick look at where to watch former Gwinnett standouts in today's college football action:

Noon - Northwestern at Minnesota, ESPN2

Brookwood's David Pittman (No. 9) plays quarterback for Minnesota.

12:30 p.m. - Auburn at Ole Miss, WATL

Parkview's Brad Lester (No. 1) plays running back, South's Rod Smith (No. 80) plays wide receiver and Brookwood's Charles Olatunji (No. 21) plays wide receiver for Auburn. North's Jason Cook (No. 44) plays fullback, Parkview's Julian Whitehead (No. 28) plays defensive back, Peachtree Ridge's Brandon Sanders (No. 14) plays defensive back, Buford's Melvin Harris (No. 5) plays wide receiver and Peachtree Ridge's Trey Trip (No. 44) plays linebacker for Ole Miss.

3 p.m. - Furman at Stanford, SportSouth

Buford's Masharn Austin (No. 18) plays cornerback, Buford's Mark Standridge (No. 30) plays cornerback, Buford's David Hendrix (No. 14) plays wide receiver, Parkview's Pete Sanders (No. 96) plays fullback and Norcross' Trent Hawk (No. 17) is a punter for Furman.

3:30 p.m. - Georgia vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Fla., CBS

GAC's Brannan Southerland (No. 36) plays fullback, Norcross' Fred Munzenmaier (No. 48) plays fullback, GAC's Caleb King (No. 4) plays running back, Brookwood's Rennie Curran (No. 35) plays linebacker, GAC's Christian Robinson (No. 45) plays linebacker and Peachtree Ridge's Drew Butler (No. 13) is a punter for Georgia. Buford's Omar Hunter (No. 99) plays defensive line and Buford's T.J. Pridemore (No. 45) plays fullback for Florida.

3:30 p.m. - Florida State at Georgia Tech, ABC

Duluth's Tyler Davis (No. 86) is a kicker, Duluth's Jason Davis (No. 45) plays running back, Norcross' Luke Snider (No. 66) plays defensive line, South's Zach Krish (No. 74) is an offensive lineman, Norcross' Bryce Dykes (No. 16) plays quarterback and Buford's Chase Hudson (No. 63) is an offensive lineman for Georgia Tech.

7 p.m. - Tennessee at South Carolina, ESPN2

North's Jared Cook (No. 84) plays tight end, Buford's Yvan Banag (No. 30) plays fullback and Brookwood's Kenny Miles (No. 31) plays running back for South Carolina.

8 p.m. - UAB at Southern Miss, CSS

Dacula's Zach Lankford (No. 84) plays tight end, Grayson's Logan Creel (No. 72) plays offensive line, Grayson's Jim Mitchell (No. 40) plays running back and Shiloh's Justin Smart (No. 26) plays defensive back for UAB.