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Gwinnett grads: Climbing the ladder

Oregon has produced a solid line of highly touted quarterbacks in recent years, from Akili Smith to Joey Harrington to Dennis Dixon.

The next in line is Buford grad Justin Roper, and so far the sophomore hasn't disappointed.

Roper, knocked out of an opening win vs. Washington with a concussion, stepped back in last week and triggered an offense that produced a school-record 688 yards in a 66-24 win over Utah State.

The 6-foot-6, 205-pounder, despite not practicing with the team until Wednesday, was sharp in the blowout. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, in addition to scoring a rushing TD.

Although he wasn't named the starter until late in the preseason, Roper (who was 7-for-11 for 114 yards and a TD before being hurt against Washington) appears to be the clear-cut No. 1 now.

"Justin's experienced with our system, with our signals and everything," Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti told The Oregonian. "We play at a different level when he's in there."

Roper, whose team plays at Purdue today on ABC, began his campaign for the starting job late in 2007.

A rash of late-season injuries forced him into the Ducks' regular-season finale against Oregon State and he responded by going 13-for-25 passing for 144 yards. He was just as good in a Sun Bowl win over South Florida, completing 17 of 30 passes for 180 yards and a bowl-record four TDs with no interceptions.

So far in 2008 he's picked up where he left off last season.

"I can kind of feel the players gel around me a little bit, the offensive line especially," Roper told The Oregonian. "When I step in the huddle, everyone kind of goes quiet, which is how it should be. I'm feeling more chemistry and we're starting to bond as a team."

FOOTBALL

Stars from Sept. 6

Here's a look at some of the noteworthy college football efforts from last weekend:

· Dacula grad Zach Lankford, a tight end/H-Back for Alabama-Birmingham, caught two passes for 20 yards and a TD against Florida Atlantic and also had a handful of key blocks. UAB faces Tennessee today on WATL.

· Chris Covington, a Brookwood grad, helped Georgia Southern bounce back from a loss to UGA by making a career-high 11 tackles and forcing a fumble in a 34-20 win over Austin Peay.

· North Gwinnett grad Brandon Reeves had three tackles and an interception in Air Force's 23-3 win over Wyoming.

· Tyrece Gaines of Norcross had three catches for 60 yards, including two first-quarter TDs, as Butler County Community College (Kan.) defeated Garden City CC 34-29. Teammate Jonathan Massaquoi of Central Gwinnett added two sacks.

Garden City star Cameron Kenney, a Dacula grad, caught eight passes for 55 yards and a pair of TDs.

· Hiram College (Ohio) linebacker Jon Hull, a freshman from Mill Creek, was named the North Coast Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week. He made seven tackles (all solos), a tackle for loss, forced and recovered a fumble and had two pass breakups in a 20-14 overtime win over Gallaudet University. The win snapped Hiram's 26-game losing streak.

SOFTBALL

Wood earns MVP honors in Prague

Former UGA fastpitch softball standout Melissa Wood, who played at both Parkview and South Gwinnett, was named the MVP of the recent European Cup in Prague.

Wood hit .480 with five home runs and 14 RBIs for Dornbirn Sharx of Austria. The Sharx lost 4-0 to BSC Legnano in the finals, but claimed the silver medal. One of Wood's homers was off former UGA teammate Kasi Carroll, who plays for Italy's Fiorini, the bronze-medal team.

Wood, a catcher, had 20 home runs and 92 RBIs in two seasons at UGA after transferring from Florida State.

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 - California at Maryland, ESPN

Buford's Zach Smith (No. 27) plays fullback for California.

· 12:30 p.m. - Alabama-Birmingham at Tennessee, WATL

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.

· 3:30 p.m. - UGA at South Carolina, CBS

For UGA, 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 South Carolina, 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.

· 3:30 p.m. - Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ABC

For Georgia Tech, 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.

· 3:30 p.m. - Oregon at Purdue, ESPN

Buford's Justin Roper (No. 11) plays quarterback for Oregon.

· 7 p.m. - Auburn at Mississippi State, ESPN2

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.

· 8 p.m. - Ohio State at USC, ABC

Peachtree Ridge's Cameron Heyward (No. 97) plays defensive line for Ohio State and Norcross' Brice Butler (No. 83) plays wide receiver for USC.