NFL next for freaks

Jared Cook and Brannan Southerland were great high school football players here in Gwinnett. Not the best, but very good.

Both excelled in two sports - Cook in football and basketball at North Gwinnett and Southerland in football and track at Greater Atlanta Christian - but neither was a real player of the year candidate in football their final few seasons. They were certainly among the best, and obviously all-county players.

Although others got more high school accolades, it was clear the best football lied ahead for those two. That's because as high-schoolers, their raw skills were tough for anyone around the state to match.

Eventually those abilities were going to be seen by NFL scouts, who made sure both will get a shot at pro football this year. Cook, after a dominating NFL combine showing, was drafted in the third round by the Tennessee Titans. Southerland, undrafted because of foot surgery and the fact that he's a fullback, was signed by the New York Jets as a free agent.

Neither will be overmatched physically at the next level because of their ridiculous athleticism, which people in Gwinnett remember from way back.

Cook always had a tall frame, good speed and ridiculous leaping ability (that really made him a force in high school hoops). He's since filled that lanky build out to 6-foot-5, 246 pounds, while still burning a sub-4.5 second 40-yard dash at the combine.

That wide receiver speed and tight end size eventually will make the former South Carolina standout a matchup nightmare in the NFL.

When he's healthy, Southerland is a big-time athlete as well. The 6-foot, 242-pounder's always had above-average speed for his size - he was one of the state's best hurdlers in high school at 220-plus pounds - and impressive strength.

Even as a Georgia freshman, Southerland was wowing his teammates with his work in the weight room. He's also a proven blocker from the fullback position in the nation's premier football conference.

Like Cook, he's also a remarkable athlete. And that, as they've shown, can take you a long way.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.