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HAMMOCK: College football programs miss mark with Grayson running back Pemberton

Ean Pemberton has plenty to offer that the South's top football programs like.

The senior rushed for more than 1,000 yards in three straight seasons, piling up 4,749 for his career with 38 touchdowns. He's done that while playing against Georgia's top high school competition in its highest classification. He's been a leader for an ultra-successful program.

Off the field, he's a nice kid. He's well-spoken and respectful.

What Pemberton, who committed to Austin Peay earlier this week, doesn't have is the ideal college size that top colleges desire. In an era when recruiting rankings and projections matter so much to a college coach's approval rating, it's a kid like Pemberton who gets lost.

He gets overlooked by recruiters for one major reason -- college coaches are scared to take a chance by signing a 5-foot-4, 140-pound running back. The lack of college interest is disheartening to Grayson head coach Mickey Conn, who doesn't understand why his star back isn't a coveted prospect.

He isn't alone in those feelings. Every year we talk to high school coaches who are frustrated that one or more of their players are getting shunned by recruiters, and one common theme is a lack of height.

Often it's a defensive end who is 6-foot or 6-1 instead of a 6-3 or 6-4. Or a linebacker who is 5-10 and not 6-0. Football recruiting, it seems, is a game of inches, which makes it tough to be 5-4.

College coaches, particularly at the highest level, also are under pressure to sign the four- and five-star prospects, as rated by services like Scout.com and Rivals.com. And with more high schoolers committing early each year, those spots fill up quickly and make it difficult for late-bloomers who come into their own as seniors to find a college.

That emphasis makes me wonder how things would have been different for some Gwinnett kids from the past. Would Mark Richt have signed South Gwinnett's David Greene or Shiloh's Davey Pollack? They weren't exactly five-stars coming out of high school, but all they did in Athens was become the NCAA's career leader in wins by a quarterback and become the school's second three-time All-American.

Pemberton also falls short of other backs on recruiting sites, but it's hard to ignore what he's done on the football field. He's fast, amazingly elusive and exceptionally strong for his size -- highlights of him pushing piles and breaking tackles are a thrill to watch.

It's just a matter of where he takes those skills. If he signs with Austin Peay in February, he will be a star there. But he could also excel on a much higher level.

If a college coach is gutsy enough to give him the chance.

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