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GWINNETT GRADS: Hanks becomes go-to receiver for Tide

The Associated Press . Alabama wide receiver Darius Hanks (15) runs for a 45-yard touchdown reception last Saturday.

The Associated Press . Alabama wide receiver Darius Hanks (15) runs for a 45-yard touchdown reception last Saturday.

The confidence never waned for Darius Hanks.

Through a freshman season that saw him make one catch and through a mostly uneventful sophomore season, the Norcross grad knew he could make an impact at wide receiver in the SEC. He just needed the chance.

Those started coming late last season, when he finished with eight catches for 88 yards and became more of a regular late in his sophomore year. Now a junior, Hanks has become a go-to wideout for second-ranked Alabama opposite star Julio Jones.

"It's going really well," Hanks said of his season with the undefeated Crimson Tide. "I'm finally getting a shot to showcase my skills. It feels really good. Since last spring I felt like I was going to be in the mix and now I've got the opportunity."

Hanks has 16 catches for 257 yards and three touchdowns this season, including a career-best 45-yard scoring play last week in a 31-3 win over Mississippi State. Jones' size and skills often draw the focus of opposing defenses, leaving Hanks and others with more one-on-one matchups.

That has allowed Hanks to show some of what made him a star at Norcross.

"I run great routes, I have pretty good hands and I catch pretty much everything that comes my way," Hanks said. "And I try to pay close attention to blocking."

Struggles with blocking often keep young college running backs and wide receivers off the field, but Hanks said he has made strides in that area. It helps that he can get more physical with defenders now that he carries 185 pounds on his 6-foot frame. He arrived in Tuscaloosa a slim 168 pounds.

"I want to be 195 when it's all said and done," he said.

Hanks gets another chance to showcase his skills for his hometown fans -- Dec. 5 in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama lost to Florida in last year's title game, but a rematch is in store in two weeks.

"I feel like we'll get a chance at redemption," Hanks said. "We lost to Florida, but now we have another chance to beat them and hopefully get to the national championship."

Quick hits

Not much went well for USC in last weekend's 55-21 loss to Stanford, but Norcross product Brice Butler had six catches for 96 yards and a TD. ... Vanderbilt's offensive struggles haven't stopped the defense from playing well. Defensive tackles T.J. Greenstone (Collins Hill) and Greg Billinger (Parkview) have been steady. Greenstone's 35 tackles lead the defensive line, and he also has 4.5 tackles for losses and two sacks. Billinger has 33 tackles, five for losses, with 3.5 sacks. ... Virginia Military Institute now has two starting offensive linemen from Gwinnett, with freshman Phillip Pickens (Meadowcreek) at right guard joining left tackle Aaron Blue, a sophomore from Peachtree Ridge. VMI's roster also features tight end Josh Favaro (North Gwinnett), linebacker Josh Sneed (Collins Hill) and offensive linemen James Boatright (Grayson) and Andrew Patrick (Wesleyan).

BASKETBALL

Williams hits game-winner

Former South Gwinnett star Lou Williams lifted the Philadelphia 76ers to an 86-84 win over Charlotte on Wednesday night, hitting a game-winning lay-up with 3.1 seconds left. The high-scoring guard finished with 19 points.

Kulavic has jersey retired

St. Pius grad Katie Kulavic, a Norcross resident, had her Oglethorpe University jersey retired at halftime of Monday's game with rival Emory. Kulavic now is an assistant basketball coach at Berry College.

Jones back on floor for Gators

Jordan Jones returned from a long break -- sitting out 601 days after transferring from South Carolina -- to lead her new Florida team to a season-opening win over Stetson last Saturday.

The Collins Hill grad had 17 points, a game-high five assists and two steals in her Gator debut. She followed that up with 13 points and five assists Tuesday in a 66-62 loss to No. 13 Florida State.

ACC honors Aminu

Wake Forest star Al-Farouq Aminu was named the ACC player of the week on Monday after leading the Demon Deacons to two season-opening wins.

The Norcross grad averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds and made 64 percent of his shots in the victories. He followed that up with a 22-point, 10-rebound effort Wednesday in an 83-60 win over High Point.

Fast break

Colgate lost its first two games of the preseason NIT this past week, 77-63 to Connecticut and 65-55 to Yale, but Parkview grad Yaw Gyawu scored 12 in each game. ... Norcross grad Tiffany Clarke scored 13 points off the bench last Sunday, leading No. 22 Vanderbilt to a 90-54 rout of Lehigh. ... Blanche Alverson, a Buford grad, made her Auburn debut last week with five points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench in a 70-65 win over Troy. ... Hebron Christian's Meredith Montgomery had seven points and seven rebounds off the bench this week as North Georgia defeated Reinhardt 71-31.

CROSS COUNTRY

Raines finishes career well

Georgia College and State University runner Heather Raines had a strong finish in her last college race, placing 28th overall at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships.

The Collins Hill grad, the Bobcats' top runner in five of seven races this season, finished the race in 25 minutes, 19 seconds. Teammate Dani Destiche of Brookwood was 41st (25:41).

In the men's race, Collins Hill grad Rob Manning was first for GCSU with a 45th-place finish. He ran the 10K in 35:08. Teammate Colin Conroy (Mill Creek) was 76th.

Sexton posts high finish

Brookwood grad Michael Sexton, a runner at Berry College, was the top college finisher at last weekend's Viking Open. He was third overall in the men's 8K race with a time of 26 minutes, 34 seconds.

VOLLEYBALL

Troyer named all-tourney

Trinity College won the NCAA Division III South Region Championship match over Southwestern behind Wesleyan grad Caiti Troyer, who had 32 assists and 10 digs. Troyer's play made her an all-tournament selection.

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.