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In the spotlight
Uzomah handles pressure of being highly recruited QB

Just imagine you're a 16-year-old high school student.

You're a first-year starter at quarterback for one of the top programs in the state. A winning season isn't enough, 10 wins or more and a deep playoff run are expected. If that wasn't enough, you're the successor to Gwinnett County's all-time leading passer.

Your name is in the headline of newspapers and your face is on recruiting Web sites. College coaches call and text message you trying to lure you to their program.

It's sounds like a fun life, doesn't it? It's glamorous, it's exciting, it's pressure filled.

Welcome to North Gwinnett quarterback C.J. Uzomah's life.

"He's been very, very mature about all of this, taking it all in," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. "He's not really getting caught up in it so far. I've been pretty impressed with how he's handled it this far."

The past year has all been a surprise for Uzomah. As a sophomore last year, he didn't start seeing regular playing time until the second half of the season and that was at wide receiver. When the Bulldogs' leading receiver Cordero Dixon went down with an injury that put the backup quarterback in the lineup at receiver. Uzomah had never played receiver, but his best game came in North's second round playoff win over Lassiter. Uzomah had five catches for 100 yards and three touchdowns. Two of the scores were leaping highlight reel catches in the end zone.

Uzomah finished the season with numbers that wouldn't really grab your attention. He was 7 of 13 passing for 16 yards with 1 TD. He had 52 yards rushing, 1 TD and 13 catches for 284 yards and 5 TDs.

Not really the kind of stats you would expect to jump out at college recruiters. But when you're 6-foot-51/2, 225 pounds and just a sophomore with playmaking ability, those are the kinds of things college coaches drool over. A player they can develop into a star.

"I think everybody was kind of surprised this was happening." Uzomah said. "I'm grateful, but I was just in awe that after just playing a little bit less than the second half of he season at receiver all this attention was coming in."

UCLA was the first to notice Uzomah, sending him a questionnaire last season. He went to Georgia's Junior Day in the spring and after the visit called head coach Mark Richt to thank him for the trip. The Bulldogs offered Uzomah a scholarship and he now has 12 total offers from some of the top college programs in the country like Alabama, Clemson, LSU, Miami and Oklahoma State.

"A college can't really miss on a guy like him," Sphire said. "He's a big-time quarterback. He's major BCS national championship caliber program player. Teams that are competing for national championships, in my opinion, are teams he could have the opportunity to play for and excel."

Talking to college football coach's like Richt, Alabama's Nick Saban, LSU's Les Miles and Clemson's Dabo Sweeney still blows Uzomah away.

"It's a great experience. It's still shocking, honestly. Just to think I could attract so much attention," Uzomah said. "At the same time, it's great to know God has blessed me with so much ability and the coach's help me hone on my skills and critique the little things I do. I'm fortunate to have players like Cordero Dixon, Justin Dickens, people like that out there to make big plays for me when I put the ball in their hands."

For the last three seasons Mikey Tamburo has been North Gwinnett's starting quarterback. Tamburo threw for 6,496 yards during his career, a Gwinnett County record, and led North to a 34-7 record. When Tamburo signed with Boise State that left a void at the biggest position in North's offense. Not only would Uzomah have to lead the offense the way Tamburo did, a mark of success came with it as well.

"Definitely coming into the season I thought there was going to be a lot of pressure," Uzomah said. "I actually talked to (Tamburo) a lot over the summer and told him how stressful it was trying to fill in his shoes."

Uzomah put to rest any doubts he couldn't lead the team in the Bulldogs' season opener. The junior threw two touchdown passes in North's 14-11 win over nationally ranked and three-time defending Alabama state champion Prattville.

"At first, as an offensive unit we were thinking he might be a little nervous coming out to a team that was so highly respected and No. 5 in the nation," North offensive lineman Aaron Lanzo said. "We thought he would come out with a little jitters and maybe overthrow some people, makes some mistakes. But he really came out with a good head on his shoulders and played the game like he should."

Uzomah has North off to a No. 3 state ranking in Class AAAAA thanks to a 5-0 overall record and 3-0 in Region 7-AAAAA play.

He's completed 64 percent of his passes for 834 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. He's also North's leading rusher with 320 yards and five TDs.

But it's the intangibles that don't show up on the stat sheet that has stood out the most to Sphire about Uzomah.

"I've just been real impressed with how he's managed things and his composure," he said. "I've been around for 29 years and he oozes confidence and you can see the guys around him are extremely confident and he's making everybody comfortable."

Lanzo couldn't agree more. For a 16-year-old, first-time starting quarterback, Uzomah has shown the leadership of a three-year starter. If there was ever any concern that Uzomah was all hype, he has dispelled that theory with his play this season.

"He's a great leader," Lanzo said. "If someone does something wrong he won't jump on him. He will say 'Hey, focus on the next play. One play at a time.' He's a great leader when he's on the field."

SideBar: The Uzomah File

Who: C.J. Uzomah

Sport: Football

School: North Gwinnett

Class: Junior

Favorite TV show: "Heroes"

Favorite sports team: Indianapolis Colts

Dream job: President of the United States

What do you do to prepare for a game?: "Listen to music and go to sleep or talk. I can't really get too tense during games because I think it brings me out of the mind set, over prepare so to speak."

Noteworthy:

· C.J. stands for Christopher James. His last name Uzomah is Nigerian for The Right Path

· Maintains a 3.0 GPA

· Has 12 scholarship offers from some of the top programs in the country, including Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Miami and Oklahoma State

· Has thrown for 834 yards and seven touchdowns this season

· Played wide receiver the second half of last year, catching 12 passes and five TDs