Sports Editor Will Hammock
SNELLVILLE -- Back in his day, Mickey Conn was a pretty decent defensive back.
The Grayson head coach was good enough to earn a walk-on spot, then some legitimate playing time at his favorite college, Alabama. He even won a national title in 1992.
Conn was an undersized defensive back playing in the big time. That's why he can appreciate more than anyone what his own free safety, Grayson senior Kori Gaines, does on the football field.
Gaines intercepted two more passes Friday night in the Rams' 22-12 win over rival Brookwood, boosting his season total to eight in just seven games. The picks also pushed him past his coach -- Conn's best season as a South Gwinnett player was seven.
"He broke my season record, that's the first thing he told me when he hit the sidelines," Conn said. "I told him they didn't throw it as much back then as they do now."
"I had to mention that I broke it," Gaines said. "I had to."
Like Conn, Gaines doesn't wow the scouts with his height, at just 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. But he does have excellent leaping ability, 4.42-second speed in the 40-yard dash and a college scholarship offer, which he accepted a few months ago, to Brigham Young.
On an exceptional Grayson defense with other high-level college talent, it's even tougher to stand out. Especially when those other guys are physically eye-catching -- 280-pound Shawn Green, 250-pound Joseph Champaign and 260-pound Terry Williams.
But Gaines manages to be one of the unit's top playmakers, mainly because of the pace he's racking up interceptions. Since I've covered football since 1997, I can only remember two other defensive backs who picked off passes at this pace -- Parkview's Jeremy Muyres (who intercepted four in a game twice) and Jeff Francoeur (who had a county-record tying 15 in 2000).
"I don't know how (Gaines) does it," said Williams, Grayson's big-hitting linebacker. "He does a great job for us in coverage back there. He helps us out a lot."
And the Rams need it.
Their defense is so big and so tough up front, few, if any, teams in Georgia will run the ball against them successfully. Because of that, their opponents will try to beat them with the pass.
That's where Gaines comes in, making his coach proud every week. Even if he talks trash about breaking his record.
"I don't know (how I keep getting interceptions)," Gaines said. "Everybody keeps telling me I'm overrated. I guess they try to pick on me. But it's not me, it's the pressure from the line, the linebackers. My outside linebackers in coverage. My corners funneling it into me. They make it happen."
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com. His column appears on Thursdays.