Photo by Staff Photo: Jason Braverman
Mickey Conn sat in front of his TV Thursday night with a unique perspective, one that few others could ever experience.
The Grayson head football coach is a lifelong Alabama fan who played for the Crimson Tide's last NCAA championship football team in 1992. That fact alone made him tense as he watched the BCS National Championship Game.
It was intensified even more because of Conn's love for Alabama defensive lineman Lorenzo Washington, a senior who he coached at Grayson. When Washington and his teammates finally finished off Texas 37-21 for the program's 13th national title, it delighted his former coach tremendously.
"It was emotional watching that thing," said Conn, the only head football coach at Grayson since it opened in 2000.
"It's been 17 years (since I played on the last championship team), but it takes me back to when I was a kid and how excited I was. That makes me really excited for Lorenzo, for him to be a part of that.
"I couldn't be more proud for him. And for him to have the kind of impact on the game like he did was awesome. He represented Grayson High School well. We've only been around 10 years and now we have a guy who's won a national championship and who's going to play in the NFL."
Conn has watched Washington come a long way from the raw athlete who was a freshman on Grayson's first football team. He developed into the Rams' first all-state player, got his grades in order at Hargrave Military Academy and moved onto Alabama, where his versatility to play inside or outside on the defensive line is a major strength.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pounder made two solo tackles, one for a loss, in the BCS final.
"It's a proud feeling for a coach, to have one of your guys win the national championship," Conn said. "He helped start our program in the beginning. I still remember Lorenzo in the eighth grade when I met him and when we got the program started. To see him go to Alabama, it makes my heart proud. To see him help Alabama win the national championship, I'm just so excited for him and his family."
Conn said he also was excited for the other Gwinnett products on Alabama's roster -- junior wide receiver Darius Hanks (Norcross), redshirt offensive lineman Kellen Williams (Brookwood) and offensive lineman Austin Shepherd, who graduated North Gwinnett early this month and enrolled at Alabama this month.
He remembers Hanks well, though the flashbacks remind him of two losses to Norcross in 2006. Hanks caught a touchdown pass in the latter game, Grayson's 27-21 double-overtime loss to the Blue Devils.
Now Conn finds himself rooting for Hanks, one of the Crimson Tide's top receivers. Though he didn't have a catch in the title game, Hanks had 17 catches for 272 yards and three TDs this season in a run-heavy offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
"It hasn't surprised me at all that (Hanks) has done well (at Alabama)," Conn said. "We had to try to defend him twice (in 2006). He's a phenomenal player, a great receiver and a great athlete. He's made big plays this season. He's really done well. He's right there in the rotation for the best team in the country."
Hanks will be back next season for a team likely to be ranked No. 1 again in the preseason. Washington's college career his done, but he is expected to be selected in April's NFL Draft.
The senior, who had 20 tackles (five for losses) and two sacks this season, is considered a top prospect for his physical gifts and his ability to play tackle or end.
"I think he'll get a shot (in the NFL)," Conn said. "He's got the size and speed, all the things they're looking for. And he just won a national championship on arguably the nation's best defense."