As national youth director of Football University, Gwinnett Football League president Erik Richards got to see the organization's All-American Bowls up close last year.
No Gwinnett players participated in 2009, but Richards made sure the county's best eighth-grade players were there last week when the national games were held in conjunction with the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He thought Gwinnett's top players would fare well against the nation's best, and he didn't leave Texas disappointed.
"I'm just extremely proud of (the seven Gwinnett players) and the way we held up against national competition," Richards said. "And that's not a slight against the competition out there because there was some heat. There were some bigger linemen out there than we're used to seeing. We don't have the 6-2, 300-pound linemen who can play at that level, but we really dominated at the skill positions."
Buford Middle student Tony Bradford, a 5-foot-10, 183-pound defensive lineman, was MVP of the eighth-grade weight all-star game, won 21-7 by the East. He had two tackles for safeties to give his team an early 4-0 lead, finishing with five solo tackles, four for losses, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He was joined in that game by Duluth Middle's Amari Barrett, who had a 92 percent blocking grade with three pancake blocks on the offensive line. He played just one series on defense, but had a sack.
In the unlimited weight game, five Gwinnett standouts made their national mark in a 42-0 East win.
Quarterback Taylor Mitchell was 5 of 12 passing for 99 yards and two touchdowns, guiding an offense that featured the nation's top eighth-grader, Miami (Fla.) running back Sony Michel. Mitchell had been in the Hull Middle (Peachtree Ridge) cluster, but Richards said the QB enrolled this month at Buford Middle.
The East backfield also included Osborne Middle (Mill Creek) standout Carter Governale, who had two carries for 69 yards and caught two passes for 29 yards.
Three Gwinnett players also had huge games for the East defense. Governale's Osborne classmate, Andrew Sciara, led the unit with nine tackles (one for a loss) and a forced fumble. Deion King of Trickum Middle (Parkview) added three tackles (one for a loss) and was praised for his work in practice against Michel.
The Lanier cluster's Dante Sawyer, a 6-2, 220-pounder, had seven tackles (one for a loss) and a fumble recovery.
The victorious East team's head coach was Rod Dollar, who coaches in the Mill Creek youth program.
"The most exciting part for me was watching the five (Gwinnett) boys on our team," Dollar said. "They were all in the upper echelon of the kids out there. All of our Gwinnett kids did very well."