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GWINNETT GRADS: Former Lions on opposite sidelines in UGA-LSU matchup

Photo: Craig Cappy University of Georgia's Drew Butler, a Peachtree Ridge grad, punts the ball during a game this season. 

Photo: Craig Cappy University of Georgia's Drew Butler, a Peachtree Ridge grad, punts the ball during a game this season. 

LSU defensive back Derrick Bryant still talks to his former high school teammate, Georgia punter Drew Butler, from time to time.

Their plan all season was to meet up Dec. 3 in Atlanta.

"I told him you take care of the (SEC) East, we'll take care of the West," Bryant said. "Fortunately, it turned out great and we get to see each other this weekend."

The two friends are half of a mini-Peachtree Ridge football reunion at today's SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.

LSU linebacker Kevin Minter and Georgia defensive back Connor Norman also are former Lions, giving the Suwanee school quite a stamp on the league's marquee game. Only West Monroe (La.) High, which has four LSU players, can match their total.

"We're excited," Norman said of the four Peachtree Ridge players. "I've talked to Drew about it a little bit and I'll have to send Kevin a message on Facebook. It's pretty cool to have four guys from Peachtree Ridge in the SEC Championship Game."

The four players are accustomed to winning from their high school days, starting in 2006 when Butler (then a senior), Bryant (a junior) and Norman (a freshman) played on Peachtree Ridge's co-state championship team. Minter then transferred in after his freshman season at Berkmar, quickly becoming friends with Bryant and Norman.

Bryant and Minter have become closer friends now that both are at away at LSU.

"You don't have too many people from Georgia here in Louisiana, so it's nice to have someone here," Bryant said.

Minter has started the majority of LSU's games at linebacker, totaling 50 tackles. Bryant sees frequent action at special teams and as an extra defensive back. He has 25 stops.

On the opposing side, Butler has played a huge role in three seasons as the Bulldogs' punter, earning the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter two seasons ago. He averages 43 yards a kick this season.

Norman has played in every game on special teams and has 13 tackles, including nine solos. His rise to contributor has been the most surprising of the four -- he transferred in as a walk-on from Presbyterian and sat out the 2010 season while playing scout team.

"Growing up with Connor, I always knew he could do it," Minter said. "He just needed the chance. He's one of the hardest workers I know. Pound for pound, he was one of the strongest kids on the team and one of the fastest. I just feel like he was overlooked in high school."

That friendship is why Minter hopes Norman plays well today, and vice versa. Bryant wants Butler to hit some booming punts, too, and Butler would enjoy Bryant making a few plays.

Just not too many. Bryant completely understands that sentiment.

"When the game comes, he's on one side and I'm on the other," Bryant said. "But at the end of the game, we're still friends."

All four are friends, as well as proud representatives of their old high school in one of college football's biggest games of the season.

"For how relatively young Peachtree Ridge is as a high school, it's nice to see this many (players in the SEC title game)," Butler said. "We not only have players in the game, but we have players who are producing for their teams. It shows what kind of athletes Peachtree Ridge has."

FOOTBALL

Chapple named Harlon Hill finalist

Greater Atlanta Christian grad Lee Chapple, a senior at North Alabama, is one of nine finalists for the Harlon Hill Trophy, given to the national player of the year in Division II.

Chapple threw for 3,084 yards and 23 touchdowns for North Alabama (9-2), which lost in the second round of the playoffs.

Rodriguez picked for all-star game

Central Gwinnett grad Manny Rodriguez, who recently completed his playing career at West Georgia, will play one more game this weekend in front of professional football scouts.

Rodriguez was selected for Sunday's National Bowl Game, an invitation-only showcase in Allentown, Penn. He was West Georgia's second-leading tackler as a season with 53 stops (29 solos).

Duluth's Garner gets Ivy League nod

Columbia sophomore tight end Hamilton Garner, a Duluth grad, was an honorable mention All-Ivy League selection this past week.

Garner caught 24 passes for 339 yards and a team-high six touchdowns this season, averaging a team-best 14.1 yards per catch.

BASKETBALL

Fast break

Florida's Jordan Jones, a Collins Hill grad, scored a career-best 28 points in the Gators' 85-74 win over LaSalle at the Courtyard LaGuardia Turkey Classic in Brooklyn. ... Collins Hill's Lauren Pace had eight assists in Tuesday night's 85-57 win over King College, moving her into third place at Limestone College in career assists with 292. ... Greater Atlanta Christian's Trent Wiedeman had 22 points and eight rebounds Thursday night in College of Charleston's win over The Citadel.

VOLLEYBALL

Wesleyan's Smith makes SEC team

Wesleyan grad Betsy Smith, a junior at Florida, was named to the SEC Community Service Volleyball Team this week. It's the second straight year the middle blocker has made the SEC team.

Smith, who leads the Gators with 0.97 blocks/set, volunteers with multiple organizations in the Gainesville area, spearheaded the school's efforts in the SEC Together We Can Food Drive and is helping with Gator Tracks, which provides new shoes to children in the Gainesville area. She also is president of Florida's Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

SOCCER

Locals shine in Great South soccer

Gwinnett players made a big impact on the Great South Athletic Conference soccer season, led by Buford grad Justine Clay.

Clay, a senior at Piedmont, scored the game-winner in the GSAC title game, a free kick that provided a 3-2 win over LaGrange. It was her school's first GSAC title in 10 years.

Clay was a first-team all-conference selection and also was Piedmont's first-ever Capital One Division III Academic All-American. She has a 3.89 GPA as a nursing major.

Piedmont teammates Laura Goodwin (Brookwood), Sarah Hill (Parkview) and Marjorie Hammond (Parkview) also earned All-Great South honors. Grayson's Shayna Rogers and Brookwood's Kelsey Schaffernoth, also both from Piedmont, made the all-freshman team.

CROSS COUNTRY

Kester completes first college season

Greater Atlanta Christian's Lauren Kester, a freshman at Penn, finished 27th in her first college race (finishing the 5K Fordham Fiasco in 19 minutes, 17.16 seconds) and used it to spark a strong debut season.

Kester's best finish 20th at Iona Meet of Champions, running the 6K in 23:12.63. She also was 74th at the NCAA Regional 6K in 23:59.10.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.