Peachtree Ridge grad and Georgia Southern wide receiver Mitchell Williford looks for yardage in a game last season.
With some coaching transitions in recent years, there were a few seasons where Gwinnett contributors to the Georgia Southern football team were scarce.
That shouldn't be the case this season.
Six Gwinnett grads are listed as starters for the Eagles heading into tonight's opener against Jacksonville and two others are pushing for a spot in the starting lineup.
"We feel like, as a staff, that Gwinnett is a great area to recruit," said Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Brent Davis, a Duluth grad. "A lot of the schools aren't very far apart so they're easy to get to and they're all big schools so there's a big pool of players. Add the fact that the you have some of the best football players in the state there, and it's an important area for us.
"We feel good about the academics in Gwinnett and that kids from there will do well in class here. And these are guys who come from good programs and know how to work."
Davis handles the Eagles' metro Atlanta recruiting and he also works directly with many of the former Gwinnett standouts because he's the team's offensive line coach.
Two offensive line starters for the opener are locals, sophomore center Manrey Saint-Amour (6-foot-1, 263 pounds) and sophomore right guard Trevor McBurnett (6-2, 293). Those two used to be on opposite sidelines in a high school rivalry --Saint-Amour at North Gwinnett and McBurnett at Peachtree Ridge --and now they line up side-by-side in the starting lineup.
"It's real cool (to have all the Gwinnett guys on the line)," Saint-Amour said. "We build that chemistry, that brotherhood. We have that feel for each other and we know how we play in Gwinnett County. In high school we always competed hard against each other and now we're coming together for a common goal."
The Georgia Southern line almost had a third Gwinnett starter. Norcross grad Raymond Klugey, a 6-3, 263-pound sophomore who worked his way from walk-on to scholarship player, was on track to start at right tackle until a recent ankle injury held him back.
Austin Hagan (6-0, 270, freshman) of Mill Creek is Saint-Amour's backup. The reserves on the offensive line also include freshman Jeff Ward (5-11, 257) of North.
"I think the area we come from is great for high school football," McBurnett said. "Gwinnett County's a great place to play. I think it's the best football in the state of Georgia."
Buford's Dominique Swope, the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year last season after rushing for more than 1,000 yards, starts again at B-Back. Peachtree Ridge's Mitchell Williford, a senior, is the starter at X-receiver.
On defense, Dion DuBose of Norcross returns for his senior season after missing all of 2011 with a severe knee injury. He's the only local defensive starter, but second-teamer Patrick Flowe of Parkview is pushing for the No. 1 spot at middle linebacker.
Collins Hill grad Jake Banta, a redshirt freshman, is the Eagles' long snapper. He transferred from Alabama-Birmingham.
Other Gwinnett products on the Georgia Southern roster are wide receivers Charlie Brower (Mountain View) and Devonte Lewis (Mill Creek), fullback Seon Jones (Buford), tight ends Cody Rediger (Mill Creek) and Wilson Hudgins (Grayson) and defensive lineman Dequan Clark (Buford).
They are part of a program that has high hopes once again.
"The goal every year at Georgia Southern is a SoCon championship and a national championship," McBurnett said.
Three true freshmen from Collins Hill are expected to dress out and play today for their college teams --Andrew Everett at Old Dominion, Jordan Parker at Middle Tennessee and Nick England at Florida International. ... Two true freshmen from Central Gwinnett also are expected to play this weekend. Running back George Morris made Syracuse's travel squad and should get a few carries today against Northwestern. Wide receiver Malachi Jones is a projected starter for Appalachian State in its matchup with East Carolina.
Central grad shining at Mizzou
Central Gwinnett grad Taiwo Adeshigbin had a solid junior season at Missouri, playing in 13 matches and starting in two.
But she has stepped into a bigger role this season for the SEC-bound Tigers (3-0), who already have knocked off two ranked opponents.
Adeshigbin has three goals and an assist for a team-high seven points. The 5-foot-9 forward joined Mizzou after playing her first two seasons at Georgia Perimeter College.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.