Photo: John Amis Robert Nkemdiche is the Daily Post's Defensive Player of the Year after leading Grayson High School to a second Region 8-AAAAAA championship.
Robert Nkemdiche stood on the Grayson basketball court last week, playfully joking around with his teammates. He flashed his big smile that the Grayson community has grown to love. Then the 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman took a basketball and jumped up and dunked it.
It was a nice remindeder of the sheer athletic ability the Grayson senior has, whether it's on the football field or the basketball court.
"Robert is a great athlete," Grayson football head coach Mickey Conn said.
The basketball court has also been a place of solitude for Nkemdiche, the nation's No. 1 college football recruit, the last few weeks.
Unlike his football practices, he doesn't have media and recruiting services waiting for him when practice is over.
"It's kind of a relief a little bit," Nkemdiche said. "Football is crazy. I can't even get out of that little circle. Basketball, I just go."
For the last 10 months, Nkedmiche has been the most talked about high school football player in the country.
He led Grayson to the state championship as a junior, was tabbed by recruiting services as the nation's top prospect, and was on a team that began the year ranked No. 1 in the country.
"He's been under an extreme amount of pressure that people don't understand," Conn said.
Nkedmiche handled all that pressure by being the Daily Post's Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. He joins Brookwood grad Rennie Curran, a former All-American at Georgia that was drafted by the Tennessee Titans, as the only other two-time recipient of the award.
"He had a great year and did a lot of good things for our defense and he'll be the first to tell you it's a team effort," Conn said.
Nkemdiche recorded 59 tackles, made 12 tackles for loss and five sacks. His sack total was well below the 18 sacks he posted each of the past two seasons, but 41 career sacks are a county record since the Daily Post began tracking the stat in 2002. But Nkemdiche points out while he didn't have as good of sack numbers, his teammates flourished in that department. Zach Barnes, Jack Banda and Marquise Motley combined for 20 sacks.
"We did a great job on the D-line all together," Nkemdiche said. "They put attention on me and I'm surrounded by great guys, they stepped up. They came and got their sacks."
While Nkemdiche's sacks were down from the previous two years, he did make just as many tackles this season as the last two years. That's impressive considering he was drawing double and sometimes triple teams from offenses.
"There was two or three guys on me every time, but I still tried to make plays," Nkemdiche said. "I was surrounded by really great guys on defense."
Grayson began the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, but lost its Region 8-AAAAAA opener to Parkview.
The Rams (10-2) won their next eight games, including the region title before losing in the second round of the playoffs. That winning streak included an impressive performance by Nkemdiche and the defense. They had four straight shutouts and allowed an average of seven points a game during that span.
"We had a great season. We made a couple of mistakes down the road," Nkemdiche said. "We had a lot of penalties and turnovers and mental busts against Parkview. The same thing reoccurred against North Gwinnett. But overall we a had a good season."
One of Nkemdiche's biggest games was on the offensive side of the ball when he rushed for four touchdowns in Grayson's 41-0 win over rival South Gwinnett. He finished the year with 235 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns as he was primarily used in short-yardage situations.
"It's near impossible to stop a guy that's 6-5, 280 pounds that can run like he does. That was huge," Conn said.
It's a position Nkemdiche will likely never play again as he's being recruited by colleges as a defensive lineman.
"When I go to college, it's going to be like my sophomore year all over again," Nkemdiche said. "I can't wait, it's going to fun."
Ah, college. It's been the most talked about topic with Nkemdiche for the last 10 months. He surprised everyone by committing to Clemson in June, but that only lasted until November when he decommitted.
Nkemdiche is not sure where he'll sign on National Signing Day in December, but he does list Ole Miss, where his older brother Denzel plays linebacker, LSU, Alabama and Clemson as his favorites.
"I'm undecided right now, but you know we'll see. I'm undecided, so I don't even know yet," Nkemdiche said.
Wherever he ends up going, Nkemdiche plans on making an impact at the college level just like he did in high school.
"I'm looking to go in there and dominate," Nkemdiche said. "I'm doing a lot of training, getting bigger and faster. I want to be ready right when I step foot in there."