Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Surrounded his family, Greater Atlanta Christian's Lavondre Nelson signs a national letter of intent to play football next season at Princeton during a ceremony on Wednesday.
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It's the most prestigious league in all of college football, and no it's not the SEC.
The Ivy League, which is made up of some of the top academic universities in the world, attracts many of the nation's best and brightest student-athletes.
It's also the league where some of Gwinnett's top football players will play next season. The county had six seniors ink with Ivy League programs on Wednesday during National Signing Day.
"As a kid, I didn't imagine myself playing football there," said North Gwinnett quarterback Scotty Hosch, who signed with Harvard. "I always thought I would play college football somewhere close to home."
But when the Ivy League comes calling, it's hard to turn them down. Hosch and Collins Hill's Sam Batiste are headed to Harvard, Peachtree Ridge's Di Andre Atwater and Greater Atlanta Christian's Lavondre Nelson are going to Princeton, GAC's Jonathan Ford is headed to Cornell, while Buford's Ryan Dillard is going to Yale.
"I never thought someday I would be going to the Ivy League," said Ford, who has a 4.1 GPA and scored 2,110 on the SAT. "I got my test scores back and schools were interested. I thought it was a good opportunity."
The Ivy League is made up of eight private colleges in the Northeastern part of the country. They include Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale.
All of the schools place in the top 15 in the U.S. News & World Report of college and university rankings.
"We're talking about some of the toughest schools to get in," GAC coach Tim Cokely said. "I know I could get in if they doubled my score."
Gwinnett County's reputation for football and academics is what attracts these prestigious colleges. For the last decade, Gwinnett has produced some of the state's top teams in football.
Gwinnett County high school students also have some of the highest test scores in the state, which attracts Ivy League recruiters. The Gwinnett average on the SAT is 1,511, which is 66 points above the state average and 11 points above the national average. The county average for the ACT is 22.0, which is also above the state (20.6) and national (21.1) averages.
Since 2002, Gwinnett County has had 15 players sign with Ivy League schools, including this year's class. The most previously was in 2005 when four inked with the prestigious conference. GAC leads the way with five Ivy League school signings.
"It's a big honor. It speaks well of the great teachers at our school," Cokely said.
Atwater grew up going to GAC and has known Nelson since elementary school. The duo plan to room together at Princeton, which has produced two U.S. Presidents.
"It's a surreal experience," Atwater said. "They said Albert Einstein taught there, so it's crazy to walk in those footsteps."
Atwater holds a 3.9 GPA and scored a 28 on the ACT. He missed the early application deadline and had to wait until January to get in the school.
"It was definitely kind of nerve racking," Atwater said. "No one thought I could get in. When that call came from the coach, I was like 'Thank the Lord.'"
Atwater, who is the son of former NFL great Steve Atwater, had to write four essays, give background information on his family and provide a list community service duties he's performed to even be considered.
"They don't just take anyone at a prestigious academic institution," Atwater said.
Hosch can relate with Atwater on the grueling admissions process. The North quarterback had two write two essays, go through an interview process with the admissions department and meet with a Harvard alum in Atlanta.
"I always put academics first as a factor (in choosing a school)," said Hosch, who holds a 3.8 GPA and scored 1,900 on SAT. "What surprised me was how seriously they take football. It's not just a nerd school. It's the best mixture of both worlds with academics and athletics."
Because of its high academic standards, the Ivy League doesn't produce NFL players yearly like SEC schools. The NFL only had two former Ivy League players listed as starters this season with Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and Baltimore Ravens center Mark Birk, who are both Harvard grads.
So guys like Atwater and Hosch aren't headed to the Ivy League with hopes of it propelling them to the NFL. Instead they are investing in the opportunity after college.
"It's always been a dream of mine to go to a big football school like my dad," Atwater said. "I sat down with my family and we talked about it. People can get to the NFL from anywhere. Not everyone can get an Ivy League education."
Here's a look at the Gwinnett players that signed with Ivy League schools on Wednesday.
RB Di Andre Atwater Peachtree Ridge Princeton
DL Sam Batiste Collins Hill Harvard
DB Ryan Dillard Buford Yale
LB Jonathan Ford GAC Cornell
QB Scotty Hosch North Gwinnett Harvard
RB Lavondre Nelson GAC Princeton