As the 2012 high school football season approached, Mike Carson was in an unfamiliar position.
After resigning as head coach at M.L. King, following a controversial allegation of sending inappropriate text messages to a parent, Carson was without a team for the first time in 17 years.
The successful high school coach --known as "Pop" when he was a star running back for Buford's 1978 state championship team --admittedly did some soul searching after the incident.
What came out of it was a newfound way to help high school athletes, the Georgia Prep Sports Academy, a prep school program for football players who don't meet the college eligibility standards after high school.
"Going through what I went through at MLK, you try to figure out the next step, the next chapter in your life," Carson said. "I woke up one morning and God revealed it to me. ... In the Southeast, there are only a couple of junior colleges that play football and not many prep school options. Kids without the ACT and SAT score are very limited in options they can pursue for college.
"If they're not one of the five to eight (Georgia) guys accepted to a Mississippi (JUCO), then a lot of those kids are lost in the cracks."
Carson, whose partners include former Columbia head coach Mario Allen, hopes GPSA will help fill in those cracks.
The one-semester program is designed to focus on academic deficiencies and get youngsters qualified for college programs, while also allowing those athletes for play a 12-game football schedule against JUCOs and other prep schools. A number of college hopefuls already are on board, including some from Gwinnett (and one from Alaska). Carson hopes the roster for the Aug. 25 season opener at LaGrange College will be between 75 and 100 players.
Students enrolled in GPSA will take classes through Atlanta Metropolitan College, either as a part-time student or strictly in test preparation classes. Most of the football players interested in the team have solid GPAs, they just lack the necessary test score for college.
"Plenty of kids out there need an opportunity," Carson said. "In 17 years of coaching, you see them every year. Kids who for whatever reason haven't taken the (ACT or SAT) test. They don't take the test until the last minute and then they struggle. That's been the trend for years."
Among Carson's plans is a mentorship program involving GPSA players, who will talk with players as young as sixth-graders. The idea: catch these kids well before high school and stress the importance of academics.
All but one of the prep school's games this season are on the road, but that hasn't curbed any of the excitement over the first-year endeavor. As his players gain their test scores, Carson feels his long-term relationships with college coaches, built over close to two decades as a high school coach, will help find those athletes spots at four-year schools.
For Carson personally, a new focus is helpful during what was a tough year personally and professionally in his life.
"It was an unfortunate situation at MLK, a parent just really being bitter for selfish reasons," Carson said. "I just use that to motivate me. When God closes one door, another door opens. And this opportunity lets me impact kids' lives, maybe even more than MLK."