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GWINNETT GRADS: Parker, Faulkner lead Middle Tennessee in opening win

Middle Tennessee’s offense rolled up big numbers in Thursday night’s season opener, the program’s first in Conference USA, and two of the biggest components were Gwinnett products.

On the field, Collins Hill grad Jordan Parker had a career-best game. The guy directing the attack is a Gwinnett guy, too — Parkview’s Buster Faulkner is the Raiders’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Parker gained a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown in 22 carries in a 45-24 win over Western Carolina, fueling Middle Tennessee’s first season-opening win since 2006. The sophomore tailback produced the bulk of his team’s 270 rushing yards, kick-starting what promises to be a big season. He scored the game’s first TD on a 65-yard run and had 14 carries for 114 yards by halftime, locking up his fourth 100-yard game in his last four outings.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder led the Raiders in rushing last season with a freshman school record of 851 yards, also the seventh-highest total nationally by a freshman. Late in the season — after an injury to Benny Cunningham — Parker averaged 106.3 rushing yards. His true freshman season ended with third-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors, as well as an All-Sunbelt Freshman selection.

Middle Tennessee faces a different challenge this season with a new conference, and the program is on the upswing after going 8-4 last year, including a road victory over Georgia Tech.

Faulkner has been a big part of that turnaround since being promoted to offensive coordinator prior to last season. His first game with the offense this year was a successful one, too, as the Raiders rolled up 475 yards.

The coach’s Gwinnett ties also have helped in recruiting. In addition to Parker, the Middle Tennessee roster features freshman safety Anfornee Stewart (Duluth), freshman cornerback Shon Akins (Norcross), sophomore safety Xavier Walker (Duluth via Itawamba Community College), freshman offensive lineman Daniel Stephens (Peachtree Ridge) and sophomore defensive end O’Shae Bridges (Norcross).

Gwinnett grads also contributed for Western Carolina in Thursday’s opener.

Two true freshmen from Gwinnett, Buford’s Bryson Jordan and Shiloh’s Fred Mooring, made their college debuts on the Catamounts’ defense. Jordan had six tackles, one for a loss, and Mooring had two tackles, including a sack. A third true freshman on the roster, Norcross’ Tommy Tate, did not play.

FOOTBALL

Nkemdiche, Rebels win wild debut

Robert Nkemdiche, thanks to being the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit, got plenty of air time in his first college game, a wild 39-35 win by his Ole Miss Rebels over Vanderbilt.

The Grayson grad was featured regularly on defensive replays, good and bad (whiffing on one tackle near the goal line) and also had a nice offensive highlight when he ran 11 yards for a first down on a fake punt late in the first half. He finished with two solo tackles.

His older brother Denzel Nkemdiche had five tackles and Shiloh’s Cameron Whigham had four stops for a Gwinnett-heavy Ole Miss defense. Grayson’s David Kamara, a true freshman classmate of Robert Nkemdiche, added a solo stop. Lavon Hooks, a junior college transfer, also played on the Rebels’ defensive line. Hooks played high school football at both Brookwood and Meadowcreek.

South Gwinnett grad Jonathan Krause had six catches for 66 yards, as well as a huge block to spring teammate Jordan Matthew for a 55-yard TD catch in the second quarter. Vandy also got solid play from Shiloh’s Stephen Weatherly (two tackles, sack) and Buford’s Paris Head (one solo tackle).

Gwinnett packs GSU roster for opener

As has been the case in recent years, Georgia Southern’s lineup has Gwinnett players in key spots. The Eagles open their season today at home vs. Savannah State.

Three Gwinnett grads start on offense, including center Manrey Saint-Amour of North Gwinnett and left guard Trevor McBurnett of Peachtree Ridge. Two second-teamers on the offensive line also are from North — center Andy Kwon and right tackle Jeff Ward.

Junior running back Dominique Swope of Buford is the starter at B-back. He is coming off a back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, rushing for 1,023 yards as a freshman and 1,246 more last year. He has 26 career TDs.

Though he doesn’t get the headlines that Swope does, Collins Hill grad Jake Banta has a pretty important position, too. He’s the Eagles’ long snapper.

Quick Hits

Archer grad Kris Hurley, a junior tight end, caught a short TD pass Thursday night to give Presbyterian a 7-0 lead against Wake Forest. Unfortunately, Wake scored the next 31 in an easy win. … Norcross’ Geremy Davis led Connecticut with five catches for 100 yards Thursday night, but the Huskies were upset 33-18 by Towson, an FCS school. … Berkmar’s Justyn Shackleford had a 14-yard TD catch Thursday in Tulane’s win over Jackson State.

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.