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Former North Hall standouts come together at Georgia practice
Georgia tight end and North Hall graduate Derek Rich runs a route during a practice Tuesday in Athens. - photo by John Kelley | Times regional staff
ATHENS — When Georgia tight end Derek Rich came to Athens this week for preseason practice, he was greeted by Jackson Griffeth, one of his teammates during his days at North Hall High.

The two former Trojans then put on their equipment and headed out to practice, as teammates once again.

Rich, Griffeth and linebacker Devin Hollander are among the few Georgia football players that can claim to have high school teammates in college. With three former North Hall standouts now with the Bulldogs, the Trojans are the second-most represented school on the team. Only Oconee County has more, with four. The only other schools with three are Buford, Calhoun and Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia.

“You don’t see that too often,” Rich said. “It’s fun because we were all friends in high school too.”

But how they all ended up at Georgia is unlikely, as none of them left high school with the intention of doing so. Two of them transferred from other colleges, while the third joined the Bulldogs as a preferred walk-on.

For Rich, his college career started far from Athens or North Hall, as he signed with the University of Connecticut out of high school. As a sophomore, he played in all 13 games for Huskies, as both a tight end and a long snapper on special teams.

Anxious to play closer to home, Rich began looking into tryout opportunities with the Bulldogs. He was granted the opportunity to attend a team tryout in early 2008, where he impressed Georgia coaches and earned a spot on the team. He then sat out the 2008 season, as mandated by the NCAA’s transfer policy.

“I love the South, and I’ve always wanted to play for Georgia,” Rich said. “I had fun at UConn, and I don’t regret leaving there, but I don’t regret going there in the beginning. I felt like this is where God wanted me to be.”

While football has been part of Rich’s college career since day one, Griffeth thought his football days were over after his senior year.

Griffeth was a major force for the 2007 Trojans, leading the team to a region championship and a Class AAA state semifinals appearance in the Georgia Dome. As a defensive end, he recorded 129 tackles, 15 of them for loss.

After being academically accepted to Georgia, Griffeth was contacted by defensive co-coordinator John Jancek and strength and conditioning coach Joe Tereshinski, who offered him a chance to try out as a linebacker last summer.

“When I was going through my college choices, I was leaning towards Georgia,” Griffeth said. “When I found out I could play football, that definitely made me want to come.”

Now participating in his second preseason practice, Griffeth is competing against a deep group of linebackers, including Hollander, who is currently listed behind him in the depth chart at sam linebacker.

Hollander graduated from North Hall in 2005 and was a member of the 2004 region champion and state quarterfinalist Trojans. Out of high school, he signed with Shorter College, where he spent two years.

After transferring to Georgia in 2007, Hollander sat out a year, then joined the Bulldogs scout team in 2008. His most recent accomplishment was recovering a fumble in the 2009 G-Day scrimmage game.

“Devin is one of my really good friends outside of football,” Rich said. “I called him to get his advice when I was thinking about leaving UConn. It was good to get that advice from somebody I could trust.”

Now teammates once again, Griffeth, Rich and Hollander have shed the green and white for red and black, and now prepare for bigger goals than the region and state titles they vied for at North Hall. The Bulldogs aren’t receiving the national attention they received last year when they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls, and Griffeth says that could help the team stay competitive in SEC.

“Last year, it all seemed superficial. There was so much hype,” he said. “This coming year, we like not starting at the top. You have something to work for.”

“We’re just out here, working hard,” Rich added. “The chips will fall where they may if we work hard.”
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