Even if Devon Pierce resorted to revisionist history in his head, it wouldn’t take away the pain of being sidelined while his Gainesville High teammates ran all the way to the Class AAA state title game last season.
Instead of being right in the thick of the action and sharing carries at running back with Teryan Rucker, Pierce, now a senior, was sidelined with a hamstring injury in his left leg.
After rushing for 600 yards as a sophomore in 2008, Pierce was primed to be a breakout player last season.
Instead, it was spent rehabbing his injury and receiving spot duty on special teams once deemed healthy enough during the playoffs.
“It killed me every day last season knowing that I couldn’t play,” Pierce said.
Well, now Rucker has moved on to college football, and it is Pierce’s time to shine in the backfield for the Red Elephants. He’s going to make the most of his final go-round as a high school football player and wants to make the most out of being one of the players that enter the season a bit under the radar.
“I’m so excited to be able to get back out there and play,” Pierce said. “I really want to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season and help my team the best that I can.”
Players that enter the season under the radar all share one thing in common: they are all pretty well regarded as one of the best athletes on their own team, but still haven’t busted onto the season and become a household name in the area, like, say A.J. Johnson, Shunquez Stephens or Imani Cross.
“I take it as a challenge to be a player under the radar,” said White County sophomore quarterback Cole Segraves, who passed for 960 yards as a freshman. “I like it, and just want to keep working hard to help my team win.
“My goal this season is to lead my team and cancel out some of the mistakes I made last season.”
Every year, players breakout and have superb seasons that weren’t necessarily expected when the season started in Week 1. With the cycle of great players that graduate every year, it makes room for the next crop of superstars to take the stage and make their claim for high school greatness and maybe even make a run for a Division I college scholarship.
Players can be under the radar for a number of reasons. Some players, even though projected as future stars, are still young in their career.
Others play in schools that may not have the same winning tradition. Then there’s players that are obscured by a team loaded with star players.
For example, many people may not know much about Buford linebacker Nathan Staub, even though he led the Class AA state championship Wolves with 122 tackles last season. At a school that churns out more college players each year than you can count on both hands, he wasn’t as visible last season as a sophomore.
However, now that Staub is a junior, he’s one of a select few returning starters on defense for the Wolves, and 20 pounds bigger than when he started last season at 187 pounds against Grovetown High. One can only assume Staub will probably follow in the line of great linebackers that have come out of Buford in the past decade, even though his only focus is helping the team win.
“I can’t get on that train of thought trying to compare myself to other great players to come through our school,” Staub said. “I just want to play to the best of the ability that God gave me.”
Then there’s the case of the player under the radar simply because they are relatively new to the area, as is the case with Riverside Military senior linebacker Tarvin Dukes. After moving into Riverside Military during the season in 2009 from Montgomery, Ala., Dukes quickly asserted himself as a very solid football player and is now receiving interest from schools such as Georgia Southern University and The Citadel.
As a senior, Dukes will be even more valuable for his team this season as a linebacker, fullback and an offensive tackle. He’s using this season to show that he’s versatile enough to move on from a small high school program to the college game.
“I play fast and with power, and most of the times I’m smart on the field,” Dukes said. “I try not to make as many mistakes as my opponent.”
Lumpkin County defensive end B.J. Dorsey is climbing up the charts as one of the nation’s top defensive end prospects for the Class of 2012. After recording 7 1/2 sacks as a sophomore and taking part in three national combines last summer, Dorsey is looking to become one of the best pass rushers in Northeast Georgia.
Still, many folks in the area don’t know much about Dorsey as a player. That could all change very quickly as the season moves along. Like Segraves, Dorsey (now 6-foot-3, 215) is looking to cut down on his mistakes on the field from last season.
He’s got the target in his head to reach 15 sacks in 2010.
“I expect to get better this season,” Dorsey said. “Sometimes last season I played above the sophomore level, and sometimes I was at a sophomore level.
“After looking back through the film, I missed some opportunities last season.”
After a good freshman season, Segraves probably won’t stay under the radar for too long. He’s got one of Northeast Georgia’s best athletes to throw to in University of Kentucky verbal commit Ashely Lowery, a Times Elite 11 member. Even though Segraves is only entering the 10th grade, he’s already getting noticed by Division I programs, such as Tenessee, Alabama and Vanderbilt.
Segraves, an ambidextrous thrower, is excited about the possibilities not only for himself this season, but for a team at White County that returns so many starters from last season.
“We’re all really excited right now,” Segraves said. “I have a great team around me and a great offensive line in front of me to work with.”
At North Hall, they have no shortage of talent. One player entering the season a bit obscured is senior tight end/defensive end D.J. Miolen, even though he holds offers from schools such as Georgia Southern, Western Carolina, Air Force, The Citadel and Liberty. Miolen, a starter last season at tight end, likes the individual nod to his talent, but is much more consumed with what the Trojans do as a team this season.
“We plan on having a good season,” Miolen said. “I know how hard we’ve all worked during the offseason, and I expect to go all the way.”
The work that goes into becoming a standout player doesn’t come automatically. There’s hours on the practice field and more time after that every day working on strength and conditioning. Staub says that 3-4 hours a day are devoted to lifting, swim and working on speed and agility.
He says it all is worth the cost to know the opportunity is on the table to win a fourth consecutive state title at Buford, which would be a first in school history.
Then there’s the dietary aspect. Dorsey says he boosts his competitive edge with a diet that consists of 3,000-4,000 calories per day, included in that about 225 grams of protein. Lumpkin County’s defensive end even packs meals to eat during the day at school consisting of peanut butter sandwiches, protein bars and an extra lunch in the cafeteria.
“I work out five days per work, focusing on one body part at a time,” Dorsey said.
Yet none of the individual accomplishments are quite as satisfying for these emerging stars if they aren’t paired with a win on Friday night. They fully appreciate that Friday night atmosphere that comes with playing high school football.
“I can’t wait to be back on the field with my team and get my name called,” Pierce said. “Being injured really made me more humble and appreciate everything more.”