In all, 60 players from the county are on Division I rosters from the Football Bowl Subdivision conferences. Thirty-eight of those players are in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences, but there are Cobb alumni on teams all across the country — stretching from the Big East to the Pac-12. The only FBS conference without a local player is the Mountain West.
Georgia Tech currently has the most area players on its roster with 10. South Carolina and Vanderbilt each have four, while Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina State, Connecticut and UAB each have three.
Meanwhile, McEachern is the one school that has sent the most athletes onto the FBS rosters with nine, including four — Rory Anderson, Marcquis Roberts, Darius English and Nicholas St. Germain — at South Carolina, the largest contingent from a Cobb school at one college or university.
Walton and Lassiter each have eight players on FBS rosters, with North Cobb just behind at seven. Overall, 16 of Cobb County’s 21 Georgia High School Association-affiliated schools have at least one player playing college football at the highest level.
“I think it’s a testament to Cobb County football,” said Sprayberry coach Billy Shackelford, who now coaches his alma mater after playing football at Tennessee Tech. “(Over the last handful of years), the level of talent, coaching and competition has grown, and it’s nice to see it’s getting noticed all across the country.
“Also, as a Cobb football alum, it’s nice to see them all excel.”
Twenty-three Cobb players are expected to be big parts of their respective squads, and they have been noted as such by Lindy’s and Athlon, two publications noted for their coverage of college football.
For some, like Thomas and Lutzenkirchen, just having expectations to do well won’t do.
As the season grows near, the annual watch lists for college football’s awards are being released.
So far, Thomas, the former Walton standout, has been nominated for two awards determining the best defensive player in college football — the Nagurski Trophy and Bednarik Award. He also stands a chance at being included on the Butkus Award watch list — for the nation’s top linebacker — when it is released next week
Thomas is considered a preseason All-American, and a first-team all-Pac 12 player by many publications — and with good reason. In 2011, he helped lead the Cardinal to the Fiesta Bowl with 52 tackles, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles. He was also among the nation’s leaders with 22 tackles for loss.
Lutzenkirchen also has a chance to be an All-American, and though he’s not one yet, he does have the national championship ring he earned in 2010 to make up for it. The former Lassiter star is on the preseason Mackey Award list, which recognizes the nation’s best tight end, and on Thursday he was named a preseason All-SEC first-teamer by the conference’s coaches.
Lutzenkirchen is coming off a season in which he had 24 catches for 238 yards and seven touchdown catches. Those seven touchdowns were tied for third in the nation among tight ends.
Thomas and Lutzenkirchen may get the most notoriety of the Cobb contingent, but they aren’t the only ones up for the national awards.
Georgia Tech’s Jay Finch and N.C. State’s Camden Wentz both appear on the watch list for the Dave Rimington Trophy presented to the nation’s best center.
Finch, a former Kennesaw Mountain standout, enters his second full season as the Yellow Jackets’ starter, while Wentz, who anchored the offensive line at Lassiter, will enter his third as starter for the Wolfpack.
After having 123 tackles at Troy in 2011, former Sprayberry standout Brynden Trawick finds himself on the preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
Trawick is entering his second season as a starter at Troy. Last year, he finished sixth in the country with 75 solo tackles and earned second-team All-Sun Belt recognition.
Shackelford knew by watching film on Trawick that he could be a great player in the college ranks. Shackelford’s only regret is, after becoming the head coach at Sprayberry in 2007, he was only able to coach Trawick for one season.
“When you watched film on him, you knew he was going to be a standout player,” Shackelford said. “He had the ability to make the plays you expected, and he had the ability to create plays that you wouldn’t expect. He looked like a linebacker playing free safety.”
Also finding himself on a watch list is Vanderbilt punter Richard Kent. Kent averaged 42.5 yards per punt — with a 41.2 net average — in 2011, and that was good enough for the former Walton standout earn a spot on the watch list for the Ray Guy Award as the best punter in college football.
Two other players who will be ready to make their mark on college football this year will be Tennessee safety Brian Randolph and Georgia Tech linebacker Jabari Hunt-Days.
A three-time all-state defender at Kell, Randolph became a starter for the Vols at midseason last year and played well enough — recording 55 tackles and two pass breakups — to earn honors from Yahoo and Phil Steele as a freshman All-American.
After redshirting last season, Hunt-Days is considered to be the Yellow Jackets’ key newcomer and could work his way into the starting lineup sometime during the season. After playing linebacker for only one season at Hillgrove, Hunt-Days has bulked up to 250 pounds and will join Brandon Watts and Jeremiah Attaochu to make a formidable group of outside linebackers for Georgia Tech.
The recognition did not surprise Hunt-Days’ high school coach.
“He looks good, and he did well in the spring,” Hawks coach Phil Ironside said. “He’s a freak of an athlete and has a strong future. If he picks up the game, he’ll do well.”