As teams from the Football Bowl Subdivision completed spring practice, 92 players from the county have spots on 45 different rosters over nine of the 10 conferences.
How has that changed over recent years? Consider the 2007 signing class of FBS players from the county totaled six.
Hillgrove coach Phil Ironside points to one main thing as the turning point for Cobb earning the talent-laden reputation it has nurtured.
“This is my 14th year coaching in the county,” he said. “We used to be run heavy with the Wing-T. But when Chip Lindsey arrived over at Lassiter, he was the first guy to sling it around the field.
“Up to then, Lassiter had its years where it won seven or eight games, but when he got in there and won big back-to-back, and lit up the scoreboard, it started to change. That’s why we changed from the triple option.
“Things have really taken off the last 5-6 years. It used to be we would play mostly Wing-T teams, but now you face seven or eight spread (offense) teams and maybe one Wing-T team a season.”
Lindsey brought in the spread offense that he had learned with Rush Propst at Hoover High School in Alabama, and perfected under the mentoring of former Auburn and current California offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. Lindsey put the ball in the hands of current Georgia starting quarterback Hutson Mason, who went on to throw for more than 8,000 yards in his two seasons as the starter, including a state record of 4,560 yards and 54 touchdowns in 2009.
“People want to play in a system where you throw the ball,” said current Lassiter coach Jep Irwin, who took over for Lindsey, and who helped Mason’s successor, current Missouri backup quarterback Eddie Printz, become Cobb County’s all-time leading passer with 8,743 yards. “Lindsey was the first one in east Cobb, but it has trickled down. New coaches have new philosophies and they will imitate what has been successful.”
Those changes — from the run-oriented, straight-forward offenses to the spread — have allowed the better athletes to make their mark and be discovered. Currently, 21 of the 92 players are defensive backs, and that number was greatly increased with the most recent signing class. Eight defensive backs signed to play for FBS teams — North Cobb’s Cameron Albright and Wheeler’s Allen Artis with North Carolina, Campbell’s David Collins (Air Force), Pace Academy’s Denzel Franklin, a Smyrna resident (Stanford), North Cobb’s Latrell Gibbs (Appalachian State), Lassiter’s Chris Murphy (Arkansas), Campbell’s Mike Rogers (Central Florida) and Walton’s D.J. Smith (South Carolina) — and another 14 players are wide receivers.
The evolution of the Cobb County passing games coincided with the area programs making deeper runs in the state playoffs. For the third straight year, the county sent at least one team to the state semifinals, and for five years running, there has been at least one in the quarterfinals.
“More exposure equals more interest,” Irwin said. “And more interest equals more exposure.
“But it really took off once the SEC schools started coming in here.”
Heading into the 2014 season, 29 players are on SEC rosters, and if the best conference in college football has a presence in the area, the others will follow.
Because of that, Marietta coach Scott Burton said Cobb has become a destination for college coaches, and it is one reason why when former Blue Devils and current LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings was being recruited he had more than 25 schools, including recruiters from Oregon, Washington, UCLA, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan, as well as the schools from the ACC and SEC in his office.
“Cobb County and Marietta have become the perfect blend of strong academics, coaching and community support,” he said. “It’s been the perfect storm of parents, administrators and coaches that all invest their time and efforts and the kids are the beneficiary of that.”
And, Burton added that with 21 schools within just minutes of each other, college recruiters can have a very efficient trip in and out of the Atlanta area. In two or three days, a coach can visit nearly every school, and when one recruiter finds a quality area, it doesn’t take long for the word to get out.
“College football coaches are a fraternity,” he said. “They all talk and they have all worked together and remain friends. They try to help each other. It’s water cooler talk.”
Powder Springs Making its Mark While college recruiters are finding players all over the county, it seems like Powder Springs has become a personal favorite to many of the coaches.
According to the 2010 census, there are only 13,940 people living in the town, but 21 of the 92 FBS players hail from the west Cobb neighborhood and its two high schools. This year McEachern has 12 players and Hillgrove, which has only been open for seven years, has nine. It’s a subject about which Indians coach Kyle Hockman has had many conversations.
“Some of it goes back to the success (McEachern) had in the late 1980s and ’90s,” he said. “The area has a lot of history with good football players.
“There’s some kind of lineage. There are people that have been in the area for a long time, and there are a lot of good football parents.”
Current McEachern athletic director Jimmy Dorsey, who Hockman followed as coach, agreed, but he takes it a step further.
“I think a lot of it is how organized the Powder Springs youth-league football program is,” Dorsey said. “And the middle-school programs in sixth, seventh and eighth grades have been excellent for both schools. I think you have to trace it back to that.”
Current South Carolina assistant coach G.A. Mangus, who graduated from Walton High School and went on to play for current Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier at Florida in the late 1980s, said the current talent level in Powder Springs reminds him of another small town that is churning out football talent — Bell Glades, Fla., population 17,667.
Glades Central High School is responsible for NFL players like former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, wide receiver from the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets, potential future Hall of Fame running back Fred Taylor of the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots, and former Atlanta Falcons receiver Jessie Hester.
Over the last few years, Mangus has brought McEachern defensive end Darius English, linebacker Marquis Roberts and tight end Rory Anderson to South Carolina. All three are expected to start for the Gamecocks this fall.
Cobb Becoming Cradle of Quarterbacks
Considering that Cobb County just moved to the spread offenses in the last half-decade, it is impressive the amount of quarterback talent it is producing.
Heading into the 2014 season, the county already has two likely SEC starters in Lassiter’s Hutson Mason at Georgia and Marietta’s Anthony Jennings at LSU. If something should happen to current Missouri starter Maty Mauk, Eddie Printz, a redshirt freshman, could become the third and second from Lassiter High School.
Former Walton quarterback Parker McLeod is a sophomore at Alabama, but he is farther down the depth chart, and Mississippi State has Wheeler’s Elijah Staley arriving this year.
The SEC quarterback run isn’t likely to end soon. Already, North Cobb quarterback Tyler Queen is committed to Auburn and Harrison’s Lorenzo Nunez has offers from Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M, among his other FBS suitors.
But the SEC isn’t the only conference finding future signal-callers from Cobb. McEachern’s Ty Griffin, a sophomore, is at Georgia Tech and Ty Clemons will be heading to Middle Tennessee as a freshman. Former Harrison signal caller Clay Chastain, a redshirt sophomore is at Georgia State and Walton’s Price Wilson will be a freshman at Louisiana Tech.