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Former Sprayberry Billy Shackelford is set to have two of his former players selected in this week's NFL draft, with another potentially going in 2021.

Former Sprayberry coach Billy Shackelford is going to have a big weekend.

Three former Cobb County high school football players -- Georgia's Rodrigo Blankenship, Florida's Jabari Zuniga and Clemson's Tremayne Anchrum --should hear their names called during the NFL draft. Two -- Blankenship and Zuniga -- played for Shackelford at Sprayberry.

When he hears their names called, Shackelford said he expects to be jumping up and down, yelling and screaming for Blankenship and Zuniga, just as if they were his own children.

“As a football coach, you spend so much time with these guys," said Shackelford, who talked about coaching the duo as part of the most recent edition of the MDJ Podcast, which can be heard on MDJonline.com. "They become part of your family. You grow to appreciate them not only as athletes, but, most importantly, as people. It is really an amazing journey. We get to be a part of their lives at some really important times of their life, some real developmental times in their life.”

Blankenship graduated from Georgia as the Bulldogs' all-time leading scorer after making 80 of 97 field goals, all 200 of his extra points and winning this year's Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker. He is likely to be the first kicker drafted this weekend, but since players at his position are rarely taken before the later stages of the draft, he is expected to go somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds.

Many draft experts have Blankenship heading to the New England Patriots, with whom Shackelford said would be a good fit. 

"Coach (Bill) Belichick is obviously a business kind of guy, and Rodrigo is, too," Shackelford said. "I think that would be a great matchup."

While Shackelford said it would be misleading for him to say he knew Blankenship was going to become the star he was at Georgia, he did say the seeds of success were planted early.

During the offseasons, Shackelford said Blankenship was constantly wanting to get into Jim Frazier Stadium to work on his kicking. During Christmas break, spring break, weekends, whenever he had time, Shackelford said Blankenship was asking to get into the stadium.

"It got to the point where I secretly left a key to a padlock in a hidden location so he could go out and kick," Shackelford said.

It was that kind of dedication that gives Shackelford the thought Blankenship could be in for a long NFL career.

"When you put talent and work ethic together, something great is going to happen," he said.

As for Zuniga, Shackelford said it took some effort on the coaches' part to get him on the field.

Zuniga did not play high school football as a freshman because he was a basketball player. However, the coaches finally got him to come out, and he quickly grew into arguably the best player on the team.

However, as a senior, Zuniga was still one of the best kept secrets in the Southeast.

"Entering his senior year, he didn't have an offer," Shackelford said. 

Shackelford went on to say that Zuniga picked up a couple offers from small schools early in his senior year, but by midseason, it seemed like everyone was aware of the athlete he had become. 

Zuniga finished his college career with 118 tackles (54 solo), 34 1/2 tackles for loss and 18 1/2 sacks in 42 games, and he was a preseason all-SEC pick heading into his senior season.

Zuniga's season was cut short because of a high ankle injury, which also may have hurt his draft prospects, despite an NFL combine workout that included a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, 29 bench-press reps at 225 pounds and a vertical leap of 33 inches. 

"That's freaky good," Shackelford said. "I had some of the NFL teams come and interview me this year. Some were projecting that he could have been a first-round guy. The NFL scouts have a lot of respect for him.

"He's a guy with a great engine and great length. He has the ability to create great separation and has the ability to get really low, and that's tough for those big tackles and big guards (to block)."

A multitude of draft experts have Zuniga going in the third round, but there are a couple who think he could be off the board late in Round 2.

If all three players -- Blankenship, Zuniga and Anchrum -- are drafted this weekend, they will join Chuma Edoga (OL, Jets), Bradley Chubb (LB, Broncos), Justin Jones (DL, Chargers), Evan Engram (TE, Giants), Kofi Amichia (OL, 49ers), Kenyan Drake (RB, Cardinals) and Jerick McKinnon (RB, 49ers) as Cobb County players currently in the NFL.

It would also give Sprayberry three players, along with McKinnon, in the league, which would match Hillgrove (Chubb, Engram and Drake) for the most for one Cobb high school.

However, the Yellow Jackets may sneak out in front in after next year's NFL draft because another Sprayberry alum -- running back Trey Sermon -- may become the fourth.

Sermon, a senior, left Oklahoma as a graduate transfer after rushing for 2,076 yards and 22 touchdowns in his career. He will play his final college season at Ohio State, giving the Buckeyes an all-Cobb County backfield teaming with former Harrison standout Justin Fields.

Shackelford is excited to see how that dynamic plays out.

"(Sermon) is a workhorse kind of a guy," he said. "He's the kind of a guy who would like to have it 18 to 25 carries in a game. At Ohio State, I think he can be that guy.

"You give him the ball enough, he's going to find a groove. Athletes know what I'm talking about. You kind of get into a zone, and Trey has that ability. If he gets enough touches and enough opportunities, he's going to get that gear that he needs to have a great game. He can turn it on. He's great kid to coach, for sure."

Sermon also could be a great answer to a trivia question one day.

Name the only running back to take a handoff from four Heisman Trophy-finalist quarterbacks during his college career. By the time Sermon is done, he will have taken the ball from Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and Fields.

"I hadn't thought about it that way," Shackelford said, "but that's pretty good company."

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John Bednarowski is the sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors. He can be reached at sportseditor@mdjonline.com or on Twitter @jbednarowski.

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