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September 12, 2011

State title the goal for Stephenson stars

MORE: Niebuhr's top weekend performers

The practices at Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson, a program with double-digit commits in its senior class, are downright competitive, according to its players.

That is particularly true when the first-string offense scrimmages against the first-string defense.

Then, "you're going against the best," Jaguars running back Mike Davis said.

Davis, a Florida commit and Rivals250 prospect, isn't exaggerating.

On offense, Stephenson, a school located just east of Atlanta, starts five players who already have committed to FBS programs. On defense, the numbers are even better. There, seven Jaguars are FBS bound - five to the Southeastern Conference and two more to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"The defense always wins," joked defensive end Jarontay Jones, a Virginia Tech commit.

The cutthroat setting at Stephenson is welcome to those on the team, who not only believe the competition Monday through Thursday will lead to better results Friday night, but argue each individual can only improve his own stock because of the high level of competition he sees in practice.

"With all the talent we have, it's making each other better in practice," Davis said. "By me facing guys like Jarontay every day, I have to come hard. Jarontay is not going to let up so I know I'm not going to be able to take one play off. My thing is, if I can get any type of yards and score against them, it should be easier to score against anyone else."

Despite the fact the Jaguars have three prospects in the Rivals250 (Davis, Jones and linebacker Raphael Kirby) and several other standouts, there are no prima-donnas, players maintained. The competition between them apparently stops the moment practice ends.

"When we're on the field, we leave those scholarships somewhere else, and just play Stephenson football," said outside linebacker Darreon Herring, who has pledged to Vanderbilt. "On the field, none of us has offers."

With so much talent on hand, the statistics of Stephenson's top offensive players aren't likely to be too gaudy in 2010. Yet, none of them seem to mind.

Davis, for example, arguably is the top back in Georgia, but he splits carries with T.J. Moon, a Florida Atlantic commit who is pretty good in his own right. Davis, though, doesn't bemoan the fact his yardage totals might not be as lofty as if he were the team's only backfield threat.

STEPHENSON'S SENIOR STARS
Here's a look at the Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson High seniors that are currently committed to play at the next level:
PlayerCollege
DB Shawn Blaylock Kentucky
RB Mike Davis Florida
DB Kyle Fleetwood South Carolina
OL Nicholas Gibbons Memphis
LB Darreon Herring Vanderbilt
DT Carlos Hood South Carolina
DE Jarontay Jones Virginia Tech
LB Raphael Kirby Miami
DT JaFar Mann Florida
OL Steve McKenzie South Alabama
TE Joshua Parris Syracuse
RB T.J. Moon Florida Atlantic
WR DeMarcus Sweat Kentucky
"It's never a concern, sharing carries with another back," he said. "A running back is not supposed to take too many hits, so it's a good thing. One of us might get tired, and the other can come in and handle the load."

According to Jones, there is no jealousy among teammates.

"Everyone is here for the same goal - to win a state championship," he said. "Everyone gets along great."

Were that not the case, there could be problems.

"If you've got guys not wanting to share the rock or wanting to buy into things, that's not good," said Kirby, a Miami commit and the team's starting inside linebacker. "But we have a balanced team. Everyone understands their role and everybody plays their role."

Off the field, many of those in the Jaguars' vaunted senior class are close friends, and have been so for some time. The group's chemistry was further aided by spring trips taken in a van to places such as Auburn, South Carolina and Vanderbilt, players said.

"That was really the main thing we got out of them," Jones said. "They were great. We're all friends, and that definitely helps. You know they're always going to have your back."

Because Stephenson, which is 3-0 following last week's 35-21 win at Tift County (Ga.), has so many individual standouts, the players admittedly feel added pressure to claim the program's first state championship. They also realize there are many who doubt the Jaguars can achieve this, yet aren't deterred by the naysayers.

"Every Friday night, we have pressure," Jones said. "Everybody is going to come in and play us great like Tift County did the other night. On the blogs, they always talk about us. They say we'll never win. They say the same things -- that we're going to lose and not win state. It fuels me. It fuels everybody. They don't understand how hard we work."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kneebs01@aol.com. You can follow him on Twitter @KeithRIVALS.



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