Georgia’s best high school linebackers aren’t just tackling machines. The AJC’s list of the 10 best in the state includes some of the most versatile and athletic players at any position.
Take Buford’s Joshua Thomas. He was first-team all-state at linebacker last season, but he rushed for more than 1,000 yards for a state championship team last fall. Rivals lists him as the No. 2 fullback prospect nationally, though he’s rated more commonly at linebacker.
Tucker’s Elijah Sullivan, who is committed to Auburn as a linebacker, was the second-leading rusher for a state runner-up in 2014, when he scored 11 touchdowns.
Macon Couty’s Roquan Smith was his team’s leading tackler, but he also had 48 receptions and scored 12 touchdowns.
‘’Roquan Smith is the most athletic, explosive and diverse football player I've coached,’’ Macon County coach Larry Harold said. “His football I.Q. is off the charts too as he is the captain of our defense and does a great job of diagnosing plays pre-snap. His diversity and tenacity show in him being our leading tackler last season, our leading wide receiver and team touchdown leader. He literally hates leaving the field.’’
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Another linebacker/wide receiver type is Central Gwinnett’s Adonis Thomas. His size (6-4, 218) makes him a matchup nightmare on offense, as well.
‘’He has a great combination of size and speed that is rare,’’ Central Gwinnett coach Todd Wofford said. “He can run with any running back and has the size to also be physical with tight ends. He is that hybrid linebacker that is in demand at the next level because of the different ways that he can be used.’’
Several other Georgia linebackers could be called hybrids. Colquitt County’s Quintin Hampton had 19.5 sacks last season. He can play defensive end.
So can Carver-Columbus’ Mehki Brown, who had 11 sacks and 14 other tackles for losses last season. Brown is the most highly recruited player on this list. He committed to Alabama as a sophomore.
Quarte Sapp of Milton can rush the passer and also is excellent in pass coverage. Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro says that Sapp plays his position a bit like the basketball player that he is.
‘’That gives him a distinct advantage when it comes to understanding angles and trajectory of the ball,’’ Milton coach Howie DeCristofaro. “His desire and determination make him one of the best that I have coached. He cleans 300 pounds and bench presses 325. Combine those numbers with his athletic ability, and the sky is the limit for him.’’
Georgia’s 10 best high school linebackers:
*Montavious Atkinson (Hughes): Atkinson was named a first-team all-region linebacker in 3-AAAAAA last season after finishing with 137 tackles (74 solo), five tackles for losses, four forced fumbles and two interceptions for a team that recorded five shutouts. Hughes went 10-2 and reached the second round of the state playoffs. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior is a three-star recruit who is rated as the nation’s No. 25 inside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Atkinson has scholarship offers from more than 15 BCS schools but verbally committed to Auburn in March.
*Brian Bell (Lowndes): Bell, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior, is a three-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 39 outside linebacker in the 247Sports composite rankings. He was named first-team all-region in 1-AAAAAA last season after recording 55 tackles (37 solo), 10.5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks. Lowndes went 9-4 in 2013 and reached the third round of the state playoffs, losing to eventual champion Norcross 28-7. Bell committed to Florida State in February, reportedly choosing the Seminoles over Cincinnati, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
*Mekhi Brown (Carver-Columbus): Brown was named a first-team all-state linebacker in Class AAA last season by the Georgia Sports Writers Association and was an honorable mention selection in 2012, but the recruiting services project him as a defensive end in college. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior is a four-star recruit who is rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 1 weak-side defensive end. In 2013, he had 56 tackles, 14 tackles for losses, 11 sacks, 12 pass break-ups and four forced fumbles for a Carver team that went 11-2 and reached the state quarterfinals. Brown committed to Alabama in the spring of his sophomore year.
*Daniel Fennell (Grayson): Fennell was a second-team all-county selection (Gwinnett Daily Post) last season after finishing with 111 tackles for a team that finished 4-6 and missed the playoffs. His average of 11.1 tackles per game was the fifth-best total in Gwinnett County. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior is a three-star prospect who is listed as the nation’s No. 26 inside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Fennell reportedly has scholarship offers or major interest from about 20 BCS schools, including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Tennessee and Texas A&M.
*Quintin Hampton (Colquitt County): The 6-foot, 220-pound senior was a first-team all-state linebacker in Class AAAAAA last season, although some recruiting services project his college position to be defensive end, which he also played for the Packers last season. Hampton finished the 2013 season with 123 tackles, 30 tackles for losses and 19.5 sacks for a team that went 11-3 and reached the state semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. He has attracted interest from several schools in the SEC and ACC but reportedly has committed to Vanderbilt.
*Quarte Sapp (Milton): The 6-foot-2, 203-pound senior is a four-star recruit and the nation’s No. 22 outside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings, although he ranks as high as No. 10 at his position by Rivals. He was named second-team all-state in Class AAAAAA last season by the Georgia Sports Writers Association and honorable mention by the AJC. In 2013, Sapp had 104 tackles (76 solo), 20 tackles for losses, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown on a fumble return. He has offers from about 15 BCS schools, with particular interest from Florida State and Tennessee, according to 247Sports.
*Roquan Smith (Macon County): The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior is a four-star recruit who is rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 5 outside linebacker. He was named first-team all-state in Class AA last season after finishing with 101 tackles, 36 tackles for losses, 12 sacks, four interceptions, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. He also had 106 yards rushing, 609 yards receiving and nine touchdowns on offense. Macon County went 6-5 in 2013 and reached the first round of the playoffs. Smith has offers from more than 20 BCS schools, with strong interest from Georgia, Auburn and Florida, according to 247Sports.
*Elijah Sullivan (Tucker): Sullivan was one of the most versatile players for a Tucker team that finished 14-1 and reached the Class AAAAA championship game. He had 45 tackles, eight sacks, nine tackles for losses and one fumble recovery from his linebacker position. Offensively, he was the team’s second-leading rusher with 694 yards and 11 touchdowns and caught five passes for 132 yards. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior is a three-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 72 outside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Sullivan verbally committed to Auburn in February.
*Adonis Thomas (Central Gwinnett): Thomas was a second-team all-county selection (Gwinnett Daily Post) last season despite missing two games with a hamstring pull. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior is a four-star recruit who is listed as the nation’s No. 10 outside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Thomas finished the 2013 season with 56 tackles, four sacks and two forced fumbles. He also had 10 receptions for 210 yards and four touchdowns on offense for a team that went 2-8 and missed the playoffs. He has close to 30 scholarship offers from BCS schools, with Alabama and Florida showing strong interest, according to 247Sports.
*Joshua Thomas (Buford): The 6-foot, 202-pound senior was named a first-team all-state linebacker in Class AAA last season, and he is listed as the nation’s No. 21 inside linebacker in the 247Sports Composite rankings. However, Rivals ranks him No. 2 nationally at running back after he rushed for 16 touchdowns and a team-high 1,046 yards last season. On defense, Thomas finished with 56 tackles, four tackles for losses, two sacks, four fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns for a Buford team that went 15-0 and won its ninth state championship in 13 years. He has offers from about 13 BCS schools.
This is the seventh in a series of articles highlighting some of Georgia’s best high school players. They are chosen based primarily on their value and history as high school players, but their status as college prospects also is considered. Next week: Defensive backs