Best Class A football players in state history: Vandagriff latest in a strong list

Dec. 28, 2020 - Atlanta, Ga: Prince Avenue Christian quarterback Brock Vandagriff (12) attempts a pass in the first half against Trinity Christian during the Class 1A Private championship at Center Parc Stadium Monday, December 28, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga.. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Dec. 28, 2020 - Atlanta, Ga: Prince Avenue Christian quarterback Brock Vandagriff (12) attempts a pass in the first half against Trinity Christian during the Class 1A Private championship at Center Parc Stadium Monday, December 28, 2020 in Atlanta, Ga.. JASON GETZ FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Brock Vandagriff was named the Gatorade Georgia football player of the year this week. It’s latest of many honors for the five-star quarterback and University of Georgia early enrollee who led Prince Avenue Christian to the Class A Private championship in 2020.

Vandagriff also was named The Atlanta Journal-Constitution all-classification player of the year and the Atlanta Touchdown Club’s Mr. Georgia football.

Many have used the example of Vandagriff to demonstrate that the size of a player’s school doesn’t matter, that if the player has the talent, major college football will find him.

Vandagriff played four seasons in Class A, the GHSA’s classification for schools with fewer than 550 students. He passed for 10,097 yards and 107 touchdowns in his high school career. Vandagriff signed with Georgia as the consensus No. 2 dual-threat quarterback prospect in the country.

Vandagriff is merely the latest of those models in Georgia, however. Here are 11 Georgia legends who played in the state’s lowest classification in the past 50 years.

*George Rogers, Duluth: Rogers won the 1980 Heisman Trophy winner at South Carolina and twice was first-team All-Pro in the NFL. In high school, Rogers led Duluth to the Class B championship game in 1975, though his Wildcats were stopped short by Lyons. The city of Duluth had a population of only about 2,500 at the time, and Gwinnett County, now a mecca for football in the highest class, didn’t yet have a big school or a state champion in its history. Duluth, the city, is 10 times that size now, and Rogers is one of the largest stars in state history.

*Herschel Walker, Johnson County: The ultimate argument-ender about Class A football is Walker, who rushed for 3,067 yards as a senior at Johnson County and led the Trojans to a state title. It wasn’t total domination, however. Another Class A school, Emanuel County Institute, actually held Walker and Johnson County out of the end zone in a 3-0 victory in the regular season that year. Johnson County county avenged the loss and went on to beat Feldwood in the title game as Walker rushed for 318 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries. Walker won the Heisman Trophy while at Georgia in 1982.

From the original caption: "Herschel Walker of Johnson County High School in Wrightsville, the top running back in the south." This is in December 1979. He'd soon go on to the University of Georgia.
From the original caption: "Herschel Walker of Johnson County High School in Wrightsville, the top running back in the south." This is in December 1979. He'd soon go on to the University of Georgia.

*Garrison Hearst, Lincoln County: Hearst was the AJC’s all-classification player of the year in 1989, when he led Lincoln County – Georgia’s most storied Class A program – to a 15-0 season and state title. He was an All-American at Georgia, a Heisman Trophy finalist and two-time Pro Bowl player during a 10-year NFL career.

*Champ Bailey, Charlton County: Bailey put up nearly 6,000 all-purpose yards as a running back, quarterback and return man at Charlton County, a southeast Georgia school that emerged as a football state power with Bailey in the early 1990s. Bailey once rushed for 417 yards in a high school game. Bailey was a consensus All-America cornerback while at Georgia and a 12-time Pro Bowl pick. In 2019, he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Champ Bailey speaks during his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame Stadium on August 3, 2019 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Champ Bailey speaks during his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame Stadium on August 3, 2019 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Credit: Joe Robbins

Credit: Joe Robbins

*Charles Grant, Miller County: Grant was a two-way player in high school but best known as a running back who scored a state-record 45 touchdowns in 1997 in just 13 games as Miller County reached the Class A quarterfinals. He had 3,467 all-purpose yards that senior season and was a Parade All-American. Grant played defensive end at Georgia, was a first-round pick in the NFL Draft and finished with 47 sacks in his pro career.

*Marcus Stroud, Brooks County: Stroud made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1996 in a photo that showed the Class A star pulling away a Florida Gators shirt to reveal a red Georgia Bulldogs shirt underneath, signaling his last-minute switch on signing day. Stroud helped Brooks County win a Class A state title as a sophomore in 1994. He became a first-round draft pick, played 10 years in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl three times.

*Monte Williams, Commerce: Williams’ 8,844 rushing yards - on an average of 9.3 yards per carry - ranked fourth in history nationwide when it was set in 2000, the season that Commerce defeated Buford for the Class A championship. Williams rushed for 287 yards in that game and caught a 41-yard TD pass. Unlike the others on this list, Williams - who was about 5-foot-7, 170 pounds - didn’t play for a Power Five conference team in college.

Commerce running back Monte Williams’ 8,844 rushing yards ranked fourth in history nationwide when it was set. (Jenni Girtman/AJC)
Commerce running back Monte Williams’ 8,844 rushing yards ranked fourth in history nationwide when it was set. (Jenni Girtman/AJC)

*Charles Johnson, Hawkinsville: Johnson was the Class A defensive player of the year in 2003, when he led Hawkinsville to the Class A title as a defensive lineman. Johnson played at Georgia, then 11 seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and had 67.5 career sacks.

*Washaun Ealey, ECI: Ealey led ECI to the Class A title in 2007 while rushing for 2,982 yards and setting a state record with 58 touchdowns and was named the AJC’s all-classification player of the year. A blue-chip recruit, he twice led the University of Georgia in rushing but transferred to Jacksonville State, where he rushed for 1,000 yards in his final college season. Ealey never played in the NFL.

ECI's Washaun Ealey opened the '08 season with 137 yards and touchdown runs of 39, 15 and two yards on 17 carries during the Bulldogs' 28-13 win over Savannah Country Day. Committed to Georgia.
ECI's Washaun Ealey opened the '08 season with 137 yards and touchdown runs of 39, 15 and two yards on 17 carries during the Bulldogs' 28-13 win over Savannah Country Day. Committed to Georgia.

Credit: Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / jgetz@ajc.com

*David Andrews, Wesleyan: Andrews was Wesleyan’s starting center as a sophomore on the team that beat Emanuel County Institute and Ealey to win the Class A championship in 2008. He became a three-year starter at Georgia. Though undrafted, Andrews won a starting job in the NFL as a rookie. Not counting the 2019 season, which he sat out injured, Andrews has started 69 of 72 games for the New England Patriots and was the starting center on two Super Bowl teams.

*Nick Marshall, Wilcox County: Marshall, a quarterback, led Wilcox County to the 2009 Class A championship while throwing for 2,956 yards and 32 touchdowns. Recruited as a cornerback, he signed with Georgia but finished his college career at Auburn, where he was the Tigers’ starting quarterback in 2013 and 2014. Marshall is now a cornerback for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.

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