The AJC’s high school football player of the year

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Until a few weeks ago, Travis Hunter merely was the nation’s No. 1 college football recruit, the best two-way high school player in Georgia since Champ Bailey and perhaps the state’s best wide receiver in history.

The Collins Hill senior transcended those fascinations when, after 21 months of unwavering commitment to Florida State, he literally tossed a Seminoles cap aside and announced he was signing with Jackson State, an FCS HBCU school coached by Deion Sanders.

“I am making this decision so that I can light the way for others to follow, make it a little easier for the next player to recognize that HBCU’s may be everything you want and more,” Hunter said in a Twitter statement that will stand as one of the more stunning signing-day surprises in recruiting history.

Hunter, the AJC’s all-classification football player of the year, then played his final high school football game three days later. He showed again why he’s a big deal.

In the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series in Las Vegas, Hunter had 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns against an undefeated state champion. He caught what would have been the winning touchdown pass from 28 yards in the final minute, but Graham-Kapowsin High of Graham, Wash., scored with a second left to steal a 40-36 victory.

The final totals on Hunter’s career came to 48 touchdown receptions, a state record, and 3,963 yards receiving, fourth most all-time. He also had 19 interceptions as a full-time cornerback, his favored position.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

“His ability to locate, track and attack the ball in air is what separates him from other elite athletes,” said Milton coach Adam Clack, whose team lost to Collins Hill 24-8 in the Class 7A championship game Dec. 11. “He has the best ball skills I’ve ever seen.”

Hunter had 10 receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown against Milton. It was Collins Hill’s first football championship. Had Hunter not missed five games while injury, he would have chased a 2,000-yard receiving season.

The 247Sports Composite ranking, a consensus of the recruiting services, has assigned Hunter a .9999 rating, the same it gave Trevor Lawrence as a Cartersville senior. The only Georgia player this century to get a 1.000 was Grayson’s Robert Nkemdiche in 2013.

Collins Hill coach Lenny Gregory coincidentally was Nkemdiche’s guardian at the time and a Grayson assistant coach. Gregory has never favored one over the other but said he’s never been around a player more natural or gifted than Hunter. That counts his time as an all-conference player at Brigham Young.

What’s next for Hunter is hard to gauge. Hunter idolized Sanders, the former FSU star who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while growing up around Tallahassee, Fla.

“That’s where my roots are, and I never doubted that I would play for the Seminoles,” he said. “It’s a dream that is hard to let go of, but sometimes we are called to step into a bigger future than the one we imagined for ourselves.”

Some have reported that Hunter is getting a $1.5 million NIL deal, but Sanders has denied that. Sanders has praised Hunter’s talents, said his technique needs work and indicated he would play receiver and cornerback at Jackson State, as Sanders did for a time in the NFL.

“I can’t wait to see really what he is,” Sanders told ESPN’s “Keyshawn, JWill & Maxshow. “But when I tell you, ‘He got that it, he got that it.’ ... When he touch that ball, you get up. He got that kind of thing.”