After West Forsyth knocked off Hillgrove in a signature 56-35 win last Friday night, more scholarship offers started pouring in for Wolverines players.
There was just one catch – they were all from the same school.
West offensive lineman Ryan O’Neill announced via Twitter on Monday that he received an offer to play at Stetson University. Two days later, running back Grant Torgerson, who scored five touchdowns along with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and filling the tackle sheet, followed with an announcement of his own.
He too was offered to play at Stetson.
Those who follow West football probably felt like they were seeing the same post over and over on social media, but they haven’t been. Over the last year, five West football players have been offered to suit up for the Hatters—for many of them, Stetson was their first offer.
So, what is it about this football program so many have likely never heard of that connects it with Forsyth County? It’s all in the academics, and it’s a microcosm of how college coaches have perceived the county in terms of what they expect to get from student athletes on the field and in the classroom.
Stetson defensive line coach Jonathan Johnson is in charge of recruiting the state of Georgia, as well as the Southeast. He used to coach at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. In fact, he was there when former West quarterback A.J. Erderly made a stop in the JUCO ranks between Middle Tennessee State and UAB.
According to West head coach Adam Clack, Johnson was always impressed with Erderly’s work ethic, so he followed the trail back to Cumming and started spying on some gold lids.
“I’ve not been around [Coach Johnson] a lot,” Clack said. “But, when he was here we were talking and he was asking about A.J., and looking for kids who can do the job on the field and in the classroom. He had an eye on a guy, and I said, ‘Coach, here’s about 10 of them.’ I didn’t know they’d actually offer so many.”
The Stetson program has only been on the field since 2012. It’s also very unique. Even though it competes in Division I’s Football Championship Subdivision, it’s a member of a conference called the Pioneer Football League that specifically exists for schools that don’t want to fall into the money game of big time college football. All PFL teams offer academic scholarships only—the only conference in D-I football to do so outside of the Ivy League.
You could argue that Stetson is one of the Ivy’s of the South. The average entry GPA for the prestigious private school in Deland, Florida is a 3.86. Performances on the football field are secondary, and West’s Kiernen Hamilton, Jordan Dreyovich, Joey Congrove, O’Neill and Torgerson all will have the opportunity, if they choose, to play for the Hatters.
“The Forsyth schools really pride ourselves on the vigor of the classroom and believing that competing in athletics is just part of the bigger picture,” Clack said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the fact that we have so many kids that understand that, that help create that reputation.”
That reputation isn’t exclusive to West, which is ranked No. 24 in the state in terms of its academic quality according to USNews.com’s Georgia rankings. Lambert comes into that ranking at No. 22, while South Forsyth leads the charge at No. 16. Also, Lambert and South are ranked, according to a 2015 report in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, top-20 in SAT scores.
There’s evidence of that on the gridiron at those respective schools as well.
Forsyth Central senior defensive end Hunter Stephens received his first scholarship from, of course, Stetson last Saturday, a day after Stephens had 10 tackles in the Bulldogs’ 63-28 victory against Meadowcreek.
Lambert’s Mac Redmond also has a Stetson offer—his first, while quarterback Richie Kenney has a scholarship on the table from Davidson College. Davidson, like Stetson, also plays in the PFL and has a high entry GPA.
At South, the Ivy League itself has come calling. Defensive end and tight end Cameron Kline broke the mold last year when he accepted one of his many Ivy Leauge offers, committing to Harvard. Now his former teammate, Max Slott, is reeling in Ivy League interest as well. If he chooses to play collegiately, it’s very likely he’ll do it at a prestigious academic institution.
On Aug. 27, Slott was named WSBTV’s Georgia Lottery Scholar Athlete of the Week, where they highlighted his 3.85 GPA and outstanding performances on the football field.
“Those are incredible schools with incredible campuses and academics,” Slott told WSBTV. “So it’s super exciting to think that’s a possibility for me.”
Many other former or current stars in the county have followed this trend. Jalen Camp and Andrew Marshall from South are now at Georgia Tech, one of the top institutes in the world, while Davis Winkie from South went to Vanderbilt—the crown jewel, academically, of the SEC.
Also, West’s starting receiver and tight end Ben Bresnahan’s first offer as a junior—Wake Forest.
To make matters more interesting, Central head coach Frank Hepler has been in contact with Duke in recent weeks, though he won’t spill the beans on the subject matter.
“It’s no secret. You know you’re going to get smart kids if you come up here, and you know they’re going to have great character and do what you ask of them,” Hepler said. “We’ve got sophomores here who, heck we don’t know where they’ll be as football players, but man do we like coaching them and being around them. That’s a good sign.”