Middle school is often a time of simplicity. After school activities are opportunities to make friends and stay active. Nothing is taken too seriously.
That wasn’t the case for former South Forsyth middle school running back Mac Redmond. Redmond, now a fullback and linebacker for the Lambert Longhorns (6-1, 6-0 Region 6-AAAAAA), who host West Forsyth (5-2, 5-1) in a top-of-the-region tilt tonight, approached his middle school playing experience like an NFL training camp.
Out of sight and out of mind, he was deliberate about his rise to the varsity program down the road. He wouldn’t fail. He couldn’t.
“Everyone’s goal was to beat Riverwatch Middle School,” Redmond said. “But, my personal goals were to try to break the weightlifting records and any football record I could. As a middle school player going into high school it was my goal to make the varsity team. I ended up starting at linebacker, and that has helped me tremendously so far.”
When Redmond was in middle school his favorite memory was a game where he eclipsed 200 yards rushing and scored four touchdowns to beat North Forsyth Middle, 28-21. This season, Redmond has touched the ball just four times—all receptions. Albeit, he’s scored a touchdown, but the fullback has spent most of his time dominating on the other side of the ball. The junior leads the team in tackles with 57 and is second on the team in tackles-for-a-loss with seven.
Against West later today he’ll be asked to wrap up one of the top tailbacks in the county—West’s Grant Torgerson. It won’t be the first time.
“Honestly, I know Mac Redmond,” Torgerson, also a junior, said when asked if there’s any players on other teams he remembers going against while growing up. “I’ve known him for many years. I’ve always played against him, and it’s always been a good game.”
The middle-to-high school transition was the opposite for Torgerson. At Vickery Creek Middle, Torgerson played primarily at linebacker until the eighth grade, when the lack of a serviceable running back forced him into the starting role on offense.
Now, Torgerson is West’s feature tailback, but he also gets help from a player nobody saw coming. His backup, Kwon Miller, was one of those players Torgerson says “sprouted up” out of nowhere after middle school.
“He started playing his eighth grade year. He had never played before and you could tell,” Torgerson said. “But, man, you could tell he’d be good eventually. He worked his way into it. He’s definitely grown into a great player.”
So far this year Torgerson has carried 98 times for 503 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and has scored three times. Miller has bested his total with five touchdowns, while racking up 246 yards on 54 attempts.
The dynamic backfield—one player, a star for years; the other, a late-bloomer—is a microcosm of the unpredictability of player development described by South Forsyth Middle head coach Chris Baker, who coached Redmond in 2011 and 2012.
“Some guys don’t even hit their growth spurt until the ninth or 10th grade,” Baker said. “I’ve seen some standout players in high school that, honestly, they didn’t do much in middle school. But some kids, like Mac, they were just always great. It’s a mixed bag.”
Baker has coached at the high school level in Florida and Georgia before taking the job at South Middle in 2007. He’s been tasked with coaching a team that feeds into rival schools—65 percent to Lambert and 35 percent to South.
Though, he says internal trash talking has been kept to a minimum.
“We don’t really see much of that until their eighth grade year maybe. They don’t focus on that, and that’s a good thing. Maybe when the big games come up you might hear a little chatter,” Baker said.
It’s a different story at West.
“I’d say about 50 percent of the kids that play here at West have played together since the fifth grade feeder we had,” Torgerson said. “I think that’s what is so great, we all know each other very well. We’ve been playing football for so long, know our strengths and weaknesses. Our coach always wanted it to be that way, growing up and playing together.”
Torgerson’s most memorable middle school game was a championship in the sixth grade against the Atlanta Colts. With the game tied, Torgerson threw a halfback pass as time expired to win the game. He says he’ll never forget the experience.
This season Torgerson has thrown one pass—a 9-yard completion. Still, he’s taking more pride in playing on both sides of the ball, playing more snaps at linebacker just like he did in the seventh grade.
“I love the physical nature of it,” Torgerson said. “I actually came from Texas before middle school and had never played football. I don’t know why since it’s such a big deal over there.”