Area football players selected to the 2011 Georgia Sports Writers Association all-state team, announced Thursday:
RB Shadrach Thornton, Liberty County, Sr., 6-1, 200
OL Freddie Burden, Statesboro, Sr., 6-3, 295
LB Ken Murphy, Tattnall County, Sr., 6-0, 235
Defensive Player of the Year
DeAngelo Brown, Savannah Christian
OL Josh Gay, Savannah Christian, Sr., 6-3, 270
DL DeAngelo Brown, Savannah Christian, Sr., 6-1, 285
LB Nardo Govan, Savannah Christian, Sr., 6-3, 225
DB Will Austin, Savannah Christian, Sr., 5-11, 190
OL Justin James, Calvary Day, Sr., 6-1, 280
RB Wezley Ealey, ECI, Sr.; DL Joe Lockley, Portal, Sr.; WR Jordan Walker, Calvary Day, Jr.
LAWRENCEVILLE — Grayson head football coach Mickey Conn can rattle off a long list of things that make defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche such a good player.
He starts with his attitude and work ethic, mentions his strength and determination as a player and finishes with some intangibles that separate him from other players.
The biggest thing that stands out to Conn is Nkemdiche's humility.
For a junior who is regarded as one of the nation's top college prospects for 2013, Nkemdiche has kept a level head.
The Georgia Sports Writers Association's All-Classification Player of the Year helped lead Grayson to its first Class AAAAA state championship.
"We were really worried with all the attention he's getting would he take plays off, will he still be interested in the team?" Conn said. "You've got all these people pulling on him from every end. With this recruiting stuff, he didn't pay any attention to it."
Nkemdiche (6-5, 273) has college scholarship offers from every major program in football. He waited until after the season to schedule visits from college coaches.
"It doesn't matter about recruiting now," Nkemdiche said. "I just shut down everything that wasn't relevant to winning a state championship."
Nkemdiche emerged as one of the state's top players last year, leading Grayson to the state semifinals. He continued that success with 18 sacks and 17 quarterback pressures this season while playing defensive end and nose guard.
"We could put him anywhere," Conn said. "When you've got a guy that good, you don't want him thinking, you want him playing fast."
Nkemdiche also made an impact at running back, where he was almost impossible to stop on short-yardage plays. He rushed for 528 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"He was so explosive on our short-yardage stuff, that was huge," Conn said. "If we had third-and-1 or fourth-and-1, we felt like we could get a first down. That was big."
Nkemdiche wasn't just a short-yardage back. He made several long runs, including one in which he crossed the field, regained his balance, and dove in the end zone in a 34-14 win over Region 8-AAAAA rival Dacula.
"I just love doing good things for my team," Nkemdiche said. "Offensively and defensively, you put me in and I'm going to do my best to make it happen."
Nkemdiche is the first player from Gwinnett County to be named the state's All-Classification Player of the Year since Buford's Darius Walker, who went on to play at Notre Dame, in 2003.
Nkemdiche has already been compared to some elite players.
"When I first got here, (Cameron) Heyward was a junior or senior and he looks better than him," North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said prior to last year's playoff game with Grayson. "He's much more active and explosive."
Heyward, a Peachtree Ridge grad, won a national title at Ohio State and was a first-round draft pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this year.
Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst thinks Nkemdiche can play in the NFL next year and has compared him to one of the league's top defensive linemen.
"He looks like Julius Peppers. He looks like a first-round draft choice in high school," Propst said before their quarterfinal game. "He's a great football player, one of the best I've ever seen."
Nkemdiche still has that whole pesky college recruiting thing to deal with. In no particular order he lists Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Oregon and Southern California as his favorite schools.
His goal was always to win a state championship. With that accomplished this year, he wants another one.
"I want to do it one more time before I graduate," Nkemdiche said. "I just have to keep working. I don't want to ever act like I've got it all. I just want to keep working and get better."