GCAA schools purpose as important as any larger institution

Despise not the recruitment of smaller colleges and universities

Recently I saw where several football student-athletes I've covered in the past while in the Henry County area are getting NCAA Division I scholarship offers, Division I interest and two who even committed to Division I schools. 

What's the big deal, right? Happens all the time, right? Well, yeah. But the difference is, these were not athletes who played for Georgia High School Association schools. 

If you're reading the sports page, you probably are aware that the GHSA is, in most cases, to Georgia high school sports what the NCAA is to collegiate athletics — it's the so-called big enchilada. 

It's the expected place to go if you want to make it big on the next level. At least that's the narrative we've grown accustomed to parroting. 

But some of these kids I began this column loosely referencing are kids who go to schools like Community Christian in Stockbridge and Creekside Academy in McDonough. These are smaller, private schools that play in the Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association. 

We have a pair of schools right here in Covington — Peachtree Academy and Covington Academy — that are members of the GICAA. I'll be writing more about their programs soon. And word on the street is, the kids who attend these schools aren't being thought of as recruiting afterthoughts as much anymore. 

That's because one emerging truth in high school athletics and college recruiting is, if a player can play — regardless of where he goes to school — someone will find him. 

That truth carries over into even the student-athletes who do play for GHSA schools, but aren't being recruited by the blue blood NCAA programs. I know for most kids, when they put on the pads, pick up the bat and glove or lace up their gym shoes for the first time in high school, they do so with the hope that one day their skills will attract the likes of UGA or Alabama to come calling for their services. 

Statistics say, however, that it doesn't happen more than it does. 

In fact, according to the NCAA, only about 2% of all high school athletes go on to play big time college ball. Again, that's all athletes. Not just football, and not just those in Georgia. 

That may sound ominous and discouraging, but the good news is, many student-athletes are now understanding that big named schools are not the end-all-be-all to seeing their hopes of playing college ball and beyond realized. 

You can still get there through some solid FCS (formerly known as Division I-AA) and even Division II programs. Which is why it makes me smile when I see guys like Alcovy's Koby Perry or Kyrese Knox, both football players, celebrate their offers from and signings to some of these smaller, Division II schools and junior colleges. 

They are celebrating and excited about it because they've bought in to the notion that the name of the jersey you wear doesn't matter as much as the quality of athlete you allow yourself to become through hard work and perseverance. 

That's why I rejoice a little with a guy like Perry every time he takes to Twitter to show off his latest D-II or JUCO offer. You're talking about a kid who, just two months ago when I first met him, didn't know for sure whether he'd play college ball or not. 

Today he's got 16 offers and counting. 

You think about the ambition in a guy like Knox who committed to Independence Community College in Kansas this past week. He said he would plan to do 18 months at the school and parlay that time into landing a scholarship at a large program. For him, it may not be 'Bama, but it represents an alternative route for him to get to some of the same places those four and five star recruits like Newton's UGA commit, Jeremiah Holloman are trying to go. 

And you can get there through those alternative routes. Just ask Shane Henry — a Newton graduate who's now listed on Virginia Tech's basketball roster. Henry's road to Division I began at Georgia Perimeter College.

For many, that next place isn't even about the pros, though. It's about grabbing a quality education while still doing what you're most passionate about, and proving that you can compete at the highest level possible.

Just like Eastside's Molly Moon or Kacie Edwards, both going to Andrew College to play softball. Or Lauren Beshears who'll be pitching at Young Harris. For them, it isn't about trying to find a professional softball contract to sign — and yes, that is a thing now. Just Google "Monica Abbott" and see — but it's more about using their skills to get them an education that will help them fulfill goals and dreams that stretch far beyond their days as an athlete. 

But even for those who do want to extend their careers beyond college, you've got guys like former Newton star Stephen Croone to look to. Croone left Newton for Furman on a basketball scholarship, was a standout there, and now has several options to go pro over seas. 

Honestly, there isn't enough space for me to give an exhaustive list of examples, both locally and otherwise, of athletes who've made it via less conventional, less ballyhooed means. But suffice it to say, I'm glad to see some of these kids sticking their chests out about who's trying to throw scholarship money their way. 

The cool thing is, whether they're signing at Georgia or Georgia Perimeter, a plethora of our local athletes have opportunities to make their dreams come true while inspiring others who are following their footsteps. 

So when National Signing Day comes in February, cheer just as loud for the JUCO signee as the big school signees. They're all chasing after the same dreams, even if they aren't taking the same road.

Gabriel Stovall is the Sports Editor at The Covington News.