Sometimes life isn't fair.
Americus wide receiver John Wilson is fast, he's determined, he's competitive, he's smart - everything that would seem to make him a top college prospect.
Still, even though he is one of the best receivers in state history, Wilson, the Georgia Sports Writers Association 1996 player of the year, probably will not be signing a Division I-A scholarship on football signing day. That's because he is only 5-foot-7.
"I don't care if he's 5-6 or 6-5, it doesn't make a difference," Americus coach Dan Ragle said. "Some of our prestigious state universities are going to be sorry they didn't sign this guy. They can't split his chest open and see his heart."
As for the rest of the All-State team, 15 area players were selected in their respective classifications. State champion Washington County had four players on the Class AA team, including running back Greg Cooper, who was named the player of the year in the classification. Washington County's Rick Tomberlin was named Class AA coach of the year.
The Washington County All-State selections were Cooper, defensive back Chris Horne and all-purpose back Terrance Edwards. The other area players on the Class AA team were Screven County running back Audrell Grace, Washington-Wilkes defensive back Nick Calloway and Screven County linebacker Bill Parker.
Five area players - all from Josey - made the Class AAA team. They were tight end Percy Bland, offensive lineman Shaun Williams, defensive back Armark Tolbert, defensive back Deon Grant and defensive lineman Eddie Brown.
In Class AAAA, the area selections were Lakeside tight end Nathan Thompson, Evans offensive lineman Seth Kirkland and Evans linebacker Levar Johnson.
The only area player to make the Class A All-State team was Lincoln County defensive back Kelvin Leverett.
Wilson is one of the fastest high school players in the state, running the 100 meters in 10.7 seconds. He competes for Americus in three different sports and spends the summer in the weight room. His play led Americus to the state championship game, and he has a 3.95 grade-point average.
Despite the ability of player of the year, major colleges are looking the other way because of Wilson's lack of height.
"If I was 6-0, they probably have me as the best wide receiver in the nation, instead of the best in the state," said Wilson.
"He's been one of the top receivers in the state over the past three years. It's not like he's a flash in the pan," Americus coach Ragle said. "He's been doing it every year. They ought to be able to find a spot for him. Someone who signs him will be a very happy coach."
Whatever coaches think about Wilson's college chances, there is no doubt that he is one of the best receivers in Georgia high school history.
He tied Stan Rome's state record of 43 career touchdown receptions, and he set the state record for receptions in a season this year with 83. He finished his career with 202 catches for 3,131 yards and 43 touchdowns. He put together these numbers against almost continuous double and triple coverage. On most plays, Wilson knows that he will have to beat a cornerback at the line, then get by a safety who has cheated over to help.
At the line, there is a cornerback lined up in man-to-man coverage. Wilson beats him with a feint to the inside and then a dash back to the outside on the fly route. But with the cornerback trying to catch up, Wilson now has to beat a safety who had been lined up on Wilson 15 yards off the ball as a second line of defense. To beat him, Wilson simply shifts into top gear, although the safety has plenty of time to prepare for Wilson's arrival, he switches from backpedal to run too late, and Wilson is by him.
"To me now, double coverage is like single coverage," Wilson said.
Most teams found that the only way to shut him down was to go to triple coverage, with a safety and a linebacker helping out the cornerback lined up on him. Of course, if three players are concentrated on stopping Wilson, the rest of the Panthers' receivers are running free through single coverage.
"(Against triple coverage) we used him as a decoy," Ragle said. "It drives him crazy. But at times it got ridiculous. They were leaving the other guys wide open."
Even against triple coverage, the Panthers were able to get him the ball sometimes on short hitches, which let Wilson use his agility to break free.
"He's going to slip the first guy," Ragle said. "There isn't any question, he has the best feet of any kid I have ever coached. I have not seen one person in a man-on-man situation bring him down. He has slipped the first guy throughout his career."
No matter what the coverage, Americus coaches and players expect that at some point in each game, Wilson would break free for a big play.
In the state semifinals in the Georgia Dome, it took almost three quarters. Wilson had been shut down in the first half by Carrollton's double coverage, but before the third quarter was over, he slipped behind the secondary for a 19-yard touchdown that split the game open.
"We've come to expect it," Ragle said. "It's a question of when's John going to do something. It will happen at some point of time. He hasn't disappointed us so far."
In the state championship loss to Washington County, it didn't take nearly as long for Wilson to put together a big play. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, then pulled in a 44-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
"I'm happy to get the record, but I wanted the state title more than the records," Wilson said. "I wanted that for the team."
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