Originally created 09/17/99

Players excel in varirous roles



Seniors Brian Bratton, Michael Hicks and Jamal Jones all play for rival football teams, but one thing links the three players.

Versatility.

At Lakeside, Bratton lines up at quarterback, wide receiver and safety. Hicks can be seen at running back, wide receiver, quarterback or cornerback at Greenbrier. Jones plays wide receiver, running back and cornerback for Evans.

"At the beginning of the year, it's kind of tough," said Jones, of playing the different positions. "But once you get in shape, it's really fun."

Despite rushing for 1,206 yards last season, Jones is enjoying playing wide receiver this year. He has already shown big-play ability with 71-¾and 49-yard touchdown receptions in Evans' (2-0) first two wins.

"That's really what I wanted to play when I came to high school," Jones said. "With my speed, I can break a couple of tackles and go."

Right now, Bratton and Hicks -- who both also play basketball for their schools -- can't break any tackles and can barely go. Both are nursing sprained ankles and may be facing position changes upon their return to the lineup.

After playing the past two seasons at quarterback, Hicks moved to running back at the start of the season. However, starting quarterback Will Caywood went down with a broken left wrist against Statesboro last week and is out for the next six weeks.

"There has been some talk by coach (Mickey Derrick) of putting me back there at quarterback," said Hicks, who missed last week's game against Statesboro and is questionable for Greenbrier's (1-1) game tonight at Dublin. "I'll do anything to help this team win."

That includes taking more hits as well. But Hicks knew in advance what to do to get his body ready for this season.

"I've been working real hard because I knew I was going to go both ways this year," Hicks said. "I've been doing a lot of running. I've been doing a lot of conditioning to get ready for the new pace. With me playing running back, there's a little more wear and tear on your body."

Bratton, who shares quarterback duties with Blake Elder, was settling in as a go-to wide receiver. But Elder tore his anterior cruciate ligament against South Aiken last Friday and is gone for the season, which could change Bratton's role for the Panthers (1-1).

"As of right now, I'm not sure," said the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Bratton. "With (Elder) being gone, I don't know whether I'm going to have to stay at quarterback or not."

Role changing is not nearly defining as life changing. On Nov. 3, 1998, Bratton's life took a 180-degree turn after his Chevrolet Blazer pulled a couple of 360s. Driving to an early-morning practice on a hilly, wet Clarke Point road, Bratton hit his brakes too hard and his sports-utility vehicle flipped over, slid off the road, through a fence and between two trees, totaling the car. Bratton walked away unscathed.

Three days later, he had a career-best performance against Butler -- 214 yards rushing and three touchdowns on just seven carries.

"Maybe that was a wake-up call," Bratton said. "Tomorrow is never promised, so you have to take advantage of (today). I look at what happened to Blake on Friday night and that's a prime example of that. It can end in one day. He's not going to play football again this season."

Bratton, Hicks and Jones will most likely play college football next season. Positions, though, may not change much for the trio.

Georgia Southern is looking at Bratton to play quarterback, while other colleges, such as Georgia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida, Florida State, Alabama and Auburn, want him at either wide receiver or defensive back.

"I never really expected to play quarterback in college, but if I can do it I'll do it," Bratton said. "But whatever the college wants me to play I'll play. I just want to play in college."

The 5-9, 175-pound Hicks is also feasting off the banquet of college offers.Many Division I schools are courting Hicks.His top five teams, however, consist of Kansas, Kansas State, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia. Hicks visited Georgia two weeks ago during the Utah State game. His father, Michael Sr., was on the team at Kansas State in the early 1970s.

"I'm looking for a school that'll enable me to use my versatility to its best," Hicks said. "Until this year, I knew I could play all the different positions. I've always wanted a chance to show what I can do. Now I'm getting that chance."

Jones is being looked at by Tennessee, Wofford and East Tennessee State as a wide receiver or a defensive back.

"I'm a little bit too small to play running back," said the 6-foot, 170-pound Jones.

Jones also has the option of his other sport -- baseball. On the diamond, Jones is a highly-touted center fielder with speed and power. While he feels he's equally talented in both sports, Jones' heart is on the diamond.

"I love the game of football, but I love the game of baseball just a little bit more," he said.

Jones hopes to reap the benefits of playing more on the football field this year.

"Defensively, I'm getting a lot of reps in," he said. "I've made a lot of tackles. Offensively, I've gained a lot of yards so far."

And with the added exposure, Jones hopes to become a two-sport star collegiately next year.

"If I can, I would play both if they give me the chance to play," Jones said. "If it doesn't come down to that, I might go play baseball."

REACH

Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222.