Originally created 08/20/04

Games begin tonight



Tyrese Harris and Antuanne Kerr piled together in a Chevrolet van in early June. They took a four-hour ride to Auburn University for a football camp. Their final football season as Butler Bulldogs was well under way.

That's something, considering the actual prep football season begins tonight, with games kicking off in both Georgia and South Carolina.

Just not for those two. Or any of our area's standout senior football players this season. Evans running back Cheng Ho is another example of an area player who increased his stock at summer workouts. Mr. Ho showed off speed the equal of any player in camp. It got his name out there.

Prospect status in the year 2004 is an ever-changing formula.

"You've got to do a little more than just play good football on Friday night if you want to get noticed," Mr. Kerr said. "Sometimes you just have to go to them."

The power brokers of college football did notice. Mr. Harris was honored as one of the top five defensive ends at the Auburn camp. Mr. Kerr was named one of the camp's top five tight ends .

Butler's bookends are just two of the best in a boon season for high school football talent in our area.

North Augusta's C.J. Byrd, tabbed by one recruiting service as the No. 22 player in the nation, is a headline recruit. So is Marcus Washington , of Burke County. He's already committed to Georgia and has been listed as the No. 11 prospect in the state by one recruiting publication.

"Typically, a really high-profile athlete in an area brings in all the college coaches," Georgia Tech recruiting coordinator David Wilson said. "It shines a brighter light on the whole area. While everybody is in town, they go check what the other schools have got. The big kids help out overall area exposure."

Byrd-watching paid off.

"There are probably six to 10 top players throughout the Augusta area right now that have a chance to be very, very good," Mr. Wilson said. "There may be another half-dozen young men who only need to look better in the classroom to receive major attention."

The strength of the area's talent base is in the level that will fatten the middle tier of the incoming 2005 freshman classes in Division I-A.

"This is a good year for football prospects around Augusta," said South Carolina running backs coach Dave Roberts , who has served as the team recruiting coordinator in the past.

"We need to have a good start to our season to get some of those kids who are mildly interested in us a chance to give us a closer look."

The Augusta Chronicle 's coverage area sent five players to Division I-A football schools in 2002.

Fourteen more trickled in after the 2003 season.

Seventeen is a conservative estimate for this season , considering there are already nine players with scholarship offers on the table from major schools.

Mr. Harris saw this coming.

"I knew this growing up playing against all these guys," he said. "I remember my sophomore year playing varsity. There were so many other guys just in the city playing varsity too. I knew this senior class had some players."

Mr. Harris also attended a Georgia camp over the summer. He even traveled to an exclusive Nike camp on the Georgia Tech campus , where participation was by invitation only.

"Every college had a scout at that camp," he said. "Everybody was bigger and taller than me , but I had the speed. Every college had scouts watching you at all times. If you slacked off in any drill , a coach saw it. There was a lot more pressure there at that Nike camp."

Mr. Harris paid $50 to $200 to attend the team camps.

"It was money well spent because those coaches get to see you up close," he said. "They see what they can't see on videotape, and they see how you compete and compare next to all the other players they are looking at."

Mr. Kerr said he wouldn't want to be heading into his senior year of football without his van trip.

"Junior Days are a must," he said. "The Auburn coaches there worked with me afterward. They told me to keep up the good work on the field and in the classroom and an offer will be coming."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-342

or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.