High school culture gets flipped upside down with the scarlet and gray of Laney's football team.
A student-athlete turns in a test. He gets it back. He looks for a number in red at the top.
The higher the better works in the classroom. Not the locker room.
When preparing for this year's game against Laney, Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer mentioned super-fast defensive tackle Tim Wright. He evaluated do-everything Kenneth Walker. He mentioned defensive ends and linebackers.
"One thing became pretty clear preparing for Laney," Sawyer said. "It looked to us like the lower the number on the jersey, the better the football player. Defensive lineman. Defensive ends. Linebackers. They've all got low numbers."
Other schools have stickers of pitchforks or stars; jersey numbers 1 to 19 are like oceanfront property at Laney.
WRIGHT - A 6-FOOT-3 defensive tackle and occasional fullback - wears number 2.
"J.K. Sabb's little brother (Dorian Sabb) looked at me and said 'How do you wear number 2 as big as you are?'" Wright said. "I told him when you wear a single digit number at Laney, that means you're supposed to be good. Scrubs can't wear low numbers."
Then there's No. 3, linebacker Johnny Overstreet, who wore 48 last year.
"We used to tease Johnny Overstreet a lot," Wright said. "We picked on him last year saying he was a good player, but he was still a nobody because he's wearing number 48."
The seniors on the 2000 team got it started.
"We got new jerseys going into that season, and we had gotten the team all together to break out of the losing slump our program had been in," Parker said. "We had a lot of fired-up seniors back, and we let seniors and juniors pick their numbers.
"For some reason, our seniors and better players all went for the low numbers."
Running back Brandon Few wanted number 1. Latray Walker wanted 12. Zedrick Stewart was 18. Keon Walker, a tight end, wanted 8. Quarterback Nick Figgs was 17.
"After those guys did it and had some success in 2000," Parker said, "it's just kind of been an ongoing thing."
GEORGIA HIGH SCHOOL rules mandate anyone who plays on the offensive line wear a number between 50 and 79. That's the only number regulation.
So offenses that line up against Laney see three defensive linemen wearing single-digit numbers and linebackers wearing Nos. 3 and 18. All in all, 15 Laney starters wear jerseys numbered between 2 and 18.
Junior Calvin Britt, a starting defensive end and wide receiver, moved down from 17 to 7 this year. Britt had two big sacks, several tackles for losses and a 57-yard touchdown catch last week against East Hall.
"I think Britt is turning into the next great Laney football player in front of all our eyes right now," Parker said.
Besides personal preference, the players are in those numbers because Laney's coaches are scary judges of talent.
Freshman Cameron Stallings was given number 8 after earning it in summer camp. He's started in the defensive secondary most of the year and returned an interception for a touchdown in last week's playoff victory vs. East Hall.
"Coach David Griffin handles the numbers," Parker said. "Now, when we get a young buck that's probably going to start or play major minutes it sort of happens. If one is available, I think Coach Griffin sticks a kid in a low number without thinking about it."
The only retired jersey is Emerson Boozer's 20. J.K. Sabb's number 5 wasn't touched the year after he left. Robert Dunn's No. 19 wasn't requested this year.
"Number 18 is a good example," Parker said. "When we give out an 18, we let the player know that we've had nothing but showstoppers wear it. When a kid asks for a number, we make sure they know all that's expected out of a Laney football player who wears that number."
Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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