Two former Middle Georgia high school football players will have different perspectives on this weeks NFL draft, which begins Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
Former Twiggs County standout Darqueze Dennard is virtually assured of being a first-round draft choice, while Rashad Wynes, who starred at Warner Robins, just hopes he will be drafted at all.
Dennard was a two-time GHSA Class A all-state player for the Cobras before going on to an All-American career at Michigan State. He won just about every national award as the best collegiate defensive back in the nation, including the prestigious Jim Thorpe award. A four-year letter winner and a three-year starter for the Spartans, Dennard has been projected as high as the 10th overall pick.
During his college career, Dennard had 167 career tackles, 30 passes defended (20 interceptions and 20 pass breakups) in 44 games and is the first cornerback in Michigan State history to earn unanimous All-America recognition. He was named to ESPN.coms Big Ten all-bowl team after helping the Spartans defeat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. In the Outback Bowl at the end of the 2011 season, he had two picks in the Spartans win over Georgia.
Wynes, a three-star prospect coming out of Warner Robins in 2009, initially signed with Alabama-Birmingham, at the time coached by Macon native Neil Callaway. He ran into academic problems at UAB, forcing him to leave the Blazers and take his talents to Jones County Junior College in Mississippi.
In his lone season at the junior college, he claimed Mississippi Association of Community & Junior Colleges all-state honors while leading the team in receiving yards (450) and touchdowns (4). He also was the MVP of the MACJC all-star game in 2010.
From there, it was on to Belhaven, an NAIA program in Mississippi, where he played three seasons and was voted the teams best running back in the 2013 season.
Unlike Dennard, Wynes was not invited to the NFLs national scouting combine in Indianapolis. But he did take part in the NFL regional combine in Atlanta and has drawn the attention of NFL scouts, especially as a kickoff/punt returner. Thats an area he excelled in at Belhaven.
Wynes is not a typical return specialist, standing about 6 feet and weighing close to 230 pounds, but his college numbers show he can get the job done. During his three seasons at Belhaven, Wynes had more than 2,200 return yards, averaging about 22 yards per attempt. He holds the NAIA all-time record for the longest punt return in that organizations history with a 95-yard effort against Union College. Not only could he be a return specialist, but he also could provide backup as a running back.
Even if Wynes is not drafted, it is most likely he will be picked up as a free agent and invited to a teams rookie minicamp. Wynes has been training with current and former NFL players at DSA Training in Marietta. He has received hands-on instruction from former NFL running back Garrison Hearst and followed a strict training schedule set in place by trainers Lilian Abdelmalek and Robert Cromartie.
Dennard will become only the second Twiggs County football player to make it to the NFL. Tony Hollings, who played at Twiggs County in the late 1990s, was a second-round pick in the supplemental draft of 2003 and spent three seasons with the Houston Texans.
Football-rich Warner Robins has had 10 players reach the NFL. Safety Eddie Anderson spent 11 seasons in the professional ranks with Seattle and the Raiders franchise. Defensive tackle Willie Blade played two years with Dallas and Jacksonville. Running back James Brooks was in the league 12 seasons with San Diego, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
Also, offensive lineman George Collins played five seasons with the Cardinals franchise, defensive back Kevin Porter was with Kansas City and the New York Jets for six seasons, Willie Reid was with Pittsburgh for two years, cornerback Mike Richardson was with New England, Kansas City and the Colts franchise for three years, defensive back Ben Smith spent six years between Philadelphia, Cleveland and the Cardinals franchise, safety Greg Trimble split one season between Dallas and Philadelphia, and wide receiver Byron Walker played with Seattle for five years.
Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org