Published Thursday, February 07, 2013

NSD: Middle School teammates reunite at Georgia

By DOUG GORMAN

dgorman@newnan.com

Newnan's Tray Matthews and Northgate's DeAndre Johnson never played a down of football against each other in high school.

But the two former middle school teammates are about to be reunited after signing letters of intent with the University of Georgia in separate signing ceremonies Wednesday.

Playing for the Bulldogs has been a dream for both players since they first buckled up their chin straps as youth league players.

Others, including rival Georgia Tech, tried to land Johnson's services. But in the end, it came down to fulfilling boyhood dreams.

"I have always been a Bulldog fan for a long as I can remember," said the 6-foot-3, 311-pound Johnson, who was decked out in a bright red Georgia shirt. "I really didn't ever want to play anywhere else."

The defensive tackle, who could play noseguard in the Bulldogs' 3-4 scheme, should bring plenty of size and muscle to the position in the future following the departure of both Kwame Geathers and John Jenkins to the NFL Draft.

"It's been really fun playing at Northgate," Johnson said. "I have enjoyed playing here and being with my friends."

Johnson becomes a part of Northgate head coach Tommy Walburn's coaching history.

"He is just a great player," said Walburn, a diehard Alabama fan who regardless, was thrilled to be seeing Johnson head to Athens. "He is the first player since I have been a head coach to go to Georgia. It's exciting that he is going to get to play for our state school."

Matthews first caught the attention of Georgia head coach Mark Richt between his sophomore and junior seasons, offering a verbal commitment to the Bulldogs after attending a camp in the summer of 2011.

Parents Carlos and Sonya have equally been a help during the recruiting process, though their son never waivered since making his initial commitment while making several attempts to bring along top recruits to Athens like friend Reuben Foster, who signed with Alabama.

"They’ve helped me stay grounded and humble,” Matthews said.

Most recently Richt came to visit Matthews in Newnan while making a stop at Atkinson Elementary School, where his mother is an EIP teacher.

Wednesday's signing was a just mere formality.

The Cougar wide receiver and defensive back had enough high school credits to graduate early, and has been enrolled at Georgia since January after first playing the U.S. Army High School All-American Bowl on Jan. 5.

But he made sure to return to Newnan High early Wednesday morning to make it official in front of Cougar coaches and teammates along with family and friends.

Last year while playing a major role on offense, Matthews led Newnan with a team-high 37 catches for 629 yards and seven touchdowns. At safety, Matthews had 80 tackles, an interception and three forced fumbles to go with a whopping six blocked kicks on special teams.

"I had some great coaches while I was here, and they all helped me get ready for the next level," Matthews said.

Now, he's ready for whatever challenges playing in the SEC and with the Bulldogs bring him.

"It's been a little bit of an adjustment getting to college early, but I have had a lot of people showing me the ropes," he said.

The former Cougar realizes getting to go through spring practice before many others in the freshman signing class at Georgia gives him a good chance to win one of the cornerback spots with the Bulldogs starting this fall.

"It will be very beneficial for me," Matthews said. "I can get acclimated with the system. I am getting the playbook early, so I have a good shot to come in and start."

Newnan head coach Mike McDonald knows he will have replace a special athlete.

"He is just a great player and we are really going to miss him," McDonald said. "Going in early gives him a leg up on the rest of the freshman. He will already be a college student and know what is expected academically as well with football. It's a good situation for him."

(To view photos for both the Newnan High and Northgate High signings, please visit: http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports for the Photo Gallery.)

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