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January 30, 2012
Junior of the Year: Robert Nkemdiche
When word spreads that five-star Loganville (Ga.) Grayson defensive end Robert Nkemdiche plans to visit a school, the message boards buzz. During trips to college campuses, people not only recognize him but often call out his name. On Facebook, fans ask for things.
"Some people are like, 'Can I send you something to sign for me?' " Nkemdiche said.
To say the least, Nkemdiche is in high demand.
With recruitniks. And, even more so, with colleges.
A 6-feet-5, 271-pound junior, Nkemdiche has so many offers from major programs, he stopped keeping count. They started coming when he was a ninth-grader and never stopped.
At first, the attention seemed pretty cool. Today, though, it "is kind of crazy," he admitted.
That said, it certainly is easy to understand what the fuss is about. A two-year varsity starter, Nkemdiche has recorded 38 career sacks.
He is large, yet agile. His explosiveness is off the charts. And, get this: According to his coach, he recently recorded a 40-yard-dash time of 4.56 seconds, something you'd expect from a receiver, not a lineman. Then again, he was also his team's leading rusher when it won the Class AAAAA state title.
"There's nothing this kid can't do on the football field," Grayson coach Mickey Conn said.
Some are calling Nkemdiche, the Rivals.com national Junior of the Year, the best Peach State product since Herschel Junior Walker - who would later lead Georgia to a national championship and win the Heisman Trophy - played for Johnson County in the late 1970s.
"Just think of Herschel Walker and add 30 pounds to him," said Conn, a former Alabama player. "The guy is unreal physically and what he can do."
"I don't really have a top," he said. "I'm wide open."
Nkemdiche,17, is the son of Sunday Nkemdiche, an Atlanta-area physician, and Beverly Nkemdiche, both of whom are from Nigeria (His mother lives there now).
When Nkemdiche, who was born in the Atlanta area, arrived at Grayson in the ninth-grade, he played for two teams: the freshman squad and the varsity.
"He wasn't full-time varsity," Conn said. "We played him about 10 plays a game just to break him in."
"He came in as a ninth-grader and wanted to play free safety," Conn said. "To be honest, he probably could have. But we told him he'd be the best DB on the team by sacking the quarterback before he passes it."
In 2011, Nkemdiche recorded 19 sacks in 15 games - all wins - and helped lead a defense that allowed fewer than 10 points per game.
"I think I played great," Nkemdiche said. "It was a great season. Winning state was a great feeling. Everything fell into place. I don't care how good you are or how high you're ranked, to win a state championship is great."
In addition to his stellar defensive play, Nkemdiche also might have been the team's best offensive weapon.
"We only attempted three field goals all year," Conn said. "One of those was in the state championship game. Another was in our very first game. He was really huge on third and fourth downs ... short-yardage runs. When we got into a situation where we needed a first down, we could get it. He got stopped one time all year on fourth and short."
Just as important, Nkemdiche peaked when it was needed, according to his coach.
"The bigger the game, the better the hype behind the game, the better he plays," Conn said.
Nkemdiche has so many strengths, it's hard to pinpoint only a few. But he tried to do so, when asked.
"My size, my speed, my awareness, my quickness, my agility and my mental game," he said.
Is there a weakness?
"Not that I know of," he said matter-of-factly. "Sometimes I get severe cramps. I have too little body fat."
"I can do better," Nkemdiche said. "I want to be the best out there. I want to be on top, be the best I can be."
To achieve that, Nkemdiche plans to stay on the current path. After all, thus far it has worked pretty well.
"It means working out, doing things right off the field, keeping my head right and not hanging around the wrong people," Nkemdiche said.