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'A sense of home': Former Thomson players find comfort on the field as another kind of Bulldog

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From left, Willie Williams, Antwone "Baby" Johnson, Montrell Neal, Thomson High School Defensive Coordinator John Barnett and wife Kim, Casper Brinkley, Jasper Brinkley and Ricky Hill pose for a picture after GMC's game against Kilgore College.
Photo by Staff
For the average high school football player, the gridiron glory ends after graduation. It takes an extraordinary talent to move on to the next level.

Thomson has seen its share of that talent in years past. But since the AAAA State Championship in 2002, much of that talent has made its way to a town 60 miles southwest of Thomson.

This year, six former Thomson standouts are making waves on the Georgia Military College field as another incarnation of Bulldogs. And it's not just the mascot that reminds them of Thomson.

"It's kind of like being at home because I already had somebody here that I knew," said sophomore tailback Ricky Hill. "When I first got here I didn't have to worry about meeting new people right off the bat because I already had my other guys from Thomson. I was kind of comfortable when I came down here."

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Sophomore tailback Ricky Hill
Photo by Staff
"It's kind of good because you're down her with somebody you know, so you feel more comfortable. It kind of brings a sense of home," said sophomore linebacker Casper Brinkley.

Also part of the 4-2 GMC team this year is the second year starter at right tackle, Montrell Neal, sophomore linebacker Jasper Brinkley and freshman backup fullback Antwone "Baby" Johnson.

Kansas State signed sophomore defensive lineman Willie Williams from Hutchinson Community College and assigned him to GMC to finish up his sophomore campaign.

More Saturday play ahead

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Sophomore linebacker Casper Brinkley
Photo by Staff
GMC Head Coach Bert Williams has been pleased with the play of all six of his former Thomson stars. He said he would be surprised if even one of them didn't make it to the Division I level. It was that quality on and off the field he knew he would get from Thomson.

"I'm certainly familiar with the quality athletes and young men that have come out of the program, so that's always a place we go to recruit," said Coach Williams, an Augusta native who played against the Bulldogs during Thomson Coach Luther Welsh's first stint at the school. "Certainly we saw some guys on film that we felt could compete at the level we wanted to compete at."

The Brinkley twins were certainly high on Coach Williams' Thomson wish list. Now that both of them are nearing the end of their junior college careers, big-time schools have already come calling.

"Jasper and Casper have done outstanding jobs. Both of them are getting recruited by Division IA schools," Coach Williams said.

Schools like South Carolina, Louisville, Clemson, Arizona State, Kansas State and the University of Georgia have shown interest in the twins. But their choice to attend GMC first was an easy one, according to Casper Brinkley.

"Me and Jasper, we didn't have no other options. We didn't have any other school to go to, so we decided to come here. Then we knew if we came here we could go just about anywhere in the country after we leave here," he said.

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Freshman backup fullback Antwone "Baby" Johnson
Photo by Staff
JuCo the way to go

Having a school like GMC close by is something Thomson Defensive Coordinator John Barnett said is a tremendous help to guys like the Brinkley twins who don't qualify for the big-time straight out of high school.

"I'm so grateful that our state has a (junior college) in which kids who don't yet qualify for a four-year college can get an opportunity to further their education and football careers," he said.

Hill is finding that the junior college option could pay off for him as well. He has received looks from South Carolina, Louisville and Kansas State. Hill said his time at Thomson prepared him well for GMC and beyond.

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Right tackle, Montrell Neal
Photo by Staff
"I think Thomson helped me out a lot because we played a lot of tough teams like Statesboro and Thomas County Central," he said. "Plus the discipline that Coach Welsh had is kind of the same as being in a military school."

But the increased speed of the games is one thing both he and Casper Brinkley commented had been taken to new heights from their high school days.

"The only thing about the games out here is the games have gotten a little faster. It ain't like high school," Casper said.

Getting faster wasn't the only benefit. The junior college experience has helped Casper mature, he said.

"I have to make smarter decisions," he said. "It just makes you realize hard work will get you anywhere. It just really wakes you up. ...Ain't nothing going to be given to you."

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Sophomore defensive lineman Willie Williams
Photo by Staff

Off-the-field improvement

Coach Williams said he hopes to make his players into better people during their time in his program. He added that the guys from Thomson were already on the right path from the start.

"We've had almost zero trouble with these guys as far as getting into the cadet corps lifestyle," Coach Williams said. "I can't recall a problem we've had with a Thomson guy since I've been here."

Coach Barnett said his guys haven't been a problem because he and the rest of the Thomson coaching staff won't recommend a trouble maker. He said the success of former Bulldogs is a source of pride that they take seriously.

"I'm very proud of those kids, and in talking to their coaches, they couldn't be more pleased with them, whether it be on the field or in the classroom," Coach Barnett said. "Not only do I expect these kids to progress to a four-year school, but a couple of them may get a chance to play on Sunday."



Web posted on Thursday, October 20, 2005











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