Carrollton High School's Jake Sanders, Dontavius Russell and Cole Cook will be joined by Heard County's Jake Edwards, while Central coach Grant Chesnut will be on the coaching staff for the five-day event that culminates with the East versus West game at Grady Stadium in Atlanta.
All four players will represent the West team, and Chesnut will be a member of Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker's staff on the West. For Chesnut, the opportunity came out of mutual respect.
"He and I have known each other for a long time and he was looking for an O-line coach to help him with the game and he gave me a call. There's a few guys on this side that I'm on that we have a lot of things in common, as far as friendships. It was a good fit," Chesnut said.
Being in charge of the offensive line will put Chesnut in charge of the group that includes the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Sanders and 6-foot-4, 270-pound Edwards.
Chesnut got his start playing as an offensive lineman and has served as a position coach in the early part of his career before taking over the top spot at Central. There is a special place for the offensive line for Chesnut.
"I'm excited about it. Both of those programs, obviously, are great programs and very well coached. They have those hard-nosed mentalities I'm very accustomed to being around," Chesnut said. "They're two great kids, high-character kids and hard-working kids. That's the thing about coaching O-line. That's the kind of kids you get. I love all positions, but I do love O-line the best. I'm looking forward to working with these guys."
Carrollton's Jonathan Jones, now at Auburn, and Zach Gordon, now at Wake Forest, played in the first Junior Bowl back in 2010. After having no representatives last year, the Trojans sending three players is a sign of the strength of the program.
"To have three on there is definitely a big honor. You feel good if you have one on there. This is just an exceptional group of young men. All three of them — Jake, Dontavius and Cole — are 'A' students, they're high-character kids and God has blessed them with size. But they have done a great job of developing themselves into athletes," Carrollton coach Rayvan Teague said. "All three of them are extremely dedicated to their sport, but they're good student-athletes and great role models for the kids to follow behind.
"We've been really blessed over the past few years that our recruiting numbers have gone up, our reputation, as far as sending quality players out, is a tribute to my coaches, it's a tribute to the program as a whole, it's a tribute to the young men that we've had over recent years that have signed scholarships, gone off and done well. Now more and more kids are getting an opportunity and getting more and more looks from schools. If you are a quality player, you will be found at Carrollton High School. We have close to at least 70 to 100 schools come through here, recruiting-wise, to look at our young men."
For the players, it is not just a chance to be honored and play in the game, there are also educational forums for the players to learn about what it takes to play in college and possibly even in the NFL. That was something Teague noted from coaching in the game last year and something that might be the most beneficial thing for the players.
"Joe Burns and the NFL organization that helps put this game on do a great job of player education. The kids are going to be exposed to how important it is to paint the right picture through social media. They're going to talk about how important it is that this is not Plan A. It's not a career even if you make it to the NFL as a player, you're going to retire at 27 or 28 years of age, so you have to have an education. They bring in former NFL guys that have played the game, that can explain to them what the expectation level is and [not only] what the system can do for them, but what the system can do to them," Teague said.
As a coach this year, Chesnut can not only learn what it will take to get some of his players possibly into the game next year, but he can learn and take the knowledge given back to his team.
"I know one of the things they are able to do with those player from bringing in the NFL guys to talk to them and character development, academic stuff, NCAA eligibility requirements. All those things these kids are exposed to, of course, I'll be right there next to them getting exposed to it, as well. That can only help me bring that information back to our kids and help steer and prepare them even more," Chesnut said. "We would love to have the D-I, blue chip kids. But year-in and year-out, our goal is to give as many kids who are capable of it the opportunity to play at the next level. Whether that being Division I BCS or NAIA and all that's in between. My goal is to give the opportunity to as many kids in our program to decide if they want to play at that next level."
As for the players, it is just another step and some recognition for the hard work they have put in to the sport.
"It means a whole lot because everybody knows it's important to be invited to this game. It's your time to shine. That's the way I see it ... We will be going against the best of the best going into our senior years. If I go against the best of the best and I can handle them, imagine what I will be able to do against regular guys. It will be great. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be fun," Sanders said. "I think that's going to be a lot of fun. You get to bond with a lot of guys you've never met before. You get to develop friendships with people, coaches you've never seen before. You never know, one of those coaches could help you get a scholarship. Those relationships are important."
Sanders comes into the game with an offer from Mississippi State, while Russell, a defensive lineman, has offers from Georgia Tech and a recent visit from Florida coach Will Muschamp also resulted in an offer. And now this is a chance for other players to get noticed. Cook, a tight end, and Edwards might be flying under the radar now, but with this experience, they could see increased attention.
"Obviously, it's an honor to be selected to do it. I'm just glad I get an opportunity to play and represent Carrollton as best I can," Cook said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a great opportunity to play with people around the state and have the same talents you have and the same dreams you have. I think it's going to be good to help me get myself out there even more so people can see me play."
While the event will help each of the 98 rising senior prospects across the state participating, there is also a benefit to each school's program. In Edwards' case, he is now someone the younger players in the Heard County program can look to as hard work paying off.
"I think with him having that experience and the other kids in our program just seeing the attention he's getting from a college level and the recognition he's getting from around the state. So many times you'll have an athlete from your program who gets that attention just off of God-given ability. For other kids to see that Jake has worked hard, done the right things and this is how he's achieved things through that. Just the example he sets of working hard and doing things right and things will happen for you," HC coach Tim Barron said.
In a sport where many of the all-star showcase games are reserved for only seniors, this is a special opportunity for players with some prep playing time left. Along with the off-field education and notice the players will get, they will also get instruction and challenged by the best coaches and players in the state as they return for their senior years.
"I think it feels great because we get a chance to show that from our school we can play with the top players in Georgia," Russell said. "I think it's an opportunity to see where I am as an individual player, to see how I can play with people as good or better than me."
The Heard County coach echoed Russell's thoughts.
"It's going to give [Edwards] a chance to showcase where he's at against the state. In any region, you might see real good guys in front of you twice or maybe four times a year. But to see it every play and every snap is going to be a good challenge for Jake. I think he's excited for the opportunity and we're excited for him," Barron said.
Now that Walker's Patriots have wrapped up another undefeated state championship season, the coaches will get together to set up their plan for the West team. On the other side, the East will be coached by Class AAAAA state runner-up Ware County's Ed Dudley.
"As soon as coach Walker and Sandy Creek have finished their season, I'm sure after he has a chance to unwind a few days we're planning on getting together as a staff. Then the players and coaches report on Dec. 27 and we just kind of build from there up to the New Year's Eve game. The staff will be coming together and kind of assessing our talent pool," Chesnut said. "I'm excited about it. Everything I hear about it is that it's first class. Of course, you get to coach a lot of really good players and that will be fun, too. It's quite an honor and I'm pretty humbled by the opportunity."
Even though it's an all-star game and doesn't officially count, that doesn't mean the scoreboard won't be paid attention to.
"It would feel great [to win]. You always want to win. No matter what it is, you've got to try and win," Cook said.