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By Kevin Price
Photo by Michael Brinson
Big Man On Campus
Brunswick High’s Kanaya Charlton described
himself as a “normal-sized baby.”
You might find that hard to believe since the
senior standout offensive lineman for the Pirates now stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scales at something like 335 pounds, give or take. Charlton, the featured MVP for this issue of 912 Sports magazine, is one of Southeast Georgia’s premier high school football players and a Florida
State commit in its 2022 recruiting class.
He says he weighed 7 pounds and 8 ounces at birth and measured 19 inches from head to toe.
He ended up being bigger than most kids his age, though, growing up, which isn’t surprising considering his mom and dad are both tall people themselves. Charlton’s dad is 6-foot-7 and his mom is 5-11. He said he had a great grandfather who was 7-foot-1.
Charlton hit a growth spurt in middle school, when he climbed to 5-11 and reached 220 pounds. Three years later, he enrolled at Brunswick High, measuring 6-2 and weighing 310. Charlton has been steadily growing ever since. He’s three inches taller now, also some 25 pounds heavier, and a whole lot stronger as well. But, that’s not all.
Charlton’s a much better football player, and he’s way more outgoing. Both are positives for this 16- year-old kid who won’t turn 17 until October.
There was a time when he stayed inside as much as he could because he was shy and kept to himself. And even when he started playing football, he really didn’t like it all that much. “He’s a presence physically and the way he’s matured,” said BHS head coach Sean Pender. “His presence is more than just his size. He’s really matured as a young man. He’s a captain for our team and one of our vocal leaders.”
Charlton was actually born and raised in Miami, Fla. He moved to Brunswick with his family when he was in sixth grade and attended middle school at Jane Macon. That’s where he first played football. He wasn’t able to play while growing up in South Florida because he was always over the
weight limit for his age group in the recreation leagues, he says.
He wasn’t a big fan of the game at first. “It was a lot of running. I wasn’t used to it,” Charlton said.
His mom insisted that he stay with it, though.
Charlton would be given the nickname “Blind Side” by his middle-school team, a moniker which still follows him today with the Pirates.
Of course, his nickname stems from the movie with that same name which is based on a true story about Michael Orr who went on to become a first-round draft choice in the NFL back in 2009.
Charlton eventually took more of a liking to
football, too. “About eighth-grade, just playing the game and playing more, it started to grow on me,” Charlton explains.
He had a burning desire to improve his skills as a result. Because he had such a big upper body, Charlton didn’t have the arm strength to complete a push-up as a ninth-grader, said his offensive line coach Garrett Grady.
Now, Charlton can bench press some 365 pounds. “He’s dedicated himself in the weight room. He
doesn’t miss in there,” Grady points out.
Grady also challenges him on the practice field. “We know how good he is and push him to the level he’s capable of. That’s our job,” the coach said. “We stay on him like everyone, even though he’s a big-time recruit.”
Oftentimes, Charlton has to be revved up to play at a peak level. That has nothing to do with getting all parts of his big frame working in unison. It has more to do with his easy-going demeanor. Usually, it’s Grady who gets the big guy’s motor running hot.
“Sometimes, he’s too nice,” Pender said. “Some days, he’s fired up and beats everyone’s tail.
Keeping him at that level on a consistent basis is the challenge. Grady is usually the one who has to get him angry, get him mad.”
The college coaches figure they can do that also, if need be. They were always enamored with his size and potential when they were coming to campus to recruit former offensive lineman Warren
McClendon, now starting at Georgia, and Caleb Cook, currently in his first year at Georgia Southern.
Charlton, a three-star recruit, had 22 offers
including those from Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia Tech and Oklahoma. He eventually committed to Florida State following his
official visit with the Seminoles on June 25. That didn’t come as a surprise.
“It just felt like home,” he said about choosing Florida State. “I connected with the coaches and feel like I can help the program.”
Going into fall camp, FSU had the nation’s 7-th-ranked recruiting class for 2022, according to 247 Sports. The class includes 18 commitments with five being offensive lineman who are all ranked
inside the top 500 nationally. In their five previous signing classes combined, the Seminoles only signed four offensive lineman ranked in the Top 500.
The Pirates use Charlton at left tackle out of
necessity. He likely will play guard in college.
“He’s working to be a complete lineman,” Pender said. “He down blocks extremely well and zone blocks as good as anyone. His passing blocking has improved a whole bunch. He’s very strong and pretty fast for his size.” He’s also smart. Charlton has always taken pride in doing well in school. His grandmother and mother
were both teachers and preached the importance of taking education seriously to him at a young age.
“They taught little kids. I used to go to school with them,” Charlton said.
He currently owns a 3.9 grade-point average and is taking Advanced Placement Micro-Economics this semester. He will complete all his requirements for graduation this fall and plans to early enroll at FSU in January so that he can take part in spring practice with the Seminoles early next year.
But right now, he is still towering over most
everyone else as he walks the hallways at BHS. Those seeing him for the first time stare in amazement as he passes by. Charlton can
sometimes hear them whisper something about him to a friend nearby, too.
He would really rather it not be that way. “I just try to life my life like a normal human being,” he says. But, even Charlton admits his senior year has turned out differently than what he would have imagined when he left Florida for South Georgia.
“I’m amazed. I never thought I’d make it this far with football,” he said. “Wow! It’s always crazy to think about.”
By Kevin Price
Photography by Charles Smith
The Real Deal
John Ford’s first impression of Tucker Wilson was a favorable one. And, the new Effingham head coach didn’t get a false read, either, when he first laid eyes on his
soon-to-be senior linebacker.
He saw the real deal.
“When I walked in here in January, I saw a real strong kid working his tail off at the other end of the weight room. He was quietly going about his business, working hard, just doing all the right things” Ford said.
“When you kind of get to know him, you realize how polite he is, how respectful he is and just what a great young man he is.”
Wilson certainly personifies what it means to be a student-athlete. He plays two sports at Effingham - football and baseball - and he is good at both.
He was one of the leading tacklers last season for the Rebels as a starting linebacker and figures to be a standout for the team’s defense again this fall. Wilson is also an outfielder for the Effingham baseball team.
Wilson is a star student, too. He carries a 4.0
grade-point average while taking college prep classes. He has also taken several Advanced Placement courses to earn college credit including one in government, one in English composition and one involving English literature. In the current semester, he is enrolled in accelerated pre-Calculus, Economics, Forensics, AP English and weight training, of course.
Wilson comes from an athletic family. He has an older brother who currently plays baseball at Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon and also an older sister who also attends Brewton-Parker
and plays on the softball team. He also has a
younger sister who is now a freshman at
Effingham and plans to play golf for the Lady
Rebels this spring.
Wilson said he enjoys playing baseball, but he is more passionate about football.
“I like football more,” he says honestly. “It’s just more exciting. I like the physicality of it. I like hitting people.”
Wilson played football previously for the
Effingham County Jaguars, a travel organization with several teams for different age-groups. He also played at Effingham Middle before going to
high school and playing for the Rebels.
He has started on Effingham’s varsity defense since his sophomore year and will start at middle linebacker once again this season under the new coaching regime.
Wilson said the offseason with Coach Ford in
charge was fun and the Effingham players were looking forward to playing games when the season began back in late August.
“He’s brought a lot of energy and excitement to the program,” Wilson noted. “I’m excited about the football season.”
Ford knew when he accepted the Effingham job back in the winter he wasn’t about to immediately make the Rebels a powerhouse like Roswell or Buford, schools where he previously coached.
He would like to have winning seasons consistently in Springfield, and Ford knows that would be easier to do if he had a bunch of Wilson-type players in his locker room.
“He just does everything right. He’s everything this game should be about. He’s made of the right stuff,” Ford said. “He’s just a kid with the utmost character. I guess the only thing negative about
him is I only get to coach him for one year.”
The Rebels went 3-7 last season, 2-8 in 2019 and 7-5 in 2018, their last winning season when Wilson was a freshman in the program.
Wilson, who is 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds, would like to help get the team back on the winning track in his final season, but he also has extra personal incentive to play well. He wants to play college football and having a strong senior season will
help his chances to land a scholarship.
“I love to play football. I’m ready anytime,” he
said. “I’d love to play in college.”
Ford has already seen enough from Wilson on the field to think he will get that chance.
“He’s done a good job with everything we’ve
asked him to do,” Ford said. “We’re trying to put all the kids in position to succeed, and he’s one of them for sure.
“He’s not quite as tall as some of the schools
would like, but I think he’s gonna have a chance somewhere. He’s just too good a kid. Somebody’s gonna want a kid like that in their program.”
Ford noted that Wilson attended recent camps at Mercer University and LaGrange College and played well while there.
Wherever he goes to school beyond Effingham, Wilson said he may purse a degree in civil engineering.
“I like building things and designing things,” he said. “I took a engineering class in middle school and we did some of that, and that kind of sparked my interest in it.”
The St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher talks with 912 Sports‘ Kevin Price
Posted 2/22/2021 at 12:45 pm
By Kevin Price
Update: Camden County has officially hired former head football coach Jeff Herron as the new coach of the Wildcats football program.
Camden County schools released a news bulletin mid-morning Monday announcing Herron as the football program’s next head coach. The news of Herron’s pending hire was first reported by 912 Sports Connection early Monday morning.
Multiple sources close to the situation told 912 Sports over the weekend that Herron had accepted the Wildcats’ post on Friday. We talked with several of them about Herron’s return for our earlier story which can be read in its entirety below. Herron said he would discuss Camden football with 912 after the new coach had been named.
Camden principal Steve Loden said the school is honored to have Herron return.
“Coach Herron has an enduring legacy of building football programs that produce not only state champions but also student-athletes who are defined by their outstanding character and sportsmanship. We are excited for this next chapter in Camden County football and look forward to seeing our community turn out to support the Wildcats under the lights of Chris Gilman Stadium this fall.”
Posted 2/22/2021 at 08:00 am
By Kevin Price
The Camden County Wildcats plan to make an official announcement regarding a new head football coach this week which will end weeks of speculation regarding this important issue in a community where high school football is a big deal. And based on what 912 Sports Connection has learned in recent weeks, this upcoming announcement will most likely create a fervor
unlike any other inside the county lines and also places well beyond because of who the next coach will be for the Wildcats which compete in Class AAAAAAA in the Georgia High School Association.
Multiple sources have confirmed to 912 Sports that former Camden head coach Jeff Herron has accepted an offer to return as head coach of the Wildcats which have been looking for a new coach since Bob
Sphire resigned as the team’s head coach on Feb. 4.
“It’s going to be like a revival,” said Allen Rassi, former president of the Camden Wildcat Quarterback Club who remains an active supporter of the football program. “I’m excited for Camden County. I
believe our administration and our school system have handled this in a first-class manner.”
Herron coached the Wildcats for 13 seasons from 2000-2012 and won three state championships with the program during that time.
Herron declined comment with 912 Sports on Sunday night but said he would comment on the Camden coaching search when a new coach is named.
Sources close to the search have told 912 Sports that an official announcement from Camden County Schools regarding the hiring of
Herron will likely be made this week and could be forthcoming as early as today.
School officials would not confirm the hiring of Herron over the weekend, but Camden athletic director and former head football coach Welton Coffey did respond in a text message to 912 Sports that an announcement will be made soon. 912 Sports plans to be in Kingsland Monday to report on Herron’s
return as head coach. His hiring is still pending approval by the Camden County Board of Education.
We will provide updates on this story as it develops.
Please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for any breaking news as it happens. We will continue to provide the latest information on 912Sports.Net as well.
We have been following the Camden coaching search since Sphire submitted his resignation earlier this month. 912 Sports was aware that Sphire could be leaving the program following Camden’s 2020 season even before the Wildcats lost in overtime at Parkview in the opening round of the state playoffs in late November. Sphire is returning to Kentucky, where he grew up and also previously coached, to become head coach at Highland High School in Fort Thomas.
He won a state championship with Lexington (Ky.) Catholic in 2005 prior to coming to Georgia and becoming head coach at North Gwinnett which he established as a state power before coming to Camden prior to the 2017 season. Sphire was 23-20 in his four years at Camden, taking the Wildcats to the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs the last two years. This past season, Camden finished with a 5-6 record.
Herron is currently an assistant coach at Tennessee Tech, where he once served as a graduate assistant coach at the outset of his career.
The Golden Eagles opened their spring season Sunday at home against Austin Peay after not playing this fall due to concerns about Covid-19. Tennessee Tech won 27-21.
912 Sports learned Friday night that Herron had agreed to return to Camden for a second stint as the Wildcats coach. He also requested Camden not make his acceptance public any earlier than Monday so
that he could wait until after Tennessee Tech’s game on Sunday to inform his position players of his decision in hopes of not creating a distraction for the team prior to the game. It is believed that Herron plans to finish out his commitment with the Eagles and remain with the team for the remainder of the spring
season. He could still get his offseason program installed with the Wildcats while doing so by having chosen assistants handling the day- to-day operations within the program until he can be in Camden again
on a daily basis. His son Major Herron is a middle-school coach in Camden while former assistants under Herron are still employed by Camden including offensive line coach Greg Slattery who also has been a head
Herron is the most successful coach in Camden football history as he led the Wildcats to three state championships while establishing the program as a state power in Georgia’s largest classification and making it one of the elite prep football programs in the nation. The Wildcats were 154-18 in 13 seasons under Herron and made the playoffs every season during his previous tenure. The Wildcats also played in several nationally televised games during his time with the program.
Herron’s overall record as a head coach is 312-54. He has never had a losing season in 29 years as a head coach.
“He cultivates a culture of belief,” Rassi said. “Look at where he’s been - Oconee County, Camden County, Prince Avenue Christian, Grayson and T.L. Hanna, and now coming back to Camden. Everybody has to buy in on it, and you want to be a part of it. No matter what your role is, even if you’re just sitting in the stands ringing that cowbell, you want to be a part of it.”
Herron is currently tied for the best overall winning percentage all-time among head coaches in Georgia with the legendary Larry Campbell who was the longtime coach at Lincoln County and has the most wins
all-time by any coach in Georgia with 477 career victories during a head-coaching career with the Red Devils that spanned four decades.
Both Herron and Campbell own an .847 winning percentage as a head coach in the state. Herron has 287 victories as a head coach in Georgia which puts him in the top-15 for most wins all-time in state history.
Herron has won five state titles and is the only coach in the history of Georgia high school football to win state championships as a head coach with three different schools. He also won state championships
at Oconee County and Grayson in addition to the three he won at Camden. During his first stint with the Wildcats, Herron led them to 12 consecutive region championships. Camden once won 28 straight games and also won a Georgia-record 58 consecutive games in the regular season. The USA Today ranked the Wildcats in its Super 25 poll in six of Herron’s final eight seasons with the team. Camden was named Georgia’s team of the decade for 2000-2010 for its success on the field.
“The biggest thing I can say about Coach Herron coming back is that he knows what to expect from us and we know what to expect from him,” said Artie Jones Jr., who is on the board of directors for the Camden quarterback club. “We know him, and he knows us, and he
can hit the ground running.
“By far, he’s the most successful coach in Camden County football history. I know I like his coaching style. He brings out the best in all of his athletes. He doesn’t hold them back. He doesn’t care whether the
score is 0-0 or 50-0, he wants you to play your hardest and do your best.”
Camden won its first state championship in 2003, beating the Valdosta Wildcats 21-7 in the final game at storied Cleveland Field before it was
renovated and then named Bazemore-Hyder Stadium at Cleveland Field to carry the names of Valdosta’s most-known head coaches in their illustrious history.
Camden won back-to-back state crowns under Herron in 2008 and 2009. The Wildcats defeated Peachtree Ridge in the 2008 title game and prowled past Northside-Warner Robins in the 2009 state final.
Herron became Camden’s head coach the first time following a state-championship season at Oconee County in 1999 which was his third
season with the Warriors who went 33-6 in his time with the program. Oconee, which fell to Pierce County in this year’s Class AAA state final, had only won eight games in the previous four seasons
combined prior to Herron’s arrival.
Herron left Camden following the 2012 season and coached at Prince Avenue Christian in Bogart for three seasons, going to the quarterfinals and semifinals in those three years while compiling a 31-
6 record in his three years with the school.
He coached at Grayson in 2016 and led the Rams to a 14-1 record and a state championship in his only season with the Gwinnett power which won this year’s state championship in Class AAAAAAA under
Adam Carter. Carter hails from Herron’s coaching tree along with Franklin Stephens who has won several state titles as a head coach. Stephens coached several seasons at Ware County and is now head
coach at McEachern in Cobb County.
Herron left Georgia following his only season at Grayson to coach at T.L. Hanna in Anderson, S.C. He led Hanna to records of 11-1 and 14-1 in the 2017 and 2018 seasons with his 2018 team playing for a state championship. His two Hanna teams won region championships
and the 2018 team also won the Upstate championship before losing in the state final.
Jones said there might be critics out there who don’t think Herron can rekindle the magic again at Camden, but he believes the Wildcats are
making a smart choice in turning to Herron again as they look to again contend for state championships.
“In this world, you’re not gonna get 100 percent agreement on anything,” Jones said. “We could bring in the coach who just won the Super Bowl, and there would be critics. “Football is big business, and our program has been the heart of Camden County. It brought us together as a community when he was
here. We had 4,500 or 5,000 people following our team when we went on the road, and the other team liked to see us coming because we generated a lot of revenue for them.
“Camden has been losing a lot lately. When you only have 400 or 500 people following the team, that is pretty bad. I want to see our stands
full again, and the only way we are gonna be full again is to start winning. We want a winner and we can win. We have the kids here to do it. We are gonna have to build it up again, get that spirit going again.”
Of course, Herron is the one who created that buzz around the Wildcats for all those years.
He actually retired from coaching after his second season at Hanna and sat out the 2019 season before joining the staff at Tennessee
Tech in early 2020 prior to the postponement of the fall season due to concerns related to the Covid19 pandemic.
Carter, who led Grayson to that aforementioned state crown this past season, believes Herron will be successful again in Camden.
“He will make an immediate impact on those guys,” Carter said. “It won’t take long. He’ll be in the dogfight in Region 1 this year, they’ll be in the mix. He’s the best there is at what he does.” Carter said an older Herron is as good as the Herron that arrived at
Camden back at the turn of the century.
“He’s got a lot left in the tank. He’s not going into it washed up I promise you.” Carter said. “They’ll be ready. You can take that to the bank.”
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