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March 2, 2011MORE FROM NIEBUHR: Southeast mailbag | Abernathy feature
When visiting tiny Millen, Ga., the chances of spotting a midnight blue 1983 Chevrolet Impala driven by James Deloach are pretty good.
And if the car doesn't catch your attention, surely the sound system will.
"I got some boom," boasted Deloach, who cranks out everything from the hip-hop tunes of Lil Wayne and Roscoe Dash to the latest country hits. "I have a P.A. horn in the grill that plays the music so everyone hears it clear."
In Millen, a community of about 4,000 people located two hours east of Macon, 90 minutes northwest of Savannah and 50 miles south of Augusta, that Impala is the primary mode of transportation for Deloach and Jonathan Taylor, his best friend and defensive linemate at Jenkins County High. It gets them to Brinson's Bar-B-Que or to the local Huddle House to do some major damage on the food menu, and it carries them 29 miles south on U.S. 25 to Statesboro, home to the nearest movie theater.
But while the Impala transports Deloach and Taylor locally, it is the players' immense talents that will ultimately take the heralded juniors to a place such as Atlanta, Knoxville or Tuscaloosa for college.
"On a scale of one to 10, I would say they've got to be a solid eight right now," said former Jenkins County coach Chuck Conley, 54, who lost his job as head coach last week but will continue teaching at the school and plans to mentor the defensive line duo. "With the potential of being a 10."
The offer lists compiled by Deloach, a 6-foot-3, 260-pound strongside defensive end, and Taylor, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive tackle and member of the Rivals250 watch list for 2012, are lined with nearly every major power in the South. Many schools have offered both, which would appear to be a wise move. That's because the pair absolutely, positively wants to play together in college.
"We've been through so much together," Taylor said. "Me and James have been through the recruiting process, football, track, everything. We're basically like brothers."
Deloach and Taylor met in elementary school, and became close while students at Jenkins County Middle School, where they became football teammates. While Taylor lives in the center of town, approximately 200 yards from the high school and a short walk from the elementary and middle schools, Deloach and his parents reside 10 miles outside of Millen.
"I only got to play my seventh-grade year because of transportation," Deloach said.
Millen is both picturesque and historic (it dates back to 1835), but it also is struggling a little right now in these rough economic times. Of the state's 159 counties, Jenkins' per capita personal income of $23,180 in 2008 ranked No. 148. A few years ago, Millen was hit particularly hard by news that Jockey International, which had employed many at a local plant, was phasing out more than 200 jobs - or 20 percent of the county's industrial workforce.
"The area is so depressed, (Deloach and Taylor) are not really the big deal that players have been in other areas I've worked," Conley said. "The most important thing for me is to get them educated, so they can do something other than come back to Millen."
In this rural community, located in the middle of cotton country, Deloach and Taylor are the stars of a football program that struggled to a 2-8 record last season and, according to Conley, "since integration has never won more than six games in year."
Until now, Jenkins County has been without a great deal of individual talent. The high school has only about 400 students, Conley said. Turnout for football, as one might expect for a small Georgia community, is strong. Last fall, the roster consisted of 55 players. Typically, though, few of the school's graduates play college football.
"I know of one other kid to go to an (FBS school)," Conley said. "It was (James Bostic). He was at Jenkins County up until his junior year, then he moved someplace else."
Bostic completed his high school career at Fort Lauderdale Dillard in the early 1990s. He later played at Auburn and, briefly, in the NFL.
"It's so rare ? these kids are so na? to what's going on," Conley said. "When you tell them there are opportunities to play at Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Auburn - they laugh at you and say, 'That's not going to happen.' I told (Deloach and Taylor), 'If you have faith in me - I've done this for 30 years, trust me - you'll have to tell somebody 'no.' They didn't understand what I meant. I told them that was because they're going to have more than one offer."
Conley was right. The offers have come in bunches for each. On Tuesday, Louisville offered both players. The same day, Penn State, which typically doesn't venture into the South, called Conley to inquire about Taylor.
"(Georgia coach) Mark Richt, (Georgia Tech coach) Paul Johnson, (Tennessee coach) Derek Dooley and (Alabama coach) Nick Saban - they all flew in here," Conley said. "Two of them flew into the airport in Millen and two of them flew into Statesboro and rented cars."
For Deloach, whose voice is so deep it would have made the late Barry White envious, and the soft-spoken Taylor, the recruiting process has been relatively enjoyable.
"Sometimes it can get stressful, but mostly it's fun," said Taylor, a player UGAsports.com ranks as the best junior in Georgia. "I like meeting new prospects and other people in our class. And I like getting to see all the different schools."
Last fall, Deloach and Taylor attended games at Alabama, Georgia Tech (the skyscrapers in Atlanta impressed Deloach) and South Carolina. They've also been to Tennessee.
Both admit the attention they've received from colleges has been a little shocking.
"I figured it was the big schools that got all the attention," Deloach said. "It's a dream. I'm blessed."
Low key and humble off the field, Deloach and Taylor, starters since their freshman seasons, are menacing on it.
Deloach, who likely will play either end or outside linebacker in college, combines great quickness with the strength of a tackle. Taylor is a powerful tackle who bench presses more than 400 pounds, power cleans 345 and squats more than 600.
And, as Conley points out, Taylor "just turned 16."
A decision about the players' future isn't expected anytime soon. This summer, Conley, who has 30-plus years of coaching experience, will sit with them and attempt to help the players map out their future.
"In my opinion, if they had to make a call today where they'd sign, it would be either Tennessee or Georgia Tech," Conley said. "Now that's my opinion, and only that. But (Florida State) has jumped in there and is working hard. And so is Auburn."
When the day finally comes to leave for college, Deloach and Taylor have every intention of making the drive to their future home together. Naturally, they will do so in the midnight blue 1983 Chevrolet Impala with the epic sound system.