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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Friday, January 8, 2010

By Sammy Batten

Ga. prep star eyes early action at safety

By Sammy Batten
All rights reserved.

Football becomes part of your life at birth when you reside in Valdosta, GA, where the high school varsity has won more games (829) than any other in the nation. The success has earned Valdosta the nickname, “Winnersville, USA.''

It's from that environment that one of East Carolina's most recent recruits developed.

“We're raised on football in this area,'' Dontavis Sapp said. “I started playing when I was like 5. That's all we do is play football. And every kid here wants to grow up to be a Wildcat.''

Sapp has been fulfilling that childhood dream for the last three seasons as a starting safety and wide receiver at Valdosta High.

A 6-foot-3, 205-pounder with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash, Sapp enjoyed a standout senior season with the Wildcats, earning All-Region 1AAAAA honors and a roster spot in December's Georgia North-South All-Star Game after collecting 56 tackles and two interceptions.

Rick Tomerlin, who is departing Valdosta after coaching the Wildcats to a 7-4 finish in 2009, said Sapp is both an athlete and a leader.

“He's a great athlete and a great football player,'' Tomerlin said. “But he's also a great leader. He won our 'Golden Cat' award, which is the most prestigious award we give in our program. It's better than the MVP. He was our only permanent captain this year. He's a guy who has paid the price to be a champion on and off the field. But from a character standpoint from one to 10, he's an 11.''

Sapp's character was tested by the most difficult circumstances imaginable last January when his mother died at the age of 36.

“Dealing with that as a 17-year-old was a tough situation,'' Tomerlin said. “But Dontavis handled it with incredible strength and maturity.''

Upon returning to school from dealing with that tragedy, Sapp was the top rebounder for the Valdosta basketball squad that went 28-2 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the state tournament.

But it was on the football field as a senior that Sapp followed in the footsteps of Valdosta alum like linebacker Michael Gilliard (Georgia) and emerged as a college prospect.

East Carolina extended the first scholarship offer to Sapp early in his senior season. Other schools like Illinois, Georgia Southern, Middle Tennessee State and Western Michigan also showed interest, but Sapp essentially decided on becoming a Pirate after taking an official visit to Greenville to watch East Carolina rout Rice, 49-13, on Oct. 17.

“When I came up on my visit the players showed me a great time,'' Sapp said. “It was a good, family atmosphere and I felt like I belonged. The stadium was crazy. It was a sellout crowd and the atmosphere was great.''

Sapp also took a long look at at ECU's depth at the safety position, where the Pirates will graduate starters Van Eskridge and Levin Neal.

“Oh yeah, me and (defensive back) Coach (Rick) Smith sat down and looked at the depth chart,'' Sapp said. “He told me who was leaving and who all was coming back.

“I'm looking at playing a lot or starting my freshman year. Just with the players leaving, I feel I'll have the chance to come in and compete. But we'll see where it goes. They want me in the secondary unless I get too big and they have to move me to linebacker.''

Sapp is the fourth defensive back prospect to commit to ECU for the Class of 2010. He is the second safety prospect to join the class, joining junior college transfer Bradley Jacobs.

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01/08/2010 02:17:32 AM


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