While many of those players go on to play collegiately, some are forced to hang up the pads once their four years of high school are over.
However, there are other options for those who love the game.
One of those options has recently emerged in the form of the North Georgia Jaguars, a semi-pro football team in the National Developmental Football League out of Bartow County.
“This area has an untapped talent base. They really didn’t have a team around here, and if you take advantage of that, plus guys that are willing to travel from Marietta, Calhoun, Acworth, Tennessee, you can have a team out here and destroy everybody,” Jaguars owner Daniel Murphy said. “A majority of the guys are from here and went to Cass High, Cartersville, Adairsville, Woodland, Rome. It was an untapped talent base and that’s why I came out here and to give these high school kids who don’t really have anywhere to go a place to play.”
The team’s inaugural season begins in February, but the Jaguars are currently practicing once every two weeks at the old Cass High School.
The roster features former Cartersville High running back and defensive back Jamie Jackson, who graduated in 2011 after rushing for 1,248 yards in his senior season while recording 462 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns. He also was the co-leader in interceptions in 2010 with five.
The Jaguars also have some talent from Cass, including 2009 graduate Dionta Ali and 2010 grad Kwamaine Winters.
“I’m living my dream,” Ali said of playing on the team. “They’re giving me a chance to live it again and this is what I’m trying to do. I’m probably going to play a couple more years and then I’ll be done. Right now, I’m just focused on winning the championship this season and leading my team.”
Ali was taking reps at quarterback Saturday on his old field, although he played wide receiver and cornerback for the Colonels.
Ali said he is not too concerned with playing at a high level, but for some players, semi-pro football is an avenue to earn recognition from pro and college scouts.
Eric Swann is a notable example of a player moving from semi-pro to the NFL. Swann was the sixth overall pick in the 1991 NFL Draft. He was a two-time All-Pro selection as a defensive tackle with the Arizona Cardinals, but did not play college football and was drafted off the semi-pro Bay State Titans from Massachusetts.
Jaguars head coach Eric Allen hopes to help his players move on to the next level, as well.
“Our objective is to get some of these guys who want to go somewhere,” Allen said. “We want to win championships, but you can go to college. We don’t pay, so that doesn’t jeopardize your eligibility. You also have the Arena Football League, Arena2, Canadian Football League and the NFL.”
Murphy, who graduated from Adairsville High in 2008, has been recruiting talented players and expects to have between 55 and 60 by the time the season begins.
“Right now, I’m happy with the turnout with about 14 people consistently. Once the end of September rolls around, we will have more,” he said. “Most of them [have played football before]. Some of them are just coming out now and deciding they want to play.”
The team has 10 regular season games scheduled and will have roughly three preseason games. Where those games are played has yet to be determined, but Murphy hopes to continue playing at the old Cass High or use the Adairsville or Woodland High fields.
Murphy said all three fields would be better than some of the facilities his teams have played at while he was an assistant coach for other organizations during the past three seasons.
“This is a nicer facility than a lot of the ones I’ve seen,” Murphy said of the old Cass field. “We’ve played on fields where goalposts are bent, there are rocks on the field.”
Murphy also said the North Georgia Jaguars are a nonprofit organization and a portion of the proceeds from the gates will go to the host high school’s athletic programs.
“I want to try for us to be professional and have a good standing with the city of Cartersville and Bartow County,” Murphy said.
The cost to play is $180 dollars per player and covers uniforms, travel costs and other expenses, but not pads and equipment.
The Jaguars will be travelling to play their league games throughout Georgia, as well as in Alabama and Tennessee. The 2015 season will be the NDFL’s sixth.
“Some teams are nationally ranked. There are probably about 4,000 teams right now in semi-pro, a lot of them have ex-Division I, ex-NFL players,” Murphy said. “Former Patriot receiver Deion Branch founded the Huntsville Rockets over in Alabama. The Tennessee Crush from Chattanooga lost their first game in three years a month and a half ago. The Georgia Canes out of Marietta have James Davis, a former running back for Clemson, played with the Cleveland Browns, and is playing with them to get his game film up. It’s just guys that didn’t get picked for the NFL or college and they just do it for the love of the game. They have really good coaching staffs, are very well run and have good teams.”
Allen, who played football and graduated for Cartersville High in 1991, has been involved in semi-pro football for 14 years with the Georgia Renegades out of Rockmart and believes the Jaguars can play with any other semi-pro team.
“You got Cartersville, Cass, Adairsville, Woodland, Rome, Paulding County, Cherokee County; you just have so much talent in this area that if you can get that talent out here, we can compete,” Allen said. “We have had three practice so far, and from what I’ve seen, we’re not scared to play anybody.
“My goal is to compete, win a championship, but the first thing is I just want to get better each week. By week 10, we’re playing the best football possible, and when we get to the playoffs, let the cards fall where they may. We are going to have some tough competition, but I’m not scared. These guys aren’t scared.”