ATHENS — Gunner Stockton nearly derailed Malaki Starks football career before the Georgia All-American bloomed into a 5-star prospect.

“Little League, he literally almost made me quit playing football,” Starks said on a Player’s Lounge podcast taped on Tuesday night.

RELATED: Georgia’s new 2025 schedule release is mind blowing

“I played against him in high school, and I’ve been playing against Gunner since I was 7,” Starks said. “Gunner is by far the best safety I’ve ever played against in my life. He almost made me quit playing football, I kid you not.”

Starks (Jefferson) and Stockton (Rabun County) grew up as standout athletes roughly an hour apart in Northeast Georgia, so it’s not surprising their paths crossed in competitions.

Starks’ disclosure of Stockton’s vicious hitting did, however, seem to catch the co-hosts on his podcast off guard.

“Gunner was 5 yards away and he spears me, and he knocks my helmet off,” Starks said. “As soon as I got up I went to the sideline.

“I took my shoulder pads off and I cried the rest of the game. My dad was cussing me out, my mom was cussing my dad out for cussing me out. It was a bad deal.”

Starks said it wasn’t the only time Stockton unloaded on him.

“He did it again, when we got older,” Starks said. “I was running a toss sweep, I was going for the hole, and boom, I fall back, and I’m done.

“I got him back in high school, I beat him twice, I’ll put that out there.”

Stockton also bragged on Stockton, telling everyone how the former Rabun County star broke Georgia’s state high school passing mark.

Coach Kirby Smart has said he doesn’t allow Georgia quarterbacks to get hit in practice.

But from the sounds of what Starks said, it might be just as important not to let Stockton, the Bulldogs’ No. 2 quarterback, be hitting other players.