His father still serves there as the defensive coordinator in one of the prettiest North Georgia towns we will ever visit. But that secret is out on quaint and charming Rabun County.
It feels the same way about Stockton, too.
Gunner Stockton: Sophomore year surge
Stockton eclipsed that 100-touchdown mark during the regular season of his sophomore year.
The nation’s No. 2 overall junior (247Sports ranking) can do so many things. He’s the recruit who renders the need moot to check his rankings on a weekly basis. It is not necessary.
He is going to be a 5-star. Stockton is talented enough to anchor himself among the top 20 recruits of any class. The folk tales for this young man are already spiraling.
Gunner Stockton is a young talent with a story that will stand out as much as all his gaudy high school stats. His faith is evident by the cross he wore at 7-on-7 events last spring. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
The 6-foot-1, 214-pounder was launching balls farther than two future starters at Power 5 programs when he was in the eighth grade.
That story traces back to the camp when North Carolina gave him his first offer.
When he was asked to go meet the head coach in his office, the family certainly wondered if they did something wrong.
Or broke something.
That camp singled him out for his arm strength and accuracy that day, but nobody was expecting an offer that soon.
Appalachian State and Larry Fedora at North Carolina basically offered him at the same time.
It was right about the time Stockton ripped one 66 yards at that UNC camp that day.
Stockton has verified in-game clips from this past season where the ball traveled 60 yards in the air. When he was clocked electronically in the 40 by one SEC school on grass last summer, the readout was 4.72 seconds.
He’s that fast without any sort of speed training.
How prolific has he been so far? Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is the standard for that. Lawrence was also performing at an All-State level during his first two seasons at Cartersville High.
The talented Clemson star would go on to smash former Gainesville star Deshaun Watson’s state records for career passing yards (13,908) and touchdowns (161) in 2017.
Stockton is on that pace. The main difference here will be that Lawrence only ran for an average of 220 yards and four touchdowns per year in high school. The 5-star from 2018 didn’t need to. That was evident while watching him throw for 51 more touchdowns as a junior in 2016.
But those are all factoids. Not Rabun County folks telling tales.
Lawrence led Cartersville to a 27-2 record and a state title in his first two Class AAAA seasons. Stockton has steered the Wildcats to a 23-3 record and two state quarterfinal trips in Class AA.
That last side-by-side comparison does mesh well with Stockton stat parades which will read like fantasy football for old school Tecmo Bowl or current Madden e-players.
Gunner Stockton has been turning heads across the state of Georgia for two high school seasons now. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Getting to know the real Gunner Stockton
The young Rabun County star had back-to-back Fridays in which he ran he threw for six scores one week, then ran for five touchdowns on his next game under the lights.
He had at least two straight weeks this past fall where he accounted for seven touchdowns in a game.
Those Friday nights where he rolls for 120 yards on the ground and throws for 250 more aren’t that special to Rabun County games anymore.
Stockton is, though. That’s evident by referring to more than just a stat sheet.
A late-season trip to Rabun during a playoff game week allowed the chance to see him through the eyes of those who know him best. It was a chance to see what he is all about.
Gunner Stockton had a Christmas list that didn’t look anything like the ones from his peers in the 2022 class. Or any class. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
He comes from a family grounded in their faith walk.
The Stocktons have not let all of this recruiting noise affect the way they live each day.
It just feels like it will work itself out in time.
The games, his Rabun County team and the way he carries himself come first.
If a camp or an Opening or an Elite 11 event is scheduled to interfere with his summer workouts and team responsibilities, he will likely politely decline to attend those things.
The same goes for spring and summer recruiting events or big 7-on-7 tournaments.
His father, Rob, delivered a strong opinion on what matters most here.
“I think a goal for our family has been for both of our kids to love the Lord,” he said. “I know that will seem like a cliche’ so much now but we pray that they truly love the Lord but not have to tell people about it. Do you know what I mean by that? Where they will just look at you and can tell that you love the Lord. By your actions and then just your spirt. Not their words.”
“They will know you by that when you are in the classroom or on the field. They just sense that something special about you. Not because of you. But a greater deal there. Who you follow in life. ”
But that does not mean a meek mind or spirit.
“With all that said, I have begged of him to be that when he is outside the white lines,” his father continued. “The kindest. The gentlest. The best friend. Opening doors for women and ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’ and that’s him. Thankfully. But when you step across those white lines, then that is time to unleash hell. Be that person.”
Stockton has rained down 113 touchdowns worth of hell, too.
“People that can flip that switch like that are out there today,” his father said. “I am thankful he is a person who can flip that switch. He is highly highly competitive, but when he steps off that field he is also so gentle and kind and even a little bit shy.”
Young Stockton did ask for cattle for Christmas. He wound up with a bull, five calves and five heifers. That is now his after-school job.
Stockton was raised amid a family of athletic achievers that didn’t know their son had been a part of 100 touchdowns until they saw that stat in a tweet.
That might sound unusual, but the citizens of Rabun County are like that. They still stop his mother in the store on game weeks. They will kindly ask if she thinks the Wildcats are going to win this next one. Not where he will go play college ball just yet.
If young Stockton doesn’t wind up with some 5-star livestock, that will be an upset. That was what he wanted for Christmas along with a prized high-powered CB antenna.
There’s a safe bet here that maybe 80 percent of his peer recruits in 2022 have never even seen a CB. They will not even know what it is used for.
“The one that I found isn’t too good,” Gunner Stockton said. “Guess I found one online kind of cheap. My friends are all trying to get it so we can talk to each other.”
He’s hoping that he can recruit more of his teammates to their Wildcat wireless plan. Not just the truck drivers around Tallulah Gorge.
Gunner Stockton already has 113 career touchdowns through his first two seasons of high school football.
The second-best Gunner Stockton story going right now
What’s harder to believe? A CB antenna or those stats?
A CB-freaking-antenna? That will be the first image a curious eye might spot when they travel to Rabun County High to visit Stockton.
He has one attached to his ride. In a world where recruiters can learn a lot about a player from the last month of their tweets, Stockton shows off his cards with his vehicle choice.
Let’s look at this like an elite quarterback would. The easy check down would be a nice new vehicle. It would be the typical truck setup Fromm and Woerner loved in high school.
Stockton bypasses that first read. His family name is also on the big sign of a prominent car dealership in town. He could have a choice set of keys from that lot, too.
But he gets all the way to his fifth read with his choice of a 1985 Ford pickup. Not the 2017 Ford F-150 he could drive all the time.
It was his grandfather’s old truck. That’s the one he romped around in when he was a squirt gun. Not a Gunner.
It carries an odometer reading of approximately 290,000 miles. And its beanstalk CB antenna sticks out among the other vehicles in the Rabun County field house parking lot. Kind of like a sophomore QB with 113 career touchdowns might.
Doesn’t young Stockton know there’s such a thing as cell phones? To keep up with his friends while he’s in a truck that dates back to the Reagan administration?
Yes, he does. But that’s not who he is.
“It is kind of neat to me,” he said of the truck. “I always wanted to drive it when I was little.”
Gunner Stockton: The story which will be retold 900 times
Remember the part about a family of athletic achievement? That’s the stock in Stockton’s game.
His father, Rob, was one of the greatest safeties in Georgia Southern history. Eagle fans still remember his No. 14 fondly. He was named to their athletic hall of fame in 2008. Rob Stockton started his last 48 games as an Eagle and finished with 322 career tackles.
Sherrie Stockton left her name high up among the all-time leaders at Erskine College as a scholarship basketball player. She is now a guidance counselor at Rabun County.
Gunner’s older sister, Georgia, is currently a freshman scholarship basketball player at Presbyterian College. She was an all-state player at Rabun County. She averaged 21.1 points per game, shot 40 percent from behind the arc and 80 percent from the charity stripe.
Stockton’s laurels aren’t the only big deal at the supper table. That’s a good thing. He’d rather chat about trying to catch the biggest fish in Lake Burton.
Georgia Stockton was the first example of how their parents believed in a “circle of life” with their children. They searched for uncommon names that had a link to the family. Sherrie brought up a connection to a family member named “Georgie” when they named their daughter.
That line of thinking did apply to Gunner, too. It would’ve certainly been appropriate to name him that while dreaming of a rocket arm at shortstop or 100 touchdowns as a high school QB.
“Gunner has a family name, too,” Sherrie Stockton said. “Rob’s granddad was in World War II. Both of his grandfathers were. He was actually a gunner on the belly or nose of one of those planes.”
His great-grandfather passed away before he was born. The name was meant to honor him in the same way Georgia honored “Georgie” when she was born.
A newspaper article led to that first name. During that time, soldiers were identified in print as AirMan Jones or Gunner Stockton. “Gunner” Stockton served in the Eighth Air Force. That was the same squadron made famous by the “Memphis Belle” story.
“His great-grandfather was a togglier,” his uncle Allyn Stockton said. “They toggled off and on with the bombs. Part of his job was to pull the arming pins out of the nose of the bombs.”
Allyn Stockton said his grandfather completed nearly 20 missions with his squadron but was shot down at least two times. The newspaper account of his service time didn’t refer to him by his first name, but rather his role in the service.
“He was listed as Gunner Stockton and Rob was like that’s a really cool name,” Sherrie Stockton said.
That was always the plan.
“You know how it is,” she said. “When you are pregnant, I never told anybody about it. Because I said to myself I know I am naming him ‘Gunner’ and if anybody says anything ugly about it, it is going to make me mad and I don’t want any of that. So I never told anybody what his name was going to be.”
His great-grandfather’s name was actually V.D. Stockton. He was a district attorney in the Rabun County region for about 30 years. He was very well-known in the community.
It certainly seems like Rob and Sherrie found the right name choice with that audible to his military role.
“With all of that said, there was no way we were calling him V.D. with that name,” Rob Stockton said while cracking up.
When Gunner played baseball coming up with the East Cobb program, a coach who had also worked with Fromm noticed him. That coach even named him “Little Jake” because of the vast ability and poise he showed at an early age.
“It is funny how life goes like that,” Sherrie Stockton said. “We knew who Jake From was and had heard all about him before just about everyone else in Georgia did.”
Sherrie Stockton, left, and Rob Stockton, right, joined their son Gunner Stockton at the Touchdown Club of Atlanta awards banquet in January at the College Football Hall of Fame. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Gunner Stockton: The habitual recruiting stuff
Stockton visited South Carolina first in January. Then he spent the night in Athens that next Friday night and took in the “Junior Day” stuff at UGA. He did check out North Carolina in January, too.
Oklahoma has also reached out. There did seem to be some initial interest in checking out that program, too. But Stockton does not seem to be charmed by the recruiting process.
The investment of time that a school and the Stocktons will have to put forth in forging a committed relationship will be vast. Stockton even said back in May of 2019 that he didn’t want to be the type of recruit that leads a school on. He just doesn’t want to waste a school’s time in a far-fetched pursuit.
Or show up at a school to earn another offer.
There is no question that South Carolina is in this recruiting story, but they weren’t always in there quite as much as they are now. Stockton wasn’t thinking South Carolina as much about four or five months ago, but Will Muschamp made two power moves to change that up.
The first was hiring Mike Bobo as his offensive coordinator. The Bobo family goes back a long way with the Stocktons. Bobo’s father, George, was the first real coach to help Gunner with throwing lessons coming up.
It was clear then he would be another Stockton athlete. When Will Muschamp adeptly added Connor Show (the older brother of the head coach at Rabun County) as a personnel staffer, he shrewdly cemented the Gamecocks as more than pawns in this chess match.
Smart and Georgia are in it with both feet and a “Yeet” dance. The Bulldogs have been for a while. Smart landed that yellow “KirbyCopter” on the field at Rabun County way back in the spring of 2019.
Stockton got to meet Monken on that “Junior Day” trip.
“Gunner was very impressed by that first meeting with coach [Todd] Monken,” his father Rob Stockton said. “Coach Monken is very impressive. We were also very impressed.”
What is he thinking right now?
“Just trying to narrow it down and learn more about the schools,” Gunner Stockton said. “When I know where I want to go, I won’t wait on it.”
He said last month he might be able to make his decision by the end of his sophomore year. Might.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I mean if something changes then though it could take a little while longer.”
That seems a little rushed. He can be ready before he starts his junior season. That seems like the better way to frame it up.
Rob Stockton was able to put Muschamp and Smart together in the same light. He said they go about the business of recruiting elite talent with a “driven classiness” that defines both men quite well.
Another thing of note here is that his parents do not know which way he is leaning. Or care to know right now. They mark their words carefully so they will not subliminally skew his thought process.
They are even careful to make sure which games the family will watch on Saturday afternoons.
Gunner Stockton is the No. 1 player in Georgia for the Class of 2022 for 247Sports. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Gunner coach: Jaybo Shaw on Gunner Stockton
Jaybo Shaw has known Gunner his entire life. His father, Lee, both played and coached at Rabun County. Rob Stockton wore the same no. 14 that Lee Shaw did.
Jaybo signed to play QB for Georgia Tech coming out of high school but eventually transferred to Georgia Southern. That was where Stockton’s father starred and made his name.
He even wanted to wear Stockton’s No. 14 in Statesboro. There’s a picture of Jaybo with his arm around Gunner from his days as an Eagle.
“When you saw him in middle school and saw him throw the football,” Jaybo Shaw said. “It was just ‘gosh’ with all that. There were some decent 10th and 11th-grade quarterbacks in high school who could not throw it the way he could when he was in middle school. Especially when Gunner was in the eighth grade.”
He’s special. Shaw affirmed that with his own dose of humility.
The Rabun County coach was a former 3-star and the nation’s No. 8 dual-threat QB in 2008. Stockton said he grew up idolizing his current head coach when he was at Georgia Southern.
“There are throws that even when I was a senior in college and in the very best playing shape of my life that he’s making now as a sophomore in high school that I couldn’t make back then,” Shaw said. “It makes me feel glad that I get to coach him.”
Watching Gunner go through a Thursday ‘polish’ practice is uncommon. The ball seemingly never touches the ground on that walkthrough. Or it wasn’t on him if it did. He can make every throw.
“The ball is on the right hash and we’re throwing a deep comeback to the far field,” Shaw says. “That’s in his wheelhouse right now. That’s very rare to find.”
Does Gunner need to grow anymore? That’s likely not necessary given the way college and pro football now trends with mobile passers like Baker Mayfield, Kyle Murray and Russell Wilson.
Stockton’s freshman tape was good enough to draw these big offers. Much less this past year and his 72 percent completion percentage and 62 (43 pass/19 rush) total touchdowns. His tape is already way better than the junior and senior film of some guys with elite Power 5 offers.
“I think what separates him is his competitive nature and his will to win,” Shaw said. “When he gets into one of those Power 5s he chooses everyone is going to have a good arm, good feet and be pretty good. They might even be able to run, but really what he boils down to is a ‘Give me the ball on fourth down and I promise you I will get it’ with him.”
Clemson told Shaw that their 2022 board is currently Stockton and everyone else. West Virginia offered him after watching him throw two balls. They just see it when the ball comes out of his hand.
“Big boy stuff,” Shaw said.
Stockton doesn’t see it that way. The only time he gets on social media all week might be to tweet out thanks for his latest offer. He does have livestock to feed.
He will sometimes send Shaw a text with a picture from the cam on the hunting trail.
“I mean this respectfully as his coach and quarterback coach with the world we live in today with Twitter and Instagrams and the media here,” Shaw says. “But in his eyes, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. He’s very guarded about not wanting to make a college decision during our football season. Very humble. Very guarded. As his head coach, you can’t ask for much more than that. It galvanized our locker room.”
That’s the Rabun County in him. He’s just a good ol’ country boy.
“Gunner is just not the type to get caught up in all the outside noise,” Shaw said.
The goal is a state championship for Rabun County High School.
“Multiple head coaches have said something that they love about him is that where his feet are planted is where he wants to be the best he can be at,” Rob Stockton said.
Gunner Stockton was named after his great-grandfather V.D. Stockton. Man, that is quite a story. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)
Gunner Stockton: A thought or two on his recruiting journey
To be clear, this section will definitely be an observer’s opinion of this matter.
It seemed like Stockton was closer to making his decision in late November that he had ever been before.
But things have changed up a bit.
South Carolina has emerged as a major player with the Clemsons, Alabamas, Georgias and North Carolinas of that conversation. That’s how shrewd those moves were by Muschamp.
It is simply a reading of the green here, but the layout of that hole has changed with those major players. The same goes for how the situation at South Carolina isn’t a long-term fit. At least not yet.
The Gamecocks are looking at a pivotal season in 2020. It will go a long way toward determining how long Bobo and Muschamp and that staff stay in Columbia.
With Georgia, the feeling here is that 5-star Brock Vandagriff joining the program in the 2021 class will not matter as much as most might think. The same goes for the long-term futures of Carson Beck and D’Wan Mathis under center in Athens.
Stockton will choose the best fit for him and what feels like home. It has always been that way. It has been a constant throughout two seasons of covering him up to this point. He was never going to let a talented player dictate his college decision.
The big thing here has always been a true connection to that college staff and making a decision with the belief they will be together for several seasons. He has sought to create a long-term relationship as a recruit and extend that with a head coach and play-caller at the next level.
Smart and Georgia have always measured up well based on those criteria. At least at the head coach level. South Carolina has a chance to cement those aspects in 2020, too.
“Who is at the school that they want to be at for years down the road and are where they are going to stay?” his father said. “That’s one of those things that are big to him.”
Clemson has yet to offer, but the Tigers have always recruited him hard. North Carolina is a constant, too. The Tar Heels do now have some strong recruiters on staff, including head coach Mack Brown.
The feeling here is that the decision seems more complicated for Stockton than it did a few months back. But that’s just the way the big business of college football tends to work.
“I’m not looking at who’s there,” Gunner Stockton said. “Like at Georgia, there’s always going to be a guy there. Or two guys there. Or the transfer portal. You just got to want to be there, fit that right fit wherever you decide it is and then go out while you are there and do the best you can.”
Stockton turns 17 in April. He will be a January 2022 enrollee in whatever college he chooses.
Several programs have been recruiting him for a while now like he was a January 2020 enrollee. Those that have been doing that are the ones with the best shot here.
Gunner Stockton has a record as a starting QB of 88-3 dating back to his Pop Warner and youth league days. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)