CHATSWORTH, Ga. — There’s a story in North Georgia that sounds like it even has the mountains talking. Even at the super-friendly meat-and-three in the middle of town. Everyone has something to say about Ladd McConkey and his football career.
This has been an unusual progression of events.
While those patrons stab their forks and spoons into their Thursday night meal, they think they know what is going on with McConkey.
Or at least sound like they do.
McConkey wasn’t really a quarterback but still led North Murray to its best season in history this year. The Mountaineers went 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals of the GHSA state playoffs.
The boys even beat their rival for the first time. Before this year, North Murray had never pulled within three touchdowns of Calhoun when time was up. The Mountaineers whipped them by 24 points this time.
McConkey was at receiver as as sophomore and junior, but this year he was the quarterback. He’s still a slight young man, but has shot up like Grandma made him eat three eggs and chug three glasses of milk every day the last two years.
He punted and held for kicks, but also lined up at defensive back (four INTs and three Pick-6s) and returned kicks on special teams. He was a big spark. Everywhere. Every game. Every quarter.
The folks here will not be swayed by his 247Sports Composite star ranking. Or the lack thereof.
They might feel it would take a mason jar’s worth of pennies in his back pocket for him to step on a scale right now and for it to say 175 pounds. Maybe.
But do they ever know that once he gets loose, nobody can catch him. He was even the best leader on the best team North Murray had ever had this year, too. That’s what Kirby Smart is looking for, too.
McConkey can run the 40 in 4.5 seconds, but his GPA is even higher than that. Smart recently told him just how unusual that feat would be among the 2020 signing class on his team.
He also ran track last spring. It was his other sport along with basketball. But that was only two or three meets. Despite that, he was able to clock an impressive 10.85 time in the 100 meters.
It was his very first meet. Things like that just seem to happen out of the blue for him.
Ladd McConkey: The talk of this North Georgia town
He will take an official visit to Georgia on the final weekend of this month. If he’s being honest, he never really saw this late scholarship offer from UGA coming.
There just wasn’t the context or any other big offer to plant the seed that it just might happen.
But it did.
“It was kind of surreal,” Ladd McCoskey said while describing that offer. “Exciting moment. It was really crazy for me and my family. We just try to take everything in and take a big deep breath but it really was crazy. It was definitely a blessing and it was a special moment.”
The talk of those tables at the meat-and-three would go something like this:
“Did you see Kirby Smart came to town this week? Georgia offered that McConkey boy at North Murray. Georgia! Their head coach was here and was so down-to-earth and humble. He must have posed for pictures the whole first half of the basketball game on Monday night. He even stayed the whole game. I even saw him taking a picture with that Tech fan who goes to our church. That one Tech fan!”
“He seemed real nice. You never know. One of those mommas and their boys might want to play for him one day. But then those coaches from Georgia went to their house. Do you think they knew the McConkeys are Tennessee fans? Do you think Ladd’s mom hid all their UT stuff when they came over and had pizza after the game?”
“Georgia is a real good offer. But I hear Tennessee is still his No. 1 school. The Bulldogs have a shot, but if Tennessee ever offers, I think he will go play up there.”
That may sound scripted, but it was not. That was the gist of what was being said about McConkey at that friendly meat-and-three in the middle of town the week.
Some of that was even right. Some of that might not be.
But that story going through the town isn’t what really matters here.
Ladd McConkey and his suddenly brighter future
McConkey was getting ready to take his official visit to Army this time a week ago. That came after official visits to Chattanooga and Jacksonville State.
Now, he’s got that UGA offer to think hard about. And Vanderbilt. It will be worth watching to see if Missouri and Tennessee also jump in during the fourth quarter of his recruitment.
The contrast of those offers and options is striking. It could be the focus of the rest of these lines and was probably going to be.
That was until McConkey brought up his towel and its connection to his grandfather. When he did, that all of that changed.
Some might call it ironic. Others will believe it was fate. Depending on how often they hit their knees as a reflection of their faith.
It all sunk in the morning after Smart came to North Murray High School. That was the day he offered the North Murray quarterback to be a slot receiver for new play caller Todd Monken’s scheme in Athens.
Let’s file that date away for a little later: January 20, 2020.
That was the topic in the McConkey home the morning after Smart saw him play basketball and that late pizza dinner. And after his mother might or might not have hid those University of Tennessee coasters that reside in her living room.
It was an audience of two. McConkey and his Mom. Discussing that whirlwind Monday.
“You realize what yesterday was with that,” Brittney McConkey kind of said but kind of asked a question at the same time. “Right? You do realize what day that was, right?”
How could he not? He has only written the date “1-20-16” on his towel before every football game since he lost his grandfather to cancer on that very day.
“She said that was the day,” Ladd McConkey said. “That was special. That was crazy.”
The biggest offer of his football career came four years after that day.
“That Georgia offer came that day,” he said. “It did. It really did. It’s crazy. I know. … It was definitely something. I realized it and then I went ‘Whew’ because that was really something. That really means something.”
His grandfather, Vic McConkey, was a big Tennessee fan, too. McConkey said he was “probably jumping up and down in his grave” about every bit of this.
“He was really special,” Ladd McConkey said. “He was one of my biggest fans. Every single game. He was there. He told me when I was messing up and didn’t play my best and he told me when I played great. He was definitely a big part of my life.”
Ladd McConkey: The mere football and recruiting things
Turn the clock back to this time last week. He was sorting through that Army offer, a Chattanooga offer, an incoming Coastal Carolina offer, a Furman offer and another one from Jacksonville State.
Georgia actually had already offered him to take an official visit. Even before receivers coach Cortez Hankton visited last Friday. It was also before that “1-20-20” scholarship offer at the start of this week.
“Then Monday came along and Georgia offered and then Vanderbilt offered me and it just kind of changed the whole scenario,” he said.
His best time in the 40 has been 4.44 seconds. That was a hand time by the staff at Louisville. McConkey also ran a 4.56 laser and a 4.12 short shuttle at an Opening regional back in May of 2019.
It seems logical to note the fact here that McConkey’s offer is a byproduct of getting more shifty slot guys for Monken’s offense.
“Georgia offered me to be a true slot guy,” McConkey said. “Guys that can win the one-on-one battle. I mean obviously they have guys who can win one-on-one matchups but really get in space there down in the slot and make people miss in real tight coverage.”
McConkey will get separation off the line. Make the man miss. Catch the ball and then be hard to touch afterward. That’s just his game.
The offer from UGA also includes the chance to add to the return game on special teams, too. McConkey would be an asset returning punts and kickoffs. He’s just that slippery quick.
Look for him to take an important unofficial to Tennessee on Sunday. The goal is to squeeze all of these late visits around his basketball games. North Murray has region games coming up and currently holds the No. 1 seed in the region.
The Volunteers have yet to offer, though.
“We grew up in a Tennessee household,” McConkey said. “So there is that.”
The Vols were his team. He said if they offer, then it would be “something special” to then have to think even longer and harder about.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney came down to Chatsworth to see him this past Tuesday, but he was in and out and 30 minutes. Tops. He didn’t take any pictures or see any coasters.
The early power move was made here by Smart with his visit and the Georgia offer coming in strong. It was a big Power 5 offer, but it was also his only one up to that point.
“You’re talking about the in-state SEC team that has finished in the top 5 for the last four years,” he said. “That’s really something there.”
3051 ALL PURPOSE YARDS‼️‼️Offense: 124-209/ 1771 yards/ 20 TD’s/ 924 rushing yards/ 10 TD’s
Defense: 4 INT’s (3 pick six)
Returns: 3 KR/ 160 yards/ 1 TD/ 4 PR/ 196 yards/ 2 TD’s @RecruitGeorgia @NwGaFootball @NMHSRecruiting @Mansell247 https://t.co/JncCEyj4Gh
— Ladd McConkey (@laddmcconkey02) December 13, 2019
How Georgia offered and now appeals to Ladd McConkey
The Bulldogs had been talking to him for a few weeks before that offer. Smart delivered it on Monday night at their home.
“They just really said they love how I play and they have a few scholarship spots left and they are deciding what is going to happen,” he said. “Then just when he got to my house he said that ‘I want guys that are high character and go to class and do the right thing on my team’ so that’s how he presented to me that scholarship offer.”
The North Murray standout said he holds a 4.54 grade-point average. He’s taking dual enrollment classes and will show up at UGA with his associate’s degree in hand after his high school graduation. He pairs that academic transcript up nicely with a 1210 on his SAT.
McConkey will look to knock these visits out in short order and make a public commitment prior to National Signing Day on Feb. 5. The Bulldogs will have his last official visit from Jan. 31-Feb. 2.
His weight is a story on its own. He weighed 178 pounds this past summer. That was before basketball camp and then a football season and then basketball season.
He’s about 165 pounds right now. That’s not really SEC grade, but keep in mind this is a Monken system fit. A new way of looking at that spot. McConkey has impressive ball skills and the short-space quickness that will flourish in any “Air Raid” sets. He’s also a guy who will relish the ball coming his way in big spots.
He’s small. Especially for a typical UGA signee, but consider his stature in the right context. This potential Bulldog was right at 5-foot-6.5 and 115 pounds on the growth chart prior to his sophomore season. He’s grown five inches in the past two years. His physician says his growth plates are still open.
Why could Georgia wind up as his choice here?
“Being that they are a very successful football program and they have a bunch of guys that want to win and want to succeed,” McConkey said. “That’s definitely a big thing, but then the were the first really major Power 5 school to take a shot on me. That goes a long way. Then bringing coach Smart and coach Hankton and coach Hartley into town to my [basketball] games. That shows that they really want me and that to me is a really big deal.”
The late offers, or the lack of them, will serve as fuel here. They have placed a chip on his shoulder. Look what he did at an Opening regional last May.
— Ladd McConkey (@laddmcconkey02) December 17, 2019
He doesn’t have that 247Sports Composite rating because he hasn’t received a ranking by all the services. McConkey does have a pure 247Sports rating as a 3-star recruit. He’s listed as the nation’s No. 180 WR, the No. 121 player in Georgia and finally as the nation’s No. 1252 overall prospect.
“I didn’t have some opportunities from some schools but then I had some great opportunities from some schools that did offer me,” he said. “But it definitely is a dream for anybody to play Power 5 SEC football so I am definitely going up there trying to prove myself. Prove that I can do it and also prove that North Georgia boys can play with everybody.”
When he said that, his face looked the same as it has for probably the last week here in Murray County. Right when this town started buzzing.
Maybe it was his new circumstances. Maybe it was the hair that looks like it belongs in a boy band.
McConkey just had a youthful smile which made it seem like his mom had made his favorite chicken casserole dish every night this week.
He had everything he had hoping and wishing for. And maybe a little bit more.
“When he got that Georgia offer, he just told me that was a big load that was now off his shoulders,” North Murray coach Preston Poag said. “He had a lot of pressure on him because he didn’t know what he was going to do. Now we will see what happens. Tennessee hasn’t offered him yet. It just depends what happens on Sunday. He’ll have a decision to make after that.”