DECATUR, Ga. — “Let me have him.”
Towers High senior defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt was a coveted big man before Will Muschamp or Kirby Smart ever wanted him.
In high school, he was wanted by some peers that were beginning to operate on the wrong side of the law. Their hope was to lure Wyatt to a lifestyle where a young man with broad shoulders meant extra muscle on the street rather than a bad dude who drops running backs for negative yards.
“Let me have him” also applies to the scrum between those aforementioned millionaire SEC coaches over the vastly underrated three-star tackle. Wyatt is committed to Georgia. Smart and his staff flipped him last week from Will Muschamp’s commitment board at South Carolina.
In this case, those words were said by Wyatt’s high school coach. And it was Dr. Brian Montgomery, not Smart, who won the most important tug-of-war in Wyatt’s life.
Wyatt describes Montgomery with many words. Coach. Friend. Older brother. Mentor.
“Lifeline” would be just as good.
Dr. Brian Hightower, the football coach at Towers High, has made a difference in Wyatt’s life thus far. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
When Montgomery tells Wyatt’s story, it seems fit for a Morgan Freeman narration.
“He just had a different mindset than the other boys he was growing up around,” Montgomery starts off.
But others were pulling the big guy toward them. They had a street operation that could use some muscle.
They tugged Wyatt toward their lifestyles. The sort that required having a big guy like him around. Extra muscle on the street.
“But he never had that bully-type attitude,” Montgomery said. “He’d listen every time you would tell him something.”
He first got to know Wyatt when he was coaching at Tri-Cities but teaching at Towers. Montgomery was part of an after-school program that helped students with reading. Wyatt was always wanting to better himself. He didn’t let his pride keep him from being a part of that program and a trust was built between the two before he was even his coach.
It wasn’t long before Wyatt needed to be “snatched away” from the wrong neighborhood influences.
“We were having a function in front of the school and they came and got him and was trying to pull him out and away from school,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery had to act.
“I jumped in my car and rode down the street,” he said. “Then I told those guys ‘Man, you all are not going to have him now. Go on about your business. If you really care about him, leave him be. If he listens to what we are saying and sticks in school he will go places. It will take him to college and in three years he’ll be in the NFL.’ I told them when he does that, he can take care of all of them then. Just not now. Let me have him.”
That wasn’t met with the response he expected.
“This one kid replied that ‘Man, I make my own money’ when I said that,” Montgomery said. He said ‘I don’t need him to take care of me for anything’ and they just needed him now.”
Wyatt drops back into coverage from his defensive end spot during a practice rep at Towers High School. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
His coach dug in.
“So what do you need him for then?” Montgomery said. “Go on and make your own money then. What do you need with Devonte then? Let me have him and please let him be.”
So Montgomery snatched him from that life.
“I was hanging around with the wrong people and he just took me away from them,” Wyatt said. “He took me away from a lot of negative influences. He showed me a different way. The way I needed to see.”
The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder said Montgomery told him he was on a different path than some of his troubled peers.
Coaches — the most needed ones — do that above-and-beyond across America every day. Wyatt’s journey might read too tidy, but that doesn’t make it any less important in his development.
Montgomery and Wyatt said two of those peers were jailed that next school year. Wyatt said those neighborhood friends were into robbery and burglary.
“I think I might be locked up or have been locked up without that guy right there,” Wyatt said.
Will he flip again?
What are the chances Wyatt flips from Georgia? Wyatt was asked a variant of that question and said he was “70 percent committed” to Georgia. His recruiting is basically still in the toddler stage. He’s only had big-time offers from SEC schools for a few months.
Wyatt’s answer might make DawgNation nervous, but it shouldn’t. Especially in the context of where he comes from. His high school would be the last place a recruiter might expect to find SEC prospects.
The practice field last week was covered in ankle-high grass. There were patches of turf cut slightly shorter. The goal posts seemed like purple plumbing or cast-iron pipes in school colors.
Wyatt will play defensive end and defensive tackle for Towers this fall. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)
Were those pipes-slash-posts older than him? Definitely. They might be older than Muschamp and Smart.
There was no trainer to be seen. It looked like the managers had no more than five or six water bottles for an entire team. There were two buckets full of water positioned maybe 70 yards away from the practice field at the school by the locker room door.
Players at other programs chirp over Gatorade flavors. They never ponder what it would be like to practice on grass that tickles their ankles.
A better question: Does his “mentor” think he’ll stick with Georgia?
“Without a doubt,” Montgomery said. “I can show you a picture he took the first time we were up at Georgia. I knew then that’s where he was going to be. I truly feel if Georgia would’ve offered first before South Carolina he wouldn’t have even entertained any other offers.”
Then he pulls his phone out. He scrolls. He finds it as easily as Wyatt will find double teams this fall.
“Look at this picture,” he says. “Look at Devonte’s face. Look at his hands. He’s praying in that picture.”
Those are usually proud photos for prospects, but Wyatt felt a different emotion.
“I was just so thankful I was there at Georgia wearing that uniform,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt said he was humbled by the chance to put on the Georgia uniform on his first visit to Athens this summer. (Dr. Brian Hightower / Special)
He didn’t have a Georgia or even a South Carolina offer at that time. He just knew his family was full of Bulldog fans and he was right in the middle of it. If anyone saw his uncle’s truck, they’d know exactly how he felt that day.
“It was just that they invited me and showed me around and were considering me so they let me wear that jersey,” he said. “I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to do that. I was just praying and being grateful to be there and put on that jersey.”
Montgomery feels Wyatt is from a different era.
“He’s just an old school and grass roots ballplayer,” he said. “He’s a reason why I enjoy high school football. People ask me why I don’t want to coach college or one day the NFL. I reply this is the purest form of football right here. You see kids like Devonte where you can help and be an influence on their lives and give them an opportunity to reach that next level and grow into manhood. You get the chance to make a real difference and be an important person in their life. He doesn’t have a fair shake like you or I had. But you can make up the difference. There’s a difference from being stuck over here and not moving out from this environment and then seeing how he can better himself. If a kid from this area gets to be in a different environment, how will he be? What can he be? He gets a chance to find that answer out for himself because of football.”
Wyatt raised eyebrows this summer when the stories of him running the 100 meters in Nike “Air Force Ones” came out after he had been offered by Georgia. He told DawgNation he finished that 100 meters in less than 11 seconds.
Montgomery contends Wyatt can run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds or better. That’s unheard of for a defensive lineman.
“Just watch,” Montgomery said. “This young man is going places.”
Wyatt added another thought.
“Because of him,” he said while gesturing to his coach. “It is all because of him.”
Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges. Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.