HINESVILLE – In between his U.S. Army All-America responsibilities Friday morning at Liberty County High School, which were considerable, Richard LeCounte III was texting somebody every chance he got. These exchanges were with one person in particular, a person who resides in Columbus, Ohio.
No, Georgia fans, it was not Urban Meyer. No worries on that front. LeCounte has been loyally committed with the Bulldogs for a full year now and will join them as an early enrollee in about five weeks. But it was one of Meyer’s players.
Though they’re four years apart, there is no closer friend for LeCounte than Ohio State linebacker Raekwon McMillan. This is a well-known fact around this small Southeast Georgia town, where they’ve both been raised, and within the football recruiting community. McMillan, a Butkus Award finalist last year and this one, took LeCounte under his wing five years ago and hasn’t let him out of his sight since.
As LeCounte sat there in the school gymnasium Friday, with all those U.S. Army officers and soldiers surrounding him, with much of the school and community leaders crowded into the bleachers to witness the military-grade pomp and circumstance, LeCounte was overcome with gratitude for the guidance and influence McMillan has provided over the years.
So he felt obliged to give his mentor a blow-by-blow account of the proceedings.
“I was just letting him know what was happening, what was going on,” LeCounte said. “He’s been with me the whole way, so I just wanted to share the experience with him.”
LeCounte credits McMillan for providing in vivid detail a path to follow to achieve his goals. LeCounte sat in an audience much like the one assembled here at Liberty on Friday and watched as McMillan accept an invitation to the Under Armor All-America Game. Though LeCounte was still but a wet-behind-the-ears high school freshman, McMillan would take him with him on college visits. The two sat together in Jordan-Hare Stadium and witnessed the “Kick Six.”
LeCounte has saved for the last four years the tweet that McMillan sent out with a picture of the two of them.
“It said, ‘Richard LeCounte, remember this name. He’s up next,’” LeCounte said as he said in the bleachers following Friday’s ceremony. “That’s something I kept. I kept it all this time so I could live up to it.”
LeCounte took it a step further. He wrote out his goals on the wall of his bedroom in the family home in tiny Riceboro, about 13 miles south of the high school. They were:
- 3.0 or higher GPA
- Graduate early
- Become All-American like Raekwon
All were achieved, though that one to graduate early has proved to be a bear. LeCounte had to complete four core classes this semester – British literature, pre-calculus, economics and anatomy — in order satisfy graduation and early-enrollment requirements.
He is happy and relieved to report that “it has gone really, really well” and he has been able to get through.
“Raekwon set the bar high,” LeCounte said. “Hopefully I can continue to live up to them.”
Meanwhile, LeCounte and his teammates are still shaking off the after-effects of being bounced from the state playoffs last week. The Panthers fell to Greater Atlanta Christian 44-38 in triple overtime.
LeCounte, who will play safety and defensive back at Georgia, was having to play inside linebacker during the playoff run.
“I really have to thank my teammates more than anybody,” LeCounte said. “These guys are my brothers. We’ve been together since we played recreational sports and I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
LeCounte has a knack for saying just the right thing, and he did so before at Friday’s gathering, which included head coach and UGA letterman Kirk Warner, the Liberty County sheriff, the school principal, his parents, Richard Jr. and Erika LeCounte, and several of his rec-league coaches.
“I want to thank all the people who have helped me and kept me on the right path,” LeCounte said. “I cherish every practice, every car ride, every bus ride I’ve had the last four or five years. I thank God for giving me the ability to do everything I can do, but I couldn’t have done any of it without y’all.”
LeCounte said that he, like his new friend and fellow Army All-American Jake Fromm, will come directly from the Jan. 7 all-star game in San Antonio to Athens. A 5-star-rated safety, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound athlete hopes to compete for a starting position, possibly at the star, or nickelback position.
“I see myself doing stuff like Mo Smith does,” LeCounte said of Georgia’s outgoing senior, who played the “star” position. “I see myself fitting in like that. But I don’t care. It’ll be wherever Coach wants me to be at. I’m coming to contribute however I can.”
As for living up to McMillan’s college billing, he’ll take a wait-and-see attitude.
“I want to be great, but I’m not trying to be Mr. Big Guy or anything like that,” LeCounte said. “I want my play to do most of the talking for me.”
It worked well for McMillan.