DECATUR — Devonte Wyatt underwent an unusual transition from high school football player to elite college prospect to UGA football signee. It began at a nondescript, dual track meet in Conyers in the spring of his junior year.
Wyatt was entered in the shot put and discus competitions for Towers High, as usual, when he looked over and noticed the sprinters warming up. Wyatt knew some of the guys preparing to run in the 100-meter race and thought he was at least as fast as most of them, if not faster.
Keep in mind that Wyatt stands 6-foot-4 and weighed 280 pounds at the time. So he looked decidedly different than the other sprinters. But he always has been known for his extraordinary speed and quickness for his size, and he has a competitive spirit some have described as “otherworldly.”
So Wyatt asked his track coach if he could run in the race.
“He was, like, ‘Hey, I can beat those guys,’” said Dr. Brian Montgomery, his football coach. “His coach says, ‘Why don’t you go ahead and win the shot put first and we’ll see what we can do. If you do, we’ll go over there and put you in the 100.’”
Wyatt won the shot put. So it was on.
Brian Montgomery (left), Devonte Wyatt’s coach at Towers High School, was instrumental in steering Wyatt away from the streets of southeast Atlanta and onto a path toward college football. (Chip Towers/DawgNation)
A short while later, Wyatt saunters over to the starting line wearing his Air Force One sneakers. As his competitors climbed into starting blocks in their sprinter’s spikes, Wyatt hunkered down into something resembling a three-point stance.
The gun fired. Wyatt’s fellow entrants shot out to an early lead, but Wyatt soon found his stride. He edged the field at the finish line for his first sanctioned 100-meter victory in high school. The defensive lineman had bested his challengers while winning the race in a hair under 12 seconds.
“It was crazy the way they got off so fast, but I just kept scrambling hard, running hard,” says Wyatt, still excited to retell that oft-told story. “I believed in myself. Once you believe in yourself you know you can do anything. I believed I could beat them, and I did.”
That race is a fitting metaphor for Wyatt’s life. Freaky physical feats and a strong belief that he can overcome anything or anybody are trademarks of Wyatt’s persona. Both of them were strong factors in him garnering and accepting a scholarship offer from the Georgia Bulldogs in February. Wyatt will be among the 19 remaining members of UGA’s ballyhooed “SicEm17” recruiting class that will report to campus later this month.
Speed attracts attention
Montgomery was in the stands to see that now-legendary race, and he immediately recognized the magnitude of what he’d witnessed. He procured a copy of a video made of the feat and shared it with college football recruiting coaches he had among his contacts.
The video was eventually posted on YouTube and has more than 21,000 views.
“I was, like, ‘Man, y’all have got to see this,’” Montgomery said of emailing copies to the coaching friends he has made over his years in football.
Distributing the video had its desired effect. Coaches began inquiring about this fleet-footed behemoth from Decatur, and soon they came calling. The first offer was from Oregon State, whose lead recruiter happened to be an old fraternity brother of Montgomery’s.
“But he knew they didn’t have a chance,” Montgomery said with a laugh. “He knew Devonte wasn’t going to get out of the South.”
Maybe not, but that first offer from Oregon State was a big deal to Wyatt. It wasn’t until then that he really understood the reality of what his physical abilities could do for him.
It also expanded his knowledge of the college football landscape.
“I didn’t know who [the coach] was,” Wyatt said of that first recruiting meeting. “I saw the little beaver on his jacket. I was wondering, ‘Why’s he got a beaver on his jacket?’ I couldn’t think of any Beavers in college football. He said he was from Oregon State. I’m thinking, ‘That sounds far away.’ I’d heard of Oregon but not Oregon State.
“But after he gave me the offer, I got happy. I was smiling. I looked up Oregon State online and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a D-1 school. Division 1.’ I was like OK, this is good.”
Coaches were never sure what to do with Devonte Wyatt, who combined the speed of a skill player with the size of a down lineman. He played tight end, fullback and tailback in addition to his primary position at Towers High, defensive end. (Chip Towers/DawgNation)
As is often the case when a prospect receives that first major college offer, it gave way to a bunch of others. South Florida, Georgia State, North Carolina State quickly followed suit. After that the offers came in bunches.
“That’s when I realized it was fixing to get serious my senior year,” Wyatt said.
Montgomery also sent that video to his friend at Georgia. Jonas Jennings and Montgomery had coached together at Tri-Cities High School after Jennings’ UGA and professional football career ended. Jennings is now on the Bulldogs’ football staff as the director of player development.