5-stars Malaki Starks and Gunner Stockton go head-to-head tonight
Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. This entry previews the rematch tonight between Rabun County and Gunner Stockton with Malaki Starks and Jefferson High School.
There are a lot of ways to slice up Class 2A Rabun County traveling to Class 4A Jefferson High School tonight.
The Wildcats are one of the clear teams to beat in 2A. Maybe the team. Jefferson will host as one of the clear-cut No. 1 or No. 2 teams in 4A in anybody’s poll. They likely are that bulls-eyed team.
The coaches of both teams broke out the coachspeak for this one. It sounds too good for cliches. Or if the phrases were more well-known, then they would be cliches.
- “The most valuable player on the field is the one that makes the most teammates valuable.”
- Football is not won by the team with the best 11 players on the field. It is won by the team with the best 11 on the field.”
- “You better bring it tonight. You better be ready to go.”
- “We just want to try to keep Gunner over there on the sideline just drinking Gatorade.”
- “He’s going to have his plays. I think the big difference will be what we both do on third downs.”
- “The thing I have taken a lot of pride in as a playcaller and as an offensive coach is you just have to be prepared and comfortable and prepared with whatever game unfolds. Last year we needed to grind a little bit. This year? Who knows? We could end up having to score with them and matching them possession for possession.”
Starks is the highest-rated Georgia commit of the 2022 class for the 247Sports Composite. Stockton is currently sitting as the fourth-highest. That said, he’s the highest-rated Georgia commitment in the state besides Starks.
DawgNation will certainly be paying attention to this one.
Both teams look to get on the good foot in their chase for long-sought state championships. Both have smart and savvy coaching staffs who have pointed to this specific team and the 2021 seasons for years.
Big Game Breakdown: Rabun County at Jefferson
Stockton has a chance to smash a few state all-time career passing and touchdown responsibility totals this fall. His gifted arms and strong legs could take him past immortals like Lawrence and Watson in 2021.
Rabun County has more seniors (22) than it has ever had. That program has never won a state title before.
“We’ve been talking about winning state championships here in the weight room since we were all in the sixth grade,” Stockton said this month.
The same could be said with Jefferson. Folks have always looked to Starks and thought he was going to put a state title trophy in that glass case at school before his time as a Dragon is up. He’s already done so in track.
Jefferson was perfect in 2020 until falling in the state finals to Marist a year ago.
Any way one wants to slice it, it is a big big game. There’s really only one in the state tonight (Buford at North Cobb) that compares.
As much as football will always be a team game and a game for big men, the headline is the clash between Starks and Stockton.
Starks will go both ways as the hard-working starting safety and starting quarterback tonight. The two will both very likely be captains at Georgia one day. Maybe even for the same big game.
When they met last fall, the 4A Dragons eventually wore down the 2A Wildcats. That was a first for a Starks vs. Stockton matchup.
“We’ve played since we were six years old,” Stockton said. “They never beat us since we were six. But last year, they got us. I know it will be a great game. Malaki is Malaki. He’s good. He’s great. It will be good going against him to try to get him back for that.”
When Starks and his Dragons left the field with a 28-14 win, it was a breakthrough for Starks.
“We toughed it out,” Starks said. “Maybe even a lot longer than they did,” Starks said. “They had a really good team with some really great players but after the second half we just came out fast. We stayed focused, fixed things we had messed up on early in the second half and we didn’t let our emotions get the best of us. I think that is going to be a really big thing facing them in this game.”
Prior to that contest, he’d never been a part of a team in All-Star or youth leagues that was able to beat a team led by Stockton.
“I think it was about four or five times he beat me before,” Starks said. “I want to say that is what it was before that.”
Starks is a humble young man. He likely always will be. But he viewed that feat as impressively as any trophy. There is MUCH mutual respect between the All-Americans.
“I didn’t really rub it in but I sure did enjoy it,” Starks said.
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What will the 2021 model Malaki Starks play like?
Jefferson is the favorite to win. The size of the schools and last year’s result has a lot to do with it. The Dragons were even able to win at Rabun County in 2020.
That said, the visiting team got to play in a scrimmage prior to this contest. Jefferson did not.
“Staying focused will be big,” Starks said. “We haven’t had a scrimmage yet. We haven’t got to hit on anybody yet. We’ve got new people stepping in. We just need to stay focused on doing what we need to.”
His Dragons can put the ball in the hands of four different players that will play Division I football. That will include the gifted Starks. He ran for 1,537 yards and 24 scores in 2020. The future Georgia safety also threw for 11 touchdowns.
Stockton threw for 3,128 yards and 45 touchdowns. He threw just four interceptions and then ran for another 1,581 yards and 26 scores.
Jefferson should return eight starters on offense this year. There will be about four to five returnees on the defensive front.
“We’ve had a lot of people step up now for this team that has really surprised me,” Starks said.
That wasn’t just 5-star speak. He quickly rolled off nine names that really improved their game over the past year.
“I know so many people on our team here that are just really slept on that don’t get the credit they deserve,” Starks said. “So for them to have the chance this year for that real big breakout season is huge.”
He’s stressing his leadership.
“I thought I was a good leader last year but I want to be a great leader this year,” Starks said. “I want to impact my team more than I did last year not just on the field but off the field. ... I want to pick people up and make them better. The young kids below us are going to be pretty good, too. They have a bright future, too. When I leave, I want them to know that they can also accomplish anything they want to.”
Starks did have an eye-opening comment about how much better he’s gotten than the player rated No. 7 nationally heading into his senior year for the 2022 class by 247Sports.
“I would say I am about five to seven pounds heavier,” Starks said. “I’m a lot faster. I’m a lot quicker. I’ve gotten a lot bigger and stronger and my hands have gotten a lot better. I would say that if I went against that guy last year, then he wouldn’t stand a chance against me this year.”
His goal this year? He wants to win the last game he plays, but it will not be the end-all.
“My goal would be to leave this place with people knowing more about me than just football,” he said. “I want more people to know me for something I’ve done here besides than just with football.”
Have you subscribed to the DawgNation YouTube channel yet? If so, you will be able to see special 1-on-1 content with Georgia football names like Jake Fromm, Gunner Stockon and Brock Vandagriff here.
Gunner Stockton is back for his senior year
We’ll also see the best Gunner Stockton we’ve ever seen on the field tonight at Jefferson, too.
“I haven’t talked to him about it,” Rabun County coach Jaybo Shaw said. “But you can see it. I bet this is the best he has ever felt physically going into a year. Not that he’s been hurting. I just think he’s matured even more.”
Shaw believes that Stockton will let one fly that will travel more than 70 yards in the air this season. He certainly can fling it that far.
“He’s developed into a time where I throw the 98 miles per hour fastball and there’s a time to take a little off,” Shaw said. “There’s a time to let fly and the time to for another play. I think that’s the part of Gunner’s game that has just skyrocketed from two to three years ago.”
The team goal there is vital for Stockton.
“I’d pass for just 400 yards this whole year if it would mean that’s how we win the state championship,” Stockton said.
That middle school weight room story has been what those boys have lived. Every lift. Every practice day.
“We’d work out in the mornings when we were in sixth grade,” he said. “We’d come in the mornings and then we’d break it down ‘State champs’ about every morning we’d work out. The same group. All of us that are playing now. We’ve just all been working and playing for this since we were little ballboys running around.”
Starks was highly complimentary of the many things Stockton can do.
“He knows how to pick the defense apart,” Starks said. “Gunner can throw a perfect ball. He threw it a lot last year in the smallest pocket I’ve ever seen into the smallest window I have ever seen against us. He put it right on the spot. Just for him to be able to get out of trouble when he is in the pocket on the run and just throw the perfect ball.”
“But then him just knowing the defense and knowing what to read and the timing of his throws and just always knowing the thing to do is what makes him such an amazing quarterback.”
Jefferson coach Gene Cathcart knows Stockton will make plays. He aims to keep those in single digits rather than the dozens.
He stressed Stockton’s mobility as an underrated asset. When Shaw has him in a one-back set, it is really a two-back set thanks to his running ability. Stockton’s legs fueled that big win on ESPNU last fall against Georgia freshman QB Brock Vandagriff.
“We just have a lot of admiration for him,” Cathcart said. “All of our kids that know him just comment on what a good guy he is. To lead your team, I think we are fortunate that we’ve got two great players, along with a lot of other great players on both sides, but the two main leaders are both incredibly high-caliber persons.”
The delightful postscript for Georgia football
The next time these two young men step on a football field after tonight, they will be teammates.
Starks said that fact has not been lost on him this week.
“I have thought about that a little bit,” Starks said on Thursday. “That’s so exciting to know that I have a guy like that on my team in just a couple of months. It’s really exciting. But tomorrow we are on opposite teams and as much as I love him I am going to have to do what I can to throw him off a little bit. But I think it is really exciting that is going to be the case for me at him at Georgia soon.”
When they both arrive at UGA in January, it will also be the first time they have ever been on a team together. Even though they both grew up in Northeast Georgia.
(check on the recent recruiting reads on DawgNation.com)
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- AJ Harris: 5-star junior CB sounds locked on a final five, eyes decision timeframe
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- Christen Miller breaks down all the love he got recently from UGA
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- Cole Speer: “If I had a dream school growing up, it would be Georgia.”
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- BREAKING: Elite RB target Branson Robinson chooses UGA
- Kayin Lee: Georgia and Ohio State made two very big impacts on this 2023 priority DB
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