The Marist School in Brookhaven has evolved into a pipeline for players tough enough for the National Football League.
There are six current NFL players from Marist, according to the league. That’s more than any other high school in Georgia.
High school football returns for most schools this weekend, and fans have a chance to see some players who may turn out to be future pro stars. Local schools have contributed dozens of players to the NFL through the years.
The six Marist alumni currently playing in the NFL are Chicago Bears long snapper Patrick Mannelly, cornerback William Middleton of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Buccaneers long snapper Andrew Economos, Detroit Lions tight end Will Heller, cornerback Leigh Torrence of the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins safety Anderson Russell.
They account for the great majority of active NFL players who attended high schools in north Atlanta, Sandy Springs and north DeKalb County, according to league records.
Alan Chadwick, who coached all six players at Marist, isn’t shy about expressing how he feels about his former players’ professional success.
“I’m extremely proud of it,” said Chadwick. “They’re special people. They’re good workers and they’ve gone through the fire, and hopefully that’s made them better people.”
As one of the winningest active high school coaches in Georgia, Chadwick, who’s led the Marist War Eagles for more than a quarter century, has seen at least a dozen of his former players reach the NFL. During his tenure, Chadwick has taken the team to the state championship 10 times and walked away with the title twice, in 1989 and 2003.
Chadwick credits the team’s success to more than coaching. “I think Marist molds them into individuals who are productive as can possibly be,” said Chadwick.
“These kids were sharp when they came to us,” Chadwick said. “They were raised by strong support-based families. Many of them play two or three sports.”
Economos, for example, lettered in football, basketball and baseball. “I don’t know too many places that really stress how sports can help you in the classroom and how the classroom can help you in the field,” Economos said.
Sports Illustrated ranked Marist’s athletic program as one of the 15 best in the nation. The magazine noted that the majority of its students take part in at least one of the school’s athletic teams.
Mannelly said that kind of publicity goes a long way toward attracting young athletes serious about competing in sports.
“People would say Marist recruits athletes,” said Mannelly. “It was kind of a joke. All you had to do was pick up the paper on a Saturday and see the results. As a youngster you want to get into a good program, you want to play for a good team and you also want to get a good education,” Mannelly said.
Mannelly said the Marist program “breeds ultra competition. It just expects excellence every day at practice.”
Economos said, “They teach you the right fundamentals. I know going into college myself and other players that came from Marist, we were kind of a bit ahead in terms of techniques and fundamentals.”
While some might not think of north Atlanta as fertile ground for the NFL, other area schools have also sent players to the pros. Graduats of North Atlanta, Westminster, Lovett, Chamblee, Cross Keys, Dunwoody, St. Pius and North Springs high schools have played professionally.
The list includes former Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder, a North Springs graduate who retired from the NFL on August 9, and Sam Wyche, who quarterbacked four professional teams during the 1960s and 1970s and coached the Cincinnati Bengals. Wyche, according to the association, graduated from North Fulton High School, which merged into North Atlanta in the early 1990s.
From local football fields to the pros
Dozens of players who learned the game competing for local high schools have played in the National Football League. Here, listed by school, are players who went on to compete at the highest level of the game.
(The list includes players in the now-defunct American Football League, which was folded into the NFL as the American Football Conference in 1970.)
CHAMBLEE: Troy Sadowski (TE; 1990-98; Falcons, Chiefs, Jets, Bengals, Steelers, Jaguars); Andy Spiva (LB; 1977; Falcons); Steve Wallace (T; 1986-97; 49ers, Chiefs)
CROSS KEYS: Wes Phillips (T; 1979; Oilers)
DUNWOODY: Allen DeGraffenreid (OL; 1998; Arizona Cardinals); Orantes Grant (LB; 2000-03; Cowboys, Redskins, Browns, Redskins); Dexter Jackson (WR; 2008; Buccaneers); Harris Barton (OL; 1987-96; 49ers); Idrees Bashir (S; 2001-07; Indianapolis Colts, Panthers, Lions)
NORTH ATLANTA: Khaleed Vaughn (DE; 2004; Giants, Falcons, Panthers)
LOVETT: Whit Marshall (LB; 1996, 1999; Eagles, Falcons)
MARIST: Andrew Economos (LS; 2006-present; Buccaneers); Will Heller (TE; 2003-04, 2006-; Buccaneers, Dolphins, Seahawks, Lions); Alan Herline (P; 1987; New England Patriots); Patrick Mannelly (OL; 1998-; Bears); William Middleton (CB; 2009-present; Jaguars); Bob Olderman (G; 1985; Chiefs); Anderson Russell (DB; 2010; Redskins); Gannon Shepherd (T; 2001; Jaguars); Mark Stock (WR; 1989, 1993, 1996; Steelers, Redskins, Indianapolis Colts); Ken Adamson (G; 1960-1962; Broncos); Jim Carroll (LB; 1965-69; Giants, Redskins, Jets); Leigh Torrence (CB; 2005-present; Falcons, Redskins, Saints)
NORTH FULTON: Paul Fersen (QB; 1973-74; Saints); Lawrence Jackson (G; 1987; Falcons); Jon Kilgore (P; 1965-69; Rams, Bears, 49ers); Rod Stephens (LB; 1989-96; Seahawks, Redskins); Sam Wyche (QB; 1968-72, 1974, 1976; Bengals, Redskins, Lions, St. Louis Cardinals)
NORTHSIDE: Fred Brown (RB; 1961, 1963; Bills); Sam Graddy (WR; 1987-92; Broncos, Los Angeles Raiders); Billy Milner (T; 1995-96; Dolphins, St. Louis Rams); Ed Nutting (T; 1961, 1963; Browns, Cowboys)
NORTH SPRINGS: Matt Robinson (QB; 1977-82; Jets, Broncos, Bills); Verron Haynes (RB; 2002-07; Steelers); Efrem Hill (WR; 2005; Panthers); Channing Crowder (LB; 2005-2011; Dolphins)
SANDY SPRINGS: Mark Ilgenfritz (DE; 1974; Browns)
ST. PIUS X: Nick Rogers (LB; 2002-05; Vikings, Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Dolphins)
WESTMINSTER: Steve Harkey (RB; 1971-72; Jets); Sedrick Hodge (LB; 2001-05; Saints); Pat Hodgson (E; 1966; Redskins); Wes Pritchett (LB; 1991; Falcons)
Sources: Georgia High School Football Historians Association, National Football League