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Emanuel County Institute safety Dexter Moody took the spotlight from his more publicized teammate and fellow University of Georgia commitment Washaun Ealey during the Bulldogs’ opening 28-13 victory against Savannah Country Day. Moody blocked a punt, had two sacks, broke up two passes and had seven tackles. Ealey ran for 137 yards with touchdown runs of 39, 15 and 2 yards on 17 carries. ECI lineman J.C. Lanier, who has committed to Georgia Tech, did not play because of a minor injury.
After Herschel Walker played his first college game against Tennessee in 1980, Georgia sideline reporter Loran Smith shared a quick opinion with SEC football fans. "I don't want to hear anything more about Class A football, " Smith said in a quote that Georgia fans often repeat whenever anyone questions a player from small-town Georgia trying to make it on college football's big stage. Walker's two-touchdown performance that night, and his ensuing career, silenced the critics for several years. But today, a new group of fans and recruiting experts are questioning the ability of Washaun Ealey, the latest modern-day Class A marvel. Ealey, a running back from Emanuel County Institute, scored 58 touchdowns in 2007 --- blowing away the state record by 12. He became the first junior ever named the Journal-Constitution's all-classification player of the year. Now he is his school's first AJC Super 11 player, and he threatens to run away with state rushing and scoring records for a single season and career. But unlike Walker, the nation's No. 1 recruit in 1979, Ealey isn't even the No. 1 prospect in Georgia, by most accounts. That doesn't mean he's not a blue-chip recruit. The University of Georgia secured a commitment from him in January, but Rivals.com says he's the No. 10 running back in the nation, and Scout.com pegs him at No. 13. The state has produced six running backs that Scout or Rivals ranked higher in the past five years, including current Georgia freshman Richard Samuel and Georgia Tech sophomore Jonathan Dwyer. "It's the classification he's playing in, " said Mike Farrell, Rivals' national recruiting director. "We see a lot of kids playing in lower classifications or in a state without the competition, and their speed and overall ability doesn't match up at the next level." Farrell isn't saying Ealey can't be a star at Georgia, but he says the numbers Ealey is posting --- 2,982 rushing yards, 10.8 per carry last year --- require context. "He's a one-cut guy to me, " Farrell said. "He's going to take the handoff, make his read and try to run over people and break tackles. There's not a lot of wiggle. He could turn out to be a feature back or he could be a tick too slow, especially at a program like Georgia." Milan Turner, Ealey's head coach, is quick to defend his star. Turner says playing in Class A might even diminish Ealey's statistics. In 2007, when ECI went 15-0, Ealey played only 25 of 40 quarters in the regular season, Turner said. In 2000, when Daccus Turman of Washington-Wilkes set the state record with 3,172 yards in a season, Turman had 390 carries. Ealey had only 277. And Turner says Ealey is being downgraded for other reasons. "It's because he committed early, " Turner said. "A lot of those recruiting services are money-making machines. They make more money if the top three or four running backs are still on the market." But there is one thing the doubters are correct about: Having gaudy statistics in high school is not a ticket to college success. Turman became a part-time starter at South Carolina but never rushed for more than 650 yards in a season. There have been 13 backs to surpass Walker's former career record of 6,137 rushing yards at Johnson County High, but only one became an outstanding player in college, and that was Miller County's Charles Grant --- as a defensive end. Five of those 13 played in Class A, including Monte Williams, who holds the career rushing record with 8,844 yards. The former Commerce star played for a junior college in Kansas and fizzled out. The career touchdown record of 111 --- Ealey is 19 short --- was set by Pacelli's Matt Dunham, another former Class A running back. Dunham is a backup tight end at Florida State. But there also are striking examples of Class A players who were remarkable in college. They include Garrison Hearst of Lincoln County, Champ Bailey of Charlton County and Darius Walker of Buford. "I don't see how you could possibly doubt Class A, " said Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell, who won two of his 11 state titles with Hearst in 1987 and 1989. "Herschel and Garrison alone should answer that. Ealey is right in that same league with those players. If he's a good football player, it doesn't matter where he comes from."