Through 14 games in 2003, the Camden County Wildcats' record is as pristine and unspoiled as the beaches on Cumberland Island. Recruiters from schools across the country, including Vanderbilt, have taken note of a pair of senior Camden County defensive backs, both of whom run like-- well, wild horses.
The Wildcats (14-0) will compete for a Class AAAAA state championship Saturday night vs. the Valdosta (11-3), the most historically dominant program in the state. It will be the last high school game for both safety / wide receiver Djay Jones and cornerback / wingback Kevin Patterson, both of whom are high on Vanderbilt's wishlist.
Camden County reached the championship game with a come-from-behind, 20-10 win over Newnan last Friday night in the Georgia Dome. Newnan, which features Division I-A quarterback prospect Tyler Horne and defensive lineman Earnest Mitchell, took an early 7-0 lead on a perfectly placed bomb from Horne to Derrell Stegall, and led at halftime 10-3. But Camden County's defense-- which some have called the best in the state-- shut down Newnan's relentless passing attack in the second half, and the Wildcats' tricky wing-T attack produced 17 unanswered points.
Patterson, a 6-0, 175-pounder, made an official visit to Vandy back on Dec. 5. He plays the "pony" position in Coach Jeff Herron's unconventional 3-5-3 defense, which is a cross between cornerback and outside linebacker. Against Newnan's spread offense, he stayed in pass coverage against a slot back most of the night, but was occasionally called upon to blitz from that position.
"Patterson excelled on both sides of the ball," said Insiders recruiting expert Scott Kennedy of the Newnan game. "He showed good cover skills, on defense and he had a quick burst with the ball in his hands on offense. He is a cover corner all the way though, and he can be a very good one on the next level."
In Camden County's old-fashioned wing-T offense, Patterson plays one of the two wingbacks, and often goes in motion before the ball is snapped. He is not the primary Wildcats' leading rusher-- that's tailback Josh Campbell-- but he gets his share of carries.
With blistering 4.5 speed in the 40 (timed last summer by Nike), Patterson is also a threat to go deep at any time. Camden County took the lead for good on a 23-yard pass from Emanuel Bacon to Patterson, on which Patterson had gotten behind the Newnan defense in the end zone.
After his Dec. 5 visit to Nashville, Patterson had good things to say.
"I had a good time at Vanderbilt," Patterson told Kennedy after his Vanderbilt visit. "I got to hang out with the team and watch Vanderbilt's basketball team beat Michigan." But Patterson wasn't ready to commit, and Wake Forest, Louisville and Ole Miss remain in contention for the speedy back.
Jones, 6-1, 185, plays a roving free safety on Camden County's defense, and had very few tackling opportunities vs. Newnan. On offense he alternates in and out at wide receiver, and several times managed to break wide open, but was overthrown by Bacon.
"Jones had a fairly quiet day in the Dome, which is prone to happen when you are on a team as talented as Camden County is," remarked Kennedy. "But he made some nice breaks on the ball and showed the willingness to mix it up in the running game from his safety spot."
In a recent Insiders recruiting update, Jones said Vanderbilt was recruiting him the hardest of any team. "They call and spend the most time talking to me," he said. "They are really high on me." But more recent reports suggest that Jones was very impressed by a Dec. 12 visit to Georgia Tech, and the Jackets may be his leader. Wake Forest may also be a serious suitor for Jones.
With Patterson and Jones on defense, the Wildcats have shut out nine of their 14 opponents this season, and are favored to defeat Valdosta. But the game is at Valdosta, site of many championship games from years past, and the home Wildcats may have tradition and other intangibles on their side.