GRAY, Ga. -
It may seem like life moves slower in Jones County, but even in Middle Georgia they wish for simpler days.
"You didn't have to worry about kids leaving," Jones County athletic director Barry Veal remembered. "It's getting crazy. I'm telling you. It's getting crazy."
The longtime Greyhound coach and athletic director shared the concerns of high school coaches across the state worried about athletes suddenly transferring to another program. This year, eight highly-touted college prospects moved to football powerhouse Grayson High in Gwinnett County.
One of them was senior defensive back Jamyest Williams. Grayson will be his third high school in four years. He even announced the Grayson news on Twitter in the same manner a player might announce his college choice, tweeting in April, "I had to do what was best for me."
Coach Veal said he sees it happening in Middle Georgia, too.
"I understand the kids," he told us. "They want to go play for winners. They want to go play for this school. They want to go play for this school that wins every year. I understand that. But that's not high school. You go help build a program."
State rules allow transfers as long as no one connected to the new school influenced the player to come. Plus, their family has to actually move into that new school district.
The arrival of all those Grayson transfers prompted rival coaches to complain to the Gwinnett County and the Georgia High School Association, pointing the finger at a volunteer assistant coach. Gwinnett County schools eventually told Grayson's college football advisor Kenyatta Watson "it was in the best interest of the program if he no longer helped..." Watson left in February, but denied doing anything wrong.
"Didn't recruit them," he insisted. "Didn't promise them anything. Didn't guarantee them anything."
Gwinnett County schools said it investigated. All those transfers were cleared to play. But coaches across the state complained that so many kids moving each year can harm not just the school they left but the new school too, upsetting current players who spent years in the program only to lose their spot to a one-and-done senior transfer.
So how do you slow it down? One idea being floated among high school coaches in Georgia is to give them limited veto power over transfers. If they think a kid is being recruited by a school close by, they can refuse to let him leave, or he'd have to sit out a year if he wanted to play for someone else.
In Jones County, coach Veal said he's seen several players transfer next door to schools in Bibb County.
"How many of those transfers would you have vetoed?" I asked.
"There's 3-4 that we know for sure were listed here in Jones County and going to schools outside this county. I would have vetoed those."
Some parents and players who talked with the FOX 5 I-Team insisted they transferred to Grayson because of disputes with their old coach over playing time. They worried the veto idea would allow a coach who holds a grudge to block their transfer request out of spite. Watson agreed.
"One person has the ability to say no?" he asked me. "No, that's not. No."
"Wouldn't this slow down the rampant transfer problem we have right now in Georgia?" I asked.
"No," Watson replied. "Because if those kids didn't come to Grayson, they would have went to IMG."
IMG - a private Florida high school that recruits players from across the country. They open the season with Grayson August 27 on national television.
"These kids came to Grayson because of that schedule," former Grayson volunteer coach Watson insisted. "Opportunity to play on ESPN. Opportunity to play on television. It wasn't because of offers."
In May, many of Gwinnett's head football coaches met to vent their anger about those Grayson transfers. Some asked the school to drop IMG from their schedule, claiming it was unfairly encouraging players to switch schools. Grayson refused. At least one Gwinnett school already removed Grayson from its JV and 9th grade schedule.
You won't find IMG on Jones County's schedule. But you'll find that school's athletic director in agreement about transfers. They all say something needs to change.
"It's getting tough," admitted coach Veal. "I mean, there's a lot more than coaching going on now with our high school athletics."