Luella’s Gunn ready for next part of journey

Special photo / D’Mario Gunn went from Jones County to Luella to Georgia Military College to a starting safety for Georgia State.

Special photo / D’Mario Gunn went from Jones County to Luella to Georgia Military College to a starting safety for Georgia State.

One day over the summer of 2005, close family friend Robert Melton met with D’Mario Gunn’s mom to ask if Gunn could attend a Jones County High School football camp. Welton knew Gunn was thinking about giving up the sport. This was a last-ditch effort to change his mind.

Gunn’s mom relented, and thus began a football journey that could culminate in the former Luella High standout getting selected in the NFL Draft this week.

No, Gunn admits he won’t hear his name on Thursday when just first round selections are made on primetime television. He might not even be selected Friday in the second and third rounds.

But things could get interesting in rounds four through seven on Saturday. Draft experts expect Gunn could be a seventh-round selection or undrafted free agent.

“All I want is a shot,” Gunn said. “That’s all that matters.”

Opportunities in the NFL haven’t come around often for former Henry County football players. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association, just one player from the county has ever played in the NFL. Kevin Reach of Stockbridge played one season with the San Francisco 49ers in 1987.

The chances are growing this year. Rod Sweeting, Gunn’s former Luella teammate and Georgia Tech cornerback, is projected as a possible late-round pick. Former Henry County High star and Stanford wide receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson could be an undrafted free agent or invited to a team tryout.

Patterson and Sweeting were can’t-miss recruits out of high school. Patterson had his choice of virtually any major college in the country and was a four-star prospect by on-line recruiting services. Sweeting was a three-star prospect who broke Georgia Tech’s record for career starts, was named MVP of the Sun Bowl and earned an invite to the prestigious East-West Shrine Game.

Sweeting moved to Luella from Florida the summer before his sophomore season. Paul Burgdorf, who now coaches at Union Grove, was Luella’s coach at the time. The first time he saw Sweeting play was at a 7-on-7 passing league at Lovejoy. He saw Sweeting swiftly back-pedal and break-up a deep pass.

“I looked at [former Luella defensive coordinator Jamond] Sims,” Burgdorf said. “We kind of looked at each other and said, ‘Wow.’ He came to us with a great skill set and he was a perfect fit for what we wanted to do.”

Gunn showed up at Luella a year later after two years at Jones County where he made his own early impression.

Welton, who played running back at Appalachian State, remembers Gunn going through his first Oklahoma drill. It’s a drill designed to test players in confined full-contact situations, a one-on-one challenge of brute strength.

“D’Mario went up against our fullback, flipped him off his feet and slammed him on the ground,” Welton said. “I was like, ‘This is my little brother!’”

Gunn left Jones County for Luella in 2007. He joined Sweeting in the Lions’ secondary and together the two helped Luella go 7-4 in 2008 and reach the playoffs for the first and only time in school history. They played on both sides of the ball. Sweeting wreaked equal havoc at wide receiver and cornerback. Gunn did his damage at outside linebacker.

It was an early sign of Gunn’s versatility — from playing strong safety at Jones County to outside linebacker at Luella to cornerback for two years at Georgia Military College and then both cornerback and free safety for two years at Georgia State.

That’s four stops and four positions on the way to the NFL.

It gave Gunn a bevy of experience and skills to offer a team.

“I’m not afraid to start new and difficult challenges,” Gunn said. “I think [playing at several schools] was a good experience because of the friends and coaches I played for. I was able to see that I could play multiple positions.”

Now the next challenge awaits. Gunn trained full-time in Chicago from January to early March with other potential draft picks.

All for the chance to complete his journey.

“It would be crazy. It would just be like a dream come true,” Gunn said. “I always had dreams of playing football at the highest level. But I also know that I have to go into camp and I’m going to have to put in the work.”