Local connection at Georgia State
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
Georgia State’s football roster will have a heavy Troup County feel to it this fall.
When Georgia State plays its season opener in September against visiting Murray State, five players with local ties will be wearing the uniform for the home team.
Included in that group are three former teammates at Callaway High, Courtney Williams, Hunter Williamson and Jacob Freeman.
Two Troup High graduates, Jamari Thrash and Luke Purnell, will also play for Georgia State this season.
While Williams, Williamson and Thrash have all been at Georgia State for at least one season, Freeman and Purnell will be freshmen this fall.
Thrash, who was an all-state wide receiver at Troup, arrived at Georgia State in 2019 hopeful of making an instant impact, but he was red-shirted.
While disappointed, Thrash used the 2019 season as “a learning experience.”
“It brought me to earth a little bit,” Thrash said. “When I committed, I thought I was going to go up there and play, and I wanted to, but being red-shirted it showed me that there’s more to it (in college). You have to study the plays a lot more. You have to read the defenses, and film study, you have to take that a lot more seriously. I just look at my red-shirt year as a learning year. It’s a learning process.”
Trash had an exceptional junior season at Troup when he caught 62 passes for 1,410 yards and 18 touchdowns, and he had 34 receptions and 10 touchdowns during a memorable senior season when the team went 12-2 and reached the state semifinals.
Like Trash, Jacob Freeman was a big-play wide receiver at Callaway.
Freeman had more than 30 receptions last season with 12 touchdowns, and he helped Callaway reach the state semifinals for the third time in four years.
While Freeman’s hope is “to play immediately” as a freshman, he knows there is plenty of work to do.
“I’m going in there with confidence, but not cockiness,” said Freeman, who also played quarterback at Callaway and was the starter for most of the 2018 season. “I’m going in there knowing I have a chance to do something special, a chance to make a difference in the program. But I know you have to work your way up the ladder.”
Freeman is looking forward to having some familiar faces at Georgia State as he makes the transition from high school to college.
“I’ll be up there with more teammates, people from surrounding areas, and people I’ve been working out with,” Freeman said. “They’re teaching me a lot, so when I get there I’ll be prepared. Anything that can help me, I’m ready.”
Another new member of the Georgia State offense is Luke Purnell, who was a tight end at Troup.
Purnell had 14 catches with two touchdowns as a senior, and he was also a key blocker in the running game.
When Purnell was looking at different colleges, he wanted to find a school close to home, and Georgia State fits that bill.
“I had two other options. I had Morehead State, and I had Presbyterian,” Purnell said. “Presbyterian is in South Carolina, and Morehead State is in Kentucky. I didn’t want to be eight hours from home. You look at Georgia State, and that’s somewhere a lot of people want to be.”
Hunter Williamson, who was a standout place kicker and punter for Callaway, will be a red-shirt freshman this season after not playing in 2019.
There is an opening at punter this season, with four-year starter Brandon Wright having signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent.
“I still kick, but I’m hoping that with Brandon going pro, I’m hoping I can earn the starting punter spot this year,” Williamson said. “That’s my chance, and I’m trying to focus on that.
It has been an adjustment for Williamson as he made the transition from high school to college, but it’s one he has enjoyed.
“All 11, or all 10 are trying to get to you,” Williamson said. “That’s kind of nerve-wracking, but that’s the part I love. They’re bigger people. They’re hitting harder. I love it.”
As for having a handful of players from his home community at Georgia State, Williamson said “it definitely helps.”
“Courtney (Williams), he was the first guy I talked to, because he’d been there a year,” Williamson said. “Now I’ve got Thrash, and we’ve gotten closer over the past year.”
Among the Troup County players at Georgia State, Williams is the veteran of the group.
Williams, a defensive back, played in three games as a freshman in 2019 before taking a red-shirt year.
Williams was a key member of the defense last season, and he had 14 tackles and a pass break-up in 10 games.