Imagine being a freshman at a high school in the North Georgia mountains and seeing a helicopter making a landing on your campus. That helicopter contains none other than Kirby Smart and he wants to talk to your coach about you as potentially being a quarterback at the University of Georgia nearly 4 years later. It seems like a made-up story, almost too good to be true, but that is exactly what happened for Gunner Stockton on January 31, 2019.
If the chopper ride into Tiger, Georgia to visit with Jaybo Shaw, Head Coach of the Rabun County Wildcats, to discuss the talent and overall makeup of Gunner Stockton doesn't tell you he is special, then just look at the film and the numbers. A two-time MaxPreps All-American, Stockton has now terrorized opposing defenses in Georgia for two seasons and has garnered attention from nearly every major program in the country with his fantastic play. Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, West Virginia, and a host of other schools are all vying to for the opportunity to sign this young and extremely talented dual-threat quarterback.
Bulldog Maven caught up with his coach Jaybo Shaw and Shaw explained just how special Stockton is both on and off the field.
Coach Shaw's Opening Statement on Gunner Stockton:
"Gunner is just one of those special players that doesn't come around very often. I'm very fortunate that I get to be around him every day and that I get to coach him. As good of a player that he is, he's an even better teammate and a better person. He makes everybody around him better, including me. Just a very rare, rare talent, especially at the age he is. He's got such a bright future ahead of him."
Q: How has Gunner handled the attention and offers from such big-time programs like Georgia and Alabama and others at such a young age?
"He has handled it really well! He's got two great parents, his Dad is my Defensive Coordinator here at Rabun, and his mom is the school counselor here at the high school. He's handled it extremely well, never wants it to be about himself, wants the focus to be on our football team. He's a very, very humble young man and I can't say enough good things about how he's gone about things. As crazy as this process can be, it's never become a distraction for our team. I've very proud of him and the way he's handled all of this."
Gunner Stockton’s Sophomore highlights
Q: At Rabun, you run a high-octane spread attack as we see out of Clemson, LSU, and others in colleges. In terms of behind the scenes, and at the line of scrimmage, how much control does Gunner have in your offense in terms of setting protections and changing plays, things he'll have to handle at the next level?
"As far as our offense goes, Gunner handles all of our protections. Whether it's getting in or out of a play, setting the protection, making adjustments due to certain things (looks by the defense), he handles all of that. There have been multiple times when we've taken multiple plays (for situations) into a game and he had the freedom to check into or out of or get us to, a better play. He has total control and I think that was one of his biggest areas of growth, and ours as an offense, from his Freshman year to Sophomore year. The more you play, the better you get at those things. This offense is totally his, he has total control over the gameplan and we spend a lot of time together. One of the things that makes Gunner the way that he is, is that he doesn't just go out there on Friday nights and wing it and rely solely on his athletic and God-given ability. He works extremely hard to have the success that he has."
Q: Even as talented as Gunner is, with the personality and relentlessness you've described, and both of you having the desire to do more, what is it that he could work on the most going into his Junior year?
"The cool thing about Gunner is that he is the toughest critic on himself. There are things that I know he wants to improve upon. Whether that be situational football, like 3rd Down or red zone or whatever it may be, and that comes with the fact that at quarterback sometimes the only way you can learn things and grow from them is to go through them and experience them. I think he's just going to keep grinding and trying to become the best. We always talk about, well what is the best? He has the power to set that mark and be that standard and we are not chasing one person or trying to be like another person, but we're trying to be the best Gunner and him trying to be the best he can be every day. Obviously he wants to win a state championship, that's one of our goals as a football program, and if you ask him his number one goal, he's going to say win a state championship and that's what makes him such a special player."
Q: There are many interesting relationships involved in the recruitment of Gunner. His go-to receiver for his first two seasons at Rabun, Braxton Hicks, will be attended Georgia as a preferred walk-on in 2020, your brother Connor Shaw has just been hired on staff at South Carolina, and long-time friend of the Stockton family Mike Bobo is now the OC at South Carolina. How do you advise Gunner in terms of removing personal ties and just doing what is best for him?
"I tell Gunner, I'll never tell him where to go and what he should do but when he wants advice I'll give him that. There are just so many different relationships like you just talked about that when it comes down to it, Gunner is going to have to pick the place that he sees himself at for four years. He gets it. He's been around football for so long with his Dad, he understands coaches go, coaches stay. That business of coaching, especially at that level... the biggest thing for Gunner is just to pick a place that he can see himself at for four years. Relationships are important and he'll tell you that and he's built strong ones with several programs so far. It's going to be interesting to see how things play out over the next couple of years."
Q: Are there certain schools that have done better jobs than others in terms of trying to build those relationships and that Gunner feels particularly strong about?
"Well, I know he's going to whittle it down to 5 schools here soon. He can discuss his feelings and preferences on his time, but I know the 5 schools that he's going to narrow things down to are ones he has built very, very strong relationships with, with guys on those staffs and I think he's handling this in such a mature way, with only being a Sophomore. I'm just so proud of him in the way he's putting away a lot of the fluff that comes with recruiting. There are so many things said and promised and done. I think he's done a really good job of sorting through that and I'm excited for him to get to those 5 and get to focus on things this spring with visits and camps at all of those schools and continue to build relationships with those coaches."
Coach Shaw continually stated what type of leader that Stockton is and that with players like Braxton Hicks and other upperclassmen from the elite 2022 prospect's first two seasons now gone, Gunner's leadership role with only continues to grow and develop.
Georgia has made it clear the type of priority that Stockton is to its class in 2022 and plans going forward. It'll be interesting to see how the recruitment finishes out and if the Bulldogs can keep such a talented player and by all accounts a great young man in-state. Kirby Smart and one of his best friends Mike Bobo will be battling hard to the initial commitment of Stockton. As mentioned before, the Bobo and the Stockton family have a long-time friendship.
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