Best player in school history: Region 7-AAAAAA teams

Quarterback T.J. Yates, then with the Atlanta Falcons, prepares to play the Titans in their NFL exhibition game on Sunday, August 23, 2014, in Atlanta. (CURTIS COMPTON / AJC)

T.J. Yates was first and foremost a basketball player at Pope High in Marietta. A 6-foot-4 forward, he quit football after his sophomore season to focus on the hardwood. He was a Division I recruit in that sport and a four-year starter.

Pope’s basketball teams made the state tournament every season that Yates played, while the football teams never had a winning season, nor ran an offense that suited his skills.

Then in 2005, Pope hired a new football coach, Bob Swank, who had been on college sidelines the previous 13 years, most recently at Toledo. Swank was bringing a passing offense and needed a trigger man.

”I had to talk to T.J.’s family for five times before we convinced him to play football,” said Swank, now head coach at Duluth. ”We did lunch like it was a college recruiting visit. Him and his dad finally committed to playing when his mom was out of town on a church mission. We installed the University of Toledo (offense) straight out of the playbook. T.J. ran the same offense that (former Toledo and NFL quarterback) Bruce Gradkowski ran in 2004.”

It was the best decision of Yates’ life. He passed for 2,305 yards and 17 touchdowns in just 10 games for a 4-6 team that didn’t have much talent, but just enough to showcase Yates as one of the best QB prospects in the country.

Yates then averaged 18 points, six rebounds and six assists on the basketball team, but by then he had signed with North Carolina – for football. Yates remains the Tar Heels’ career record-holder for passing yards with 9,377.

Yates played six seasons in the NFL. He is a free agent this season, still looking to catch on to extend his career.

Here are GHSF Daily’s choices as the best players in the history of current 7-AAAAAA schools.

*Alpharetta: Joshua Dobbs (2012)

*Cambridge: Brian Moore (2014)

*Centennial: David Yankey (2008)

*Chattahoochee: Tim Byerly (2010)

*Dunwoody: Billy Ray (1985)

*Johns Creek: Kirby Southard (2011)

*North Atlanta: Tommy Smith (2007)

*Northview: Evan Jacks (2011)

*Pope: T.J. Yates (2005)

Best player in school history series

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