LOVEJOY, Ga. — Technically it’s not football season, but don’t tell that to the nine Newton players who participated in the annual MVP Camp Atlanta, held Sunday at Lovejoy High School in Clayton County and hosted by two of the most recognizable names in football recruiting.
Three of the “Newton Nine” walked away with camp honors. Rising junior cornerback Nyland Green, who’s already been offered by Rutgers and UCF, came away as the camp’s top defensive back, while senior-to-be Diondre Glover raised eyebrows by taking home the Best Wide Receiver award.
“It felt so good, and it’s really one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time,” Glover said. “It’s important to me because JJ Holloman won it and that’s my role model. It proved that I was the top guy in the state of Georgia, if not the best athlete in the state of Georgia.”
Holloman, a former Newton standout and now Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver, won the MVP Camp’s best receiver award in the offseason between his junior and senior season. Looking back, it may have been one of the accolades that helped Holloman go from an unoffered player to a 4-star prospect before his days at Newton were done.
Glover said he’s looking forward to following that same path.
“I know I opened a lot of eyes today,” he said. “I came in unknown, but left know. That’s what I’m all about. Proving people wrong.”
Skelton corroborated Glover’s self-assessment.
“He completely dominated and caught every ball thrown his way today,” Skelton said. “His routes were excellent. A complete performance.”
But Glover wasn’t so absorbed in his own exploits to where he couldn’t take notice of how his other eight teammates performed.
“A lot of our young guys stepped up today, so that makes me feel comfortable for the upcoming season,” he said.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the afternoon came from a guy who, not only hasn’t played a down of high school football yet, is still walking the halls of the Newton County Theme School as an eighth grader.
Justin Benton, a future Newton High freshman, may be the best pre-high school football player you’ve never heard of. But if he keeps showing out in camps and showcases — and eventually in real game action as a high school freshman — it’ll just be a matter of time before Benton becomes a household name.
“The big surprise was definitely how our eighth grader Justin Benton competed,” said Newton’s Josh Skelton, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. “He placed in the top 10 among defensive lineman. And that’s extremely rare. You rarely see a kid that is that young that can compete on the big stage. Great confidence, size and skill. He’s a big time kid.”
Already Benton, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound defensive end who played his middle school ball at Veterans Memorial, is turning heads and raising eyebrows of people who are nationally known recruiting analysts.
There were more than a handful of plays where Benton dominated, or at least held his own, against varsity high school linemen in one-on-one drills. Benton called the experience more gratifying than intimidating, because it gave him the chance to show that he’s more than ready for the next level.
“I was excited to go out there and prove my worth,” Benton said. “It was a good experience. I was making big plays against big time players. I know when I get to high school, it’s not gonna matter what age I am. It’s just about me playing hard and showing that I can compete.”
Benton will be a part of Newton’s class of 2023. He’ll follow in the footsteps of his father Philip who also played at Newton before going on to a four-year career at Georgia where he lettered as a linebacker for the Bulldogs.
Benton’s got an early jump on his high school career by showing up for the 5:50 a.m. workouts that’s a part of Skelton’s rigorous offseason training regimen. And while Benton acknowledges the toughness of the workouts, he also understands the payoff is being ready to do what few ninth graders at Newton — or in Class AAAAAAA ball in general — area able to do.
“I have to get used to doing those workouts,” he said. “Thursdays are definitely the hardest days because it’s a combination of all the workouts. But I see it making me a better player. I see the standards that people have set before me. I want to meet those standards or even succeed them. (Cracking the Newton starting lineup as a freshman) is a major goal for me, especially being in 7A football.”
Benton said he’s angling to play himself into a situation where he can become one of the country’s most sought after prospects by the time his high school career is done. That’s why camps like Sunday’s MVP Camp, and the busy camp and showcase slate he’s lined up for himself for the offseason before his freshman year are so important.
“When I’m coming out of high school, I want to be a five-star recruit,” Benton said. “To do that, I know that I have to start my journey early.”
For Benton, it isn’t that he believes there’s magic in the recruiting rankings. It’s more of a preparation thing.
“Every guy I’ve seen that’s a five-star, they have everything as a player,” he said. “They come out of high school ready to play college football. My dad has really pressed that in my mind that once I get to college, it’s a man’s game and I don’t have time to play around.”
The same can be said for high school as well. When Benton is finally able to don the Newton blue and white, if he does find a spot on the varsity roster, he’ll be lining up against the likes of powerhouse programs such as Grayson and Archer — both teams reside in Newton’s region.
But it isn’t all about football for Benton. He said high school also excites him because it represents the next steps in his academic pursuits as well.
“Right now I’m mainly focusing on my academics toward the end of this school year, which is why I’m thankful for being at the Newton County Theme School with its rigorous academic environment,” he said. “I really want to be an aero space engineer. I really like aviation. I like NASA. I want to be a part of something that’s bigger than me on and off the football field.”
That mentality and penchant to give his best is something Skelton says will bode well for Benton once his high school career begins.
“Anything is possible for the kid through hard work,” Skelton said. “He has already had really good work ethic, and if he keeps it up, then he will really be able to help us next season.”
Several other of Newton’s nine athletes had some notable performances Sunday, including transfer running back Quincy Cullins, Jr. who comes over from Eastside after rushing for 776 yards and five touchdowns with a cumulative 7.4 yards-per-carry average during his combined freshman and sophomore seasons.
Cullins was a top four running back during Sunday’s MVP camp, and gave Skelton plenty to be excited about as the junior figures to bring immediate impact to the Rams’ offensive backfield.
“Quincy caught the ball very well,” Skelton said. “He was definitely exciting to watch.”
Skelton also had high praise for Green, a 6-foot-3 corner in the 2021 class.
Nyland Green (@GreenNyland) of Newton won the Top DB Award at yesterday’s @TheMVPCamps He was draped all over any WR he lined up in front of. This is just one of his many great clips. pic.twitter.com/FA5nDznfMP— Junior Baker NLR (@SouthernSwagg4) March 11, 2019
“Nyland did great (Sunday),” Skelton said. “He showed why he’s one of the top players in 2021. I was just very pleased with the way all these guys competed out there. You can really see the hard work paying off.”