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Dunwoody Wildcat defensive end Steven Camara was just 13 years old when he started having pain in his side and spent three days sick with a fever.
A trip to the doctor revealed the young football player had a tumor under his left lung and was diagnosed with T-Cell Lymphoma.
Four years later and after three and a half years of chemotherapy treatments Camara did the improbable by signing a college football scholarship with Division III Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Centre is a member of the Southern Athletic Association.
"Signing day is a life changing moment for most families as their children get scholarships to continue their educations," said Dunwoody head football coach Jim Showfety. "For Steven that life changing moment was four years ago and today is another great step forward."
The road to recovery was not easy as Camara spent about two months in a hospital bed following surgery and the beginning of what would be three and a half years of chemo treatments.
"When I left the hospital I was told no physical activity for six to eight months," said Camara. "I could barely walk, climb a flight of stairs and could not even do one full pushup. But once that time was up I began to run and work on strength training."
Camara's mom was working as a nanny to support her three sons with their family mostly in France when the diagnosis came down.
"It was out of the blue and completely changed our lives," said Sophie Campbell. "If it weren't for some very good friends and the family I worked for I don't know how we would have made it."
Beginning his sophomore year Camara began to work out with the team, but was still not at top strength due to the continuing chemo.
"He was always on the go and there were times he would go for a treatment and want to go back for football practice," said Campbell. "At times I would just have to say, no, you can't do that today."
The summer of Camara's junior year he felt his strength building and in September of 2011 he completed his chemo treatments and was clear of the cancer. He played junior varsity from that point on and also played in one varsity game.
Camara, at 6-2 and 225 pounds, started all 10 games as a senior at defensive end for the Wildcats. He finished as the sixth leading tackler on the team with 30 tackles including a 1/2 sack and one tackle for a loss.
"Steven is a prime example of perseverance, commitment and overcoming adversity," said Showfety. "Look at where he's been and what he's done. His future is very bright because he has room for improvement, room to grow to get bigger and stronger. He can be dangerous on the football field as he moves ahead."
Through all of his treatments and working to get back onto the football field he also maintained a 3.3 grade point average that helped him get the scholarship to Centre.
"I have three children and he is the most focused on what he wants to accomplish," said Campbell. "He knows what he wants and will do what it takes to get it."
As 121 other DeKalb County football seniors had big signing parties with auditoriums full of students, family and bands, Camara had a quiet ceremony in the Dunwoody High cafeteria with a few friends from the team, his mother and brother, O'Bryan Conte, a couple of media representatives and his coach. But his story puts him on the stage of life as an example to all those who are fighting illness or other obstacles to reach out for that pen on National Signing Day.
National Signing Day is the culmination of many years of hard work on the field and in the class room for high school football players across the country.
The 2013 DeKalb County signing class totaled 122 signatures and surpassed the century mark for the fourth consecutive year. The previous three years totals were 119 (2010), 120 (2011) and 132 (2012).
Colleges and prep schools from 24 states were represented in the signing class ranging as far west as California, Oregon and Arizona and as far north as Minnesota, New York and Connecticut.
Georgia led all states with 10 colleges/prep schools and 35 athletes staying in state to continue their academic and athletic careers. Kentucky had four colleges with 12 DeKalb athletes signing on in the Bluegrass State while South Carolina had 10 DeKalb athletes signing with six schools from the Palmetto State.
Forty-four of the DeKalb seniors signed with Division I programs (23 FBS, 24 FCS) and will be playing some of the toughest competition in the Pac 12, Big 12, Big 10, ACC and Big East Conferences.
Martin Luther King Jr. High had 21 Lions to sign on Wednesday to lead the DeKalb County schools including a the trio of Demarquis Polite-Bray (WR), JaCarthy Mack (DE) and Joshua Outlaw (OL) joining the Big 12's Texas Tech University. Teammate Jeremy Tyler (DB) will face off with the trio in the coming seasons as he signed on with West Virginia, the newest member of the Big 12.
Stephenson and Columbia had 19 signees each with Columbia having one senior getting preferred walk-on status at Mississippi State.
Stephenson's class was led by quarterback Justin Holman (Central Florida), defensive back Ali Groves (South Carolina), defensive lineman Khari Alexander (South Illinois) and defensive end Jonathan Wynn (South Carolina).
Columbia was led by offensive lineman Eric Smith (Virginia), offensive lineman Charles Rutledge (Tennessee Tech) and defensive lineman Mackendy Cheridor (Georgia State).
Cedar Grove was next with 12 signees led by quarterbacks Jonathan McCrary (Vanderbilt) and Joshua Heard (Yale) and defensive end Daletavious McGhee (Minnesota).
The Tucker Tigers had 10 sign on the dotted line including quarterback Juwaan Williams (Oregon), offensive lineman Alex Hayes (Syracuse) and defensive Solomon Jackson (Buffalo).
Several signees cast their lot with highly respected academic schools such as Vanderbilt (2), Yale (1), Air Force Academy (1), Purdue (1), Syracuse (1) and Virginia (1) showing the academic excellence coming out of DeKalb County.
Miller Grove (9), Southwest DeKalb (8), Arabia Mountain (7), Chamblee (7), Lithonia (5), Druid Hills (2), McNair (2), and Dunwoody (1) round out the current signing class numbers.
DEKALB COUNTY PLAYERS RECEIVINGFOOTBALL SCHOLARSHIPS IN 2013 [ http://www.dekalb.k12.ga.us/www/documents/athletics/football/scholarship.pdf ]
Vanderbilt University safety and former Stephenson Jaguar Kenny Ladler was recognized for his outstanding play in the Music City Bowl as he was named to the SI(Sports Illustrated).com All-Bowl Team for the 2012-13 college football season.
Ladler recorded a team high 10 tackles and contributed two of the five turnovers caused by the Vanderbilt defense in the 38-24 Music City Bowl victory over North Carolina State in Nashville.
The Commodore's starting safety picked off a North Carolina State pass in the first quarter to get Vanderbilt off to a quick start on defense and then added a fumble recovery in the second quarter. His effort played a key role in the Commodores winning nine games in a season for the first time since 1915 as they finished 9-4 on the season.
Ladler finished the 2012-13 season as the Commodores' leading tackler with 90 total stops, 3.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and two interceptions.
A 2010 Freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection after taking over the starting role at safety, the 6-0, 205, junior has played in all 38 games including the 2011 Liberty Bowl and the 2012 Music City Bowl.
Ladler, a 2010 Stephenson graduate, is joined on the Commodore squad by several other DeKalb County products including freshmen linebackers Darreon Herring (Stephenson 2012) and Jake Sealand (Tucker 2012) and red-shirt junior running back Warren Norman (Chamblee 2009).
The 2012 DeKalb County high school football season came to an end on Friday as the Tucker Tigers and Stephenson Jaguars both fell in Class AAAAA state playoff road games.
The No. 5 ranked Tigers pushed the No. 1 ranked Northside-Warner Robins Eagles to the final seconds before the Eagles pulled out a 23-20 victory in Warner Robins on Friday night.
The Tigers needed one last defensive stand with Northside threatening from the 10. Tucker's Stephen Reynolds looked to have ended the threat on third down when he pulled in an apparent interception which was ruled out of bounds in the end zone. The play set up a fourth and seven at the Tiger seven.
Northside quarterback Glenn Smith came through on the fourth down play as he lofted a pass just over a Tucker defender which was hauled down by Bryan Dyson for the score. Tignor's extra point made it 23-20 with 24 seconds to play.
A screen pass on fourth down with only 1 second to play went from Williams to Dominick Sanders who got inside the Northside 40 before being forced out of bounds as time ran out.
The Tigers led most of the game and rallied to take a 20-16 lead with 1:22 to play as Juwaan Williams scored his third touchdown of the night on an 11-yard run to complete a 13-play, 75 yard drive. The big drive came following Northside's taking its first lead of the night on a seven yard run by Curtis Martin with 7:29 to play.
The Tigers lead 7-0 early on a 16 yard run by Williams with 4:17 to play in the first quarter. Northside made it 7-3 at the half on a 23-yard field goal by John Tignor with 4:04 to play in the first half.
Tucker opened the second half driving 72 yards in three plays as Williams scored on a 23-yard run around the left side to give the Tigers a 13-3 lead less than two minutes into the second half.
Martin cut the lead to 13-10 with a 55-yard run for a score with 9:15 to play and his go-ahead touchdown came following a fumble return by linebacker Tray Payne down to the Tiger 13.
Tucker finished the season 10-3 on the season.
Ware County advanced to the Class AAAAA semifinals with a big defensive effort against the Stephenson Jaguars to win 14-0.
The Jaguars could not get into the end zone while Ware County scored in the first and third quarters to secure the victory.
Stephenson finished the year 9-3 overall.
Northside-Warner Robins (13-0) 23, Tucker (10-3) 20 Ware County (12-1) 14, Stephenson (9-3) 0
The No. 9 ranked Stephenson Jaguars and No. 5 ranked Tucker Tigers moved one step closer to a rematch of Stephenson's 13-6 regular season win with Class AAAAA state high school football playoffs second round victories on Friday night.
The Jaguars knocked off No. 3 ranked East Paulding 35-7 on the road in the Boneyard behind Evan Jones second consecutive 100-yard rushing game of the state playoffs.
Jones who had 114 yards in a round one 31-11 victory over Pope a week ago ran for 172 yards on 22 carries and scored two second half touchdowns as the Jaguars pulled away from a 7-6 halftime lead.
Jones made it 14-6 with 6:47 to play in the third quarter as he broke away for a 55-yard touchdown run and following a Cameron Glenn interception of an East Paulding pass the score went to 21-7 as Justin Holman connected with Dexter Neal for a 33-yard touchdown pass. Wisdom Nzidee hit both point after kicks.
The lead expanded to 28-6 early in the fourth quarter as Jones took it into the end zone from five yards out. DeJuan Beck made the final margin of 35-7 with an 18-yard touchdown run later in the fourth quarter. Nzidee was good on both point after attempts.
While Jones and his offensive teammates were expanding the lead the Jaguar defense was putting the squeeze on the East Paulding offense only allowing 37 second half yards and only 150 for the game. East Paulding's rushing attack is led by a pair of 1,000 yard rushers, but the duo was held to a combined 87 yards in the game.
Holman had given the Jaguars a 7-0 lead in the second quarter on a one-yard run before East Paulding managed a pair of field goals to trim it to the 7-6 halftime margin.
The Jaguars (9-2) move on to face Ware County (11-1) on the road in the quarterfinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m.Tucker 40, North Paulding 21
The No. 5 ranked Tucker Tigers shut down the high scoring North Paulding offense in the second half on the way to a 40-21 Class AAAAA second round playoff victory at Adams Stadium on Friday night.
Juwaan Williams ran for three touchdowns, two in the second half, to go with 140 yards rushing and the Tigers rolled up over 500 yards on the ground in the victory.
The Tigers had gotten out to a 20-6 lead in the first half only to see it cut to 20-13 as North Paulding scored with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. North Paulding then took a brief 21-20 lead early in the second half before Tiger defense clamped down.
Williams scored his two second half touchdowns at the Tigers pulled away for the 19-point victory. Dallas Rivers had a 90-yard touchdown run and Dominick Sanders contributed another from 75 yards out in the win.
The Tigers move on to a rematch with No. 1 Northside-Warner Robins in last year's exciting Class AAAA semifinal game they won 17-16. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. in Warner Robins.
Allatoona rallied for two fourth quarter touchdowns to nip the No. 2 ranked Martin Luther King Jr. Lions 20-19 at Hallford Stadium on Friday.
The Lions (11-1) had fallen behind 6-0 early but rallied to take a 12-6 lead at the half as Roland Rivers passed 20 yard to Demarquis Polite-Bray and 27 yards to Rashard Oglesby for touchdowns to take the lead.
Rivers then hit Donald Clark for 49 yards and another score in the third quarter for the 19-6 lead before No. 10 ranked Allatoona rallied and then intercepted a pass at the Allatoona nine-yard line as the Lions were driving for what looked to be the winning score in the final minute of play.
Friday, Nov. 23
Tucker (10-2) 40, North Paulding (8-4) 21 Allatoona (11-1) 20, M.L. King (11-1) 19 Stephenson (9-2) 35, East Paulding (11-1) 7
Cedar Grove senior quarterback Johnathan McCrary became DeKalb County's all-time career passing yardage leader during Cedar Grove's playoff loss to Buford.
McCrary passed for 267 yards and one touchdown and hit on 25 of his 32 passes to bring his career total to 9,025 yards. He finishes with 2,927 yards on the season with 25 touchdowns.
He surpassed Martin Luther King Jr.'s Jonquel Dawson (2008-2011) who had set the record last year with 8,798 yards.
The Vanderbilt commitment and December graduate also moved into second on the Georgia high school passing list coming up just 38 yards of breaking the record of 9,062 set by Zach Stanford of Metter from 2001 to 2004.
McCrary owns one single season record in the passing categories as he broke his own pass completion percentage record of 68.5 (165-241) of 2011 by hitting at a 75.2 (203-270) clip during his senior season. He is also fifth on the list with his 2010 season of 65.2 (193-296).
He also is listed three times in the top 10 of the single season passing yardage, passing touchdowns and completions for DeKalb.
The passing yardage list has McCrary at third (3,343) fourth (2,927), and sixth (2,643) while he is tied for second in completions with 203, fifth with 193 and seventh with 165. His 27 touchdowns in 2011 gives him the fourth spot on the list which he also comes in fifth (25) and sixth (24).
DeKalb County Schools is renown in the state of Georgia for its football accomplishments. The school system boasts 12 state titles and repeatedly puts out state title contenders and Top 10 ranked football programs from year to year.
Seventeen of the current 19 DeKalb County High Schools have been to the state playoffs at least once. M.L. King Jr., the newest school in the county, made it's first appearance in the state playoffs in 2003 after winning the Region 5-AAA title.
Avondale (1958, 1963, 1976) and Lakeside (1970, 1972, 1991) have both won three state championships to combine for six of the 12 claimed by DeKalb County Schools.
Southwest DeKalb follows right behind with two state titles (1972, 1995) and with its 2011 Class AAAA state title Tucker joins in with two (2008, 2011). Tucker joins Dunwoody (1993) as the only two DeKalb teams to go 15-0 in a season.
Dunwoody (1993) and Redan (1979) each have one title.
photos by Mark Brock