JAUDON SPORTS: Love it or hate it, two of Savannah’s top prep athletes have transferred to national programs

L-R: Larry Johnson and Donovan Johnson. (Photos via Twitter)

Two of Savannah’s best high school athletes announced plans last week to transfer to out-of-state schools for the remainder of their prep careers. 

These aren’t just your everyday players, and they weren’t your everyday transfer decision. Calvary Day football’s Donovan Johnson and Beach basketball’s Larry Johnson (no relation) each used their social media accounts to announce the news.

Moving from the Savannah schools to nationally known programs, DJ (IMG Academy, Florida) and LJ (Huntington Prep, West Virginia) each cited opportunity and exposure as primary reasons for moving on.

“Family and friends, they said ‘really, just do what’s best for you,’” said DJ of his pre-sophomore transfer in an interview with WSAV’s Andrew Goldstein (@AndyGold24 on Twitter). “It is a great opportunity for me to show my talents and compete against the best of the best everyday in practice.”

DJ rushed for 1,330 yards and ten touchdowns as a freshman last season, helping to lead Calvary to the Final 4 of the GHSA Class A Private state playoffs. He was a MaxPreps High School Freshman All-American and has college scholarship offers from just about any major college football program you could think of. Programs like Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Auburn, South Carolina and on and on and on …

In a phone call with Connect Savannah on June 18, LJ expressed similar reasons for his move to Huntington Prep, a storied high school program which annually has several games per season broadcasted on national television. He too led his team to the Final 4 of the state playoffs, as head coach Simon Heyward’s team made an improbable run to the semifinals as a four-seed in its own region.

“I felt like I needed to play against some better competition, and (Huntington Prep) does that with their national schedule,” said the 16-year-old rising junior with college scholarship offers already from Oregon, St. John’s, Akron and Detroit Mercy. “I’ve been in contact with the coach there since I was in eighth grade (at Isle of Hope School) and so it wasn’t a rushed decision for me. I spent two years at Beach and we went to the final four last year, so there really wasn’t anything left to prove for me there.”

It’s not a new development, nor is it the first instance of Savannah star athletes transferring. And they won’t be the last. That’s not to say it’s a problem … but it is a pattern.

“I wouldn’t have went anywhere else in Savannah (besides Beach) or anything like that,” LJ said. “It was just a great opportunity for me and it will help with my recruiting ranking, so that’s another thing too.”

Old-schoolers won’t ever agree, but I’ve thought (and written) a lot about the high school athlete transfer trend in this city and in this state, and the bottom line conclusion I’ve reached is this: Trying to regulate the why of a student-athlete transfer in order to allow, or not allow the transfer is a next-to-impossible task for a centric ruling body like the GHSA. Because of that, I think kids should be allowed to change schools if they and their family agree it’s what’s best.

Understanding is one thing, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring when news like Johnson & Johnson breaks. I cover high school sports in Savannah, so when the city loses stars like these, I’m selfishly bummed. We witnessed them lead prominent programs to deep state playoff runs as freshmen and sophomores, so imagining them guiding teams as juniors and seniors was an exciting prospect.

Would winning a state championship provide any kind of incentive for staying at a city school as opposed to national-schedule schools like IMG and Huntington? Beach can win a state championship next season after all. So can Calvary. But there are no state championships for teams playing games all across the country.

The answer for LJ and many other premium high school athletes these days is no, not really.

“Winning a state championship would be cool and all, but for me, I wasn’t ever really thinking about winning a state championship when I was at Beach,” he said. “My plan is really what is best for me, so I wasn’t thinking about winning state. I want to make it to the NBA, so that’s what I’m about. I don’t want it to sound selfish, but that’s just the way that is.”


click to enlarge JAUDON SPORTS: Love it or hate it, two of Savannah’s top prep athletes have transferred to national programs
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Coach Kirk Warner

The Liberty County community lost a key figure last week with the passing of longtime football coach Kirk Warner. Warner, the former University of Georgia tight end, died in Florida on June 16 from a rare form of cancer called angiosarcoma. He is survived by wife Kimberly and sons, Kameron, Karrington and Kelzey. As the head coach of the LCHS Panthers for 20 seasons, Warner led the program to a 106-103 overall record and back-to-back Elite 8 appearances in 2016 and 2017. His teams reached the state playoffs 11 times.

ESPN released its television ratings for the 2022 NBA Finals clinched last week by the Golden State Warriors who knocked off the Boston Celtics in six games. Viewership was up 22-percent overall from last year’s series between the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns. The Game 6 finale averaged 14 million viewers and at peak viewership, 16.9 million people tuned in. All six games of the series were the most-watched programs on television during the month of June. With an average of 12.4 million viewers, it was the most watched NBA Finals in three years.

Follow Travis Jaudon on Twitter/Instagram @JaudonSports. Email him at travisLjaudon@gmail.com. Listen to him host Hot Grits Podcast, Savannah’s No. 1 sports podcast, with new episodes released each Tuesday.