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HERALD DYNAMITE DOZEN PROFILE: Still flying high -- Justin Scott-Wesley, Mitchell County WR

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- The bet.

That's what he still calls it. His mind can skip back to that spring day two years ago even quicker than Justin Scott-Wesley can fly down the track.

And nobody in Georgia flies like Scott-Wesley, a receiver who ran the fifth fastest 100 meters in the nation last spring.

"The bet,'' he said Tuesday, rolling the words out nice and slow. "The bet kind of changed my whole life.''

The funny part is Scott-Wesley didn't win a dime. He didn't even make the bet. His friends did.

"I just couldn't back down from it,'' he said. "I didn't bet any money, but I didn't want to back down from the challenge.''

Everyone at Mitchell County knew the fastest kid at the school was track star Kyran Stewart, but Scott-Wesley's close friends knew J.B. (that's what everyone calls Justin) could fly. The football coaches at Mitchell didn't even realize how fast Scott-Wesley, who was in 10th grade, could run.

"When I got first got here three years ago he was just an ordinary athlete,'' Mitchell County coach Dondrial Pinkins said. "He didn't appear to be anything special. All the other kids were bigger than him, and he didn't stand out at all.''

Scott-Wesley knew it, too.

"I wasn't a factor. No one really paid any attention to me,'' he said. "Nobody knew I was fast. I was just average, just average J.B.''

Then came the bet. One spring day, the talk erupted, friends started bragging and the next thing you knew, Scott-Wesley and Stewart were lining up for a 100-meter dash. The bet? It was $20.

Stewart won the race, but only by a blink of an eye, and everyone -- even Stewart -- suddenly realized how fast this Scott-Wesley kid was. The race convinced Scott-Wesley to go out for the track team, but even that had a crazy twist.

"I wasn't even running,'' Scott-Wesley said. "I was only in the long jump.'

But during a big meet in Cairo, Scott-Wesley's cousin, Jaylin Mathis, had to run the 110 hurdles and the 100 meters back-to-back, and said he couldn't pull off the double.

"I told him I would run the 100,'' Scott-Wesley said. "I didn't even tell the coaches, and when I walked onto the track, I could hear them yelling at me: 'What are you doing? What are you doing?' I pretended I didn't hear them. I ran that race and the rest is history.''

Later that spring, Stewart won the Class AA state title in the 100 meters, a blink of an eye in front of Scott-Wesley, who won the 200-meter title. He came back last spring and won titles in both, breaking the state record in the 100 with the fifth best time in the nation, a 10.35.

He also emerged as a football superstar last year and was recruited nationally, first committing to Stanford before giving everyone something to talk about last spring, announcing his decision to go to Georgia instead in dramatic fashion at the state track meet while he stood on the winner's podium. He pulled out a Georgia cap and put on a Georgia hoody to the delight of Bulldog fans across the state.

"The bet changed my life, because if it wasn't for the track program, no one would have paid attention to me in football,'' Scott-Wesley said. "Track opened the door for football.''

That door -- like Scott-Wesley on the run -- is wide open. He is such a dangerous force every team double and triple teams him.

"He made himself into a great football player,'' Pinkins said. "He came so far in so little time. He kept tearing down the weight room, and running track really helped his speed. In 1 1/2 years, he turned into the kind of player everybody wants to be.''

Pinkins uses Scott-Wesley as a receiver and cornerback, and even has plays designed for his star to run the ball. Of course, Scott-Wesley runs back kickoffs and punts, but teams almost never kick the ball near him. His 54-yard punt return for a touchdown came on a short punt that Scott-Wesley scooped off the ground on the run. He was never touched.

He takes nothing for granted.

In fact, Scott-Wesley stays after practice regularly, and convinces other players to put in extra work as well.

"He has such a good work ethic and he pushes us to do better,'' senior defensive end/tight end Reuben Jackson said. "We'll be walking off the field, and he'll be staying after practice, and he talks us into staying, too. He wants to be better, and he helps everyone else get better.''

Mathis, who has known Scott-Wesley all his life, said his cousin just lives and breathes the game.

"He never wants to come out,'' said Mathis, a fellow Mitchell receiver. "Not even at practice. He is such a hard worker. I just think he is going to get better and better, and I think he will get faster.''

Scott-Wesley even holds impromptu practices on Saturdays.

"He'll call me and ask about coming to the field and getting into the field house to get the cleats so they can practice on Saturdays,'' Pinkins said.

It has become a weekly event.

"I get up in the morning and text everyone, and then -- after the college games are over -- we practice about 6 at night every Saturday,'' Scott-Wesley said.

It has paid off. The Eagles are 4-1 and starting to receive votes in the Class A state poll. How does he convince the others to stay late and practice the day after games?

"Psychology,'' Scott-Wesley said. "I ask them, do you want to get better? I call them on Saturdays, because it's Saturday morning in Camilla, and there's nothing to do.''

Maybe, but Camilla and Scott-Wesley make a perfect couple, a match made in heaven. At least it feels that way to a kid who left Detroit when he was 9 years old for a better life, a simpler life and a better chance at tomorrow.

"Moving down here gave me a lot more of an opportunity to stay focused and not letting your life get out of hand in the city life in Detroit,'' said Scott-Wesley, who lived with his mother Jennifer Scott until he moved in with his father's family -- his grandmother and aunt in Camilla.

"It's really crazy up there,'' he added. "When you're young and growing up in a city like that it's easy to fall in with the wrong crowd. I came here and got to be friends with a good group of guys. My mother wanted this for me. We're close. I talk to her every night. She believes this was the right thing for me.''

He actually changed his last name recently.

"I was always Justin Scott, but now that I have to get a license and doing many things that require a legal guardian, I took my father's name (Johnny Wesley) because he is my legal guardian now. My mother is in Detroit.''

He is close to both parents and adores his grandmother, Alice Grissom, whom he lived with until moving in with his Aunt Latonya Ross, who has had a steady, loving hand in Scott-Wesley's life.

"I remember one time I brought home a 70 in Algebra II when I was a sophomore,'' Scott-Wesley said. "I had to beg her to let me stay on the football team, and I had to do a lot of extra chores as punishment for that 70.''

His next grade in Algebra II was an 85, and he hasn't slowed down since. Scott-Wesley has a 3.6 GPA and was attracted to Stanford for the school's academic prowess. But none of his success has affected his personality.

He is so grounded at his church that when he was trying to decide which college to attend, Scott-Wesley said he prayed about the decision, and then asked for help from his Pastor Eddie Jackson.

"It was just so crazy then, such a hectic time,'' Scott-Wesley said. "I was under a lot of pressure. You know, everybody (colleges) telling you what you want to hear.''

He is as grounded today as ever.

"I think him coming here from Detroit really worked out for him,'' Pinkins said. "Camilla is a small town. Everybody knows everybody. He has fit right in, and he doesn't act like a superstar. Some guys get in his position and get a big head, but he is the first guy at practice and the last to leave. he works hard, leads by example and motivates the others.''

It has been a long road -- albeit a fast one -- for Scott Wesley, who remembers just what life was like two years ago.

"I know what it feels like not to be in the spotlight,'' he said. "I know what it's like to be the one nobody believes in. I look at playing football as a privilege. I remember when I was just average J.B.''

Then came the bet.