Only a junior, Monroe’s Hakeem Porter — nicknamed “Wal-Mart” — has already established himself as one of the best offensive lineman in this part of the state. So far, he’s gotten interest from several D-I programs, including UGA, Georgia Tech, UAB and Middle Tennessee. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- Take a smile as bright as daybreak, attach it to a mountain of a body and toss in enough meanness to scare a linebacker.
Now mix in that kid stuff. You know, that playful, childish, bounce-off-the-wall fun stuff that makes everyone smile when they're around Hakeem Porter.
That's Porter, a Herald Dynamite Dozen offensive tackle at Monroe High who has already established himself as one of the top linemen in Southwest Georgia as a junior -- a big kid with an even bigger future.
"The sky's the limit for him,'' said Monroe coach Charles Truitt, who started playing Porter three years ago. "If he keeps playing consistently up to his size, he will be unstoppable.''
Georgia, Georgia Tech, UAB and Middle Tennessee State have already shown interest in Porter, who has also been getting mail from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi State and others.
He still has a full season this year and next season as a senior, and there's little doubt that Porter will have a chance to play for a Division I program.
"By the time he is finished here at Monroe, I think he will be the best offensive lineman we have ever had at Monroe,'' said offensive line coach Travis Lockhart, who gave Porter his nickname -- "Wal-Mart.''
He could be called Wal-Mart because he's as big as a department store, but Lockhart had something else in mind.
"He is as big as a department store,'' Lockhart said. "But just look at the way he smiles. His smile reminds me of the smiley face at Wal-Mart. I gave him that name because when he smiles he looks like that smiley face. That's why I started calling him that. He's got that smile, you know, the one they show when they 'roll back the prices.' He rolls back linemen and linebackers.''
Does he ever.
Getting to know Monroe's Hakeem Porter
The Dynamite "Half Dozen" Q&A
New this year, a half dozen questions for our Dynamite Dozen players about their likes off the football field:
Q: What's your favorite food?
A: "My grandmother's fried chicken."
Q: What's your favorite movie?
A: "Big Daddy with Adam Sandler. I don't know, I just love that movie. I saw it when I was a little kid, and we had the DVD. I have probably seen it like 100 times.''
Q: Who is your favorite entertainer (movie star, comedian, singer etc)?
A: "(Rapper) T.I."
Q: Who is your favorite NFL player?
A: "Ray Rice. He plays hyped up, and he gets everyone else hyped up. He keeps his team fired up.''
Q: If you were stranded on an island, who would you want to be with you?
A: "(Female rap star) Nicki Manaj"
Q: Who is the person you owe everything to?
A: "Can I say two? I would say my grandmother, Sweetie Porter, and coach Lockhart. My grandmother has always been there for me. I thank coach Loackhart for believing in me and for letting me know I had a better chance in football.''
Porter had 41 pancake blocks last year and opened the season last week against Terrell County with a half dozen pancakes.
"He's amazing,'' said teammate Jawaski Randle, who plays cornerback and running back at Monroe. "He just wipes them out. He drives guys 10 yards, 20 yards down the field and just knocks them off the field. I've seen him take on two people by himself. He just drives them.
"I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. He's the best offensive lineman in Georgia.''
Porter isn't just big. He's the complete lineman.
"He's got great feet,'' Lockhart said. "And he's got a heck of a mean streak. He's a warrior, a fighter. And he's very smart. He makes adjustments on the field. And the kids look up to him."
It's hard to imagine now, but Porter, who stands at 6-foot-4 and weighs 310 pounds, almost didn't make it on to the football field.
"I always saw myself as a basketball player,'' Porter said. "I started playing basketball when I was 10. Kevin Garnett was my favorite player growing up, and I always thought I would be a basketball player.''
Lockhart helped change his mind.
"When he came from middle school he thought he was a basketball player,'' Lockhart said. "He left spring practice. I had to go find him and I told him his future was in football. I told him he could go to college if he played football.''
Porter was raised by his grandmother, Sweetie Porter, who is still the most important person in his life.
"I'll never forget talking to his grandmother,'' said Lockhart with a laugh. "And she said to me, 'I don't know what's wrong with him? I told him that he will make his money as a football player.' "
Now Porter agrees with everyone else.
"I still like basketball,'' he said. "But I love football now. I'm going to play one more year of basketball, but that's it. Next year I will be concentrating on football and school. So this is my last year playing basketball.''
They knew right away at Monroe that Porter was something special.
"In my first game as a freshman against Westover I pancaked all three linebackers in the game,'' Porter said. "Coach Lockhart said he was surprised at the first one, then he said I showed him something with the second one. And then after the third one, he said, 'I think I have found the right one.' "
Porter had a monster game in the playoffs two years ago with six pancake blocks against Jackson from Atlanta, and he admits that's the game that started turning his life around -- and toward football.
"Everybody was telling me to give up basketball and concentrate on football, but I didn't want to do it,'' Porter said. "It was like I was going through a little crisis. I always dreamed of playing in the NBA and being like Shaq.''
He's come a long way.
"But now football is my favorite sport. It's more fun,'' Porter said. "It makes me feel better about myself. There's no feeling better than making a big block. Last week against Terrell County I threw the big block and (running back/receiver) Devine Noel scored our first touchdown. And when I turned and saw him high-stepping into the end zone, it made me feel great, and it motivates me.''
Porter has been motivating everyone else.
"He's a leader,'' said offensive guard Marcus Coe, a junior who has known Porter since they were 10. "He does more talking in the huddle than (quarterback Charles Stafford), and he always gives us a pep talk before the game.''
But Porter doesn't just talk.
"He's so good I believe he could make the pros right now,'' Coe said. "He's got great technique, great footwork and great hands. He makes blocks that just leave me shaking my head. I shake my head all the time.''
Porter had the Monroe coaches shaking their heads this summer when he led the team right into the sand.
Honest. He single-handily got Monroe in shape this summer. It was his idea for the offensive and defensive linemen to run the famed sand dunes at Albany State.
"I was in a car and we drove by Albany State and I saw the players running the sand dunes, and thought that will really help a team's stamina,'' Porter said. "Last year we kind of ran out of stamina and I thought it would help. I went to coach Lockhart and told him we needed to do something to help our stamina, and told him we might start going to the sand dunes. He said: 'Are you serious?' "
He was. The Monroe players ran the dunes almost every morning and sometimes again in the afternoon over the summer.
"He can be a true leader,'' Truitt said. "The kids tend to follow him. He's a gentle giant. About the only time he gets into trouble is when he is being playful in the locker room. He's a big kid -- just a big kid.''
Porter said football has kept him out of trouble.
"If I wasn't playing football I would probably be on the street getting into trouble,'' Porter said. "There's just so many ways you can get into trouble these days. I'm glad I'm playing football.
"I see myself like (NFL lineman and the focus of the movie "Blindside") Michael Orr. He came from nothing and became something. I see myself like him. I think I can make something out of myself.''