Javonni Cunningham’s commitment to Cornell on Wednesday gave North Gwinnett an unprecedented three Ivy Leaguers in one class.
It’s more than head coach Bill Stewart has sent off to the academic Everest in his previous 25 years combined.
“It’s an amazing feat,” Stewart said. “They’re Division I football and so you have to be talented as a player but then you have to be that next step of a student-athlete. It’s a whole different level.
“I really think it is a testament to the young men, obviously, their parents and the football program. North Gwinnett is a special place. North Gwinnett gets you ready for the test. The rigor of our school gets you ready for college.”
Cunningham’s teammates Garrison Manor (Harvard) and Will Hamilton (Columbia) made their decisions official during December’s early signing period. Stewart already was touting the accomplishments of this Bulldog class then. Cunningham’s pick of Cornell over a slew of other suitors, including Dartmouth and Navy, made it a trifecta. In the end, it was academic opportunities that swayed Cunningham, who wants to pursue a degree in developmental sociology.
“Football doesn’t last forever and while the dream is to play football and make it to the NFL, in Cornell, I have a great opportunity to play football and get a great education,” he said. “With a Cornell degree, I can do anything I want.”
Cunningham had 34 catches for 610 yards and five touchdowns as a senior.
“Every year we take our personnel, inventory it and say, ‘How do we use this player differently and better?’” North offensive coordinator Steven Jackson said. “Javonni was that guy for us. How can we do something with Javonni? We talk about it every Sunday, what kind of hold-your-breath plays can we come up with?
“Because when he gets the ball, you hold your breath. Because if you blink, you’ll miss it, but also because he’s going to do something special. That’s the kind of player he is and the young man he is.”
Cunningham made visits to a number of colleges throughout high school. He went to Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia and Harvard early in his career. The schools in the late running, though, were Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgia Southern, Navy, Holy Cross and Mercer. He made his final decision two weeks ago after his second visit to Cornell.
“During this recruitment process, he and I spoke often,” Jackson said. “It was always down to, ‘I’ve got my eyes set on this Ivy League opportunity.’
“To be here today shows the work ethic you’ve got, the discipline you have. You’re going to be successful. Your class is special.”
Jackson was impressed with Cunningham from the start. Cunningham was one of the first players to seek out the new coach two years ago and demonstrated a maturity not always found in 16 year olds.
Jackson continues to be impressed even now.
“I just learned last week, he is taking time out of his own morning to mentor a young man in an elementary school who has had a rough go of it,” Jackson said. “And (Cunningham) was chosen by our administration to do that. That’s how he’s though about in the school building here.
“To be that kind of leader in our society is what we want all our kids to be.”
In addition to the North Gwinnett trio, two more Gwinnett players are headed to the prestigious conference. Lanier’s Kevonte Polk joins Hamilton at Columbia and Norcross wide receiver Hayes Sutton signed with Brown.
The county has been fertile recruiting ground for the Ivy League in recent years, but only one other school, Greater Atlanta Christian in 2014, has had three in one class.