In football, Ray Drew
is known as the consensus No. 1 recruit in Georgia.
He's a 6-foot-5, 255-pound defensive end from Thomas County Central
, a south Georgia school that graduated a Heisman Trophy winner, Charlie Ward, some 20 years before.
But football is not Drew’s first calling.
At 17, he is a licensed minister who typically has a couple of speaking engagements a month, often at his home church, Paradise Missionary Baptist in Thomasville, Ga.
"If it was left to me, I wouldn't do it," Drew said of his ministry. "But I got a call from God one time late at night. It was about 2 or 3 in the morning, and I couldn't fall asleep for anything in the world."
Drew says his mother called Drew's godfather, who is a minister, to get some counsel. Drew was 12.
"He told me it's time, and I've run with it ever since," Drew said. "I spoke this past Sunday. I've got at least two events coming up in September, just whoever needs me. I've done youth days and helped with a revival. I have to have my own calendar. My mom is my secretary."
Aug. 20 will be the fifth anniversary of Drew's first sermon to a congregation. Though he played middle school ball at the time, Drew had no inkling that he'd be a football star. "I was just big and clumsy then," he said.
Now, Drew is about to be a third-year starter at a school that won five state titles in the 1990s. As a junior, Drew made 72 tackles for a team that made the Class AAAA quarterfinals. His coach, Bill Shaver, notes that opponents ran away from Drew, limiting his tackles.
Shaver says what happened in January after the season was more telling of his abilities.
Over two days, Drew got visits from Mark Richt of Georgia, Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech, Jimbo Fisher of Florida State, Dabo Sweeney of Clemson and Nick Saban of Alabama. Coaches from Southern Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame came twice during spring practice.
Thomas Central hasn’t had a recruit like this since Joe Burns, a running back who went to Georgia Tech and the NFL.
"They see the potential," Shaver said. "Our offensive linemen are small. We run a split veer, and most of them are 225 pounds. When he goes one-on-one, physically he doesn't get challenged in physical stature like he will. He'll have to make that adjustment. He's 255 pounds, and he still looks skinny. You can picture him 290 and still having that kind of speed off the edge."
Drew is modest about it.
"I wouldn't say I was good until my sophomore year," Drew said. "It still hasn't hit me. People say "You're ranked this and that' but I still don't see it. I see myself as a regular football player."
Drew is good candidate to make his college decision on signing day in February. He refuses to rule out any school that has made an offer to him, and there are dozens.
"I don't like to sell myself short," Drew said. "I always say I'll be a late commitment because I want to make sure it's the 100 percent, definite, right decision and I don't have any doubts. And I want to get the full experience because it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Drew also doesn't want to sell his teammates short. He fears that if he commits, coaches will stop coming to practices.
“Whenever they come by, they're not just looking at me," Drew said. "It's helping out my teammates. It's giving them a window as well."
His coach calls him unselfish.
"As far as a young man goes, his character is above reproach," Shaver said. "That's the big thing a lot of coaches are looking for now. You're not going to have to worry about Ray."
Coaches tell Drew he can play in the NFL some day. Or he might be a preacher instead.
"God has to say first," Drew said. "I wouldn't have a problem with it, though."