Every McEachern High football player is required to wear a specially numbered jersey to practice each day, and if a player loses that number, a post-practice session of running hills is mandated.
Kyle Hockman, the head coach at the Powder Springs, Ga., school, enacted the punishment to instill discipline in his squad. But senior wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo, a Maryland commitment, was an unlikely violator of that rule one day last fall.
“A sophomore [forgot his number] … and Amba gave the kid the right number,” said Ken Hockman, Kyle’s father and McEachern’s wide receivers coach. “Amba got in trouble and did hills after practice. [He said], ‘I don’t mind running hills after practice.’ It showed what a leader the kid is.”
Leadership like that, plus undeniable athleticism and speed, made Etta-Tawo an early priority in this recruiting cycle for the Terps. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior proved himself worthy of Maryland’s pursuit throughout the fall, Ken Hockman said. Despite facing constant double-teams, Etta-Tawo still managed to catch 58 passes for 907 yards and six touchdowns.
“I think he was our team offensive MVP,” Hockman said. “It was kind of between him and the quarterback, who is signed at Georgia State. … [Etta-Tawo is] the guy you had to game-plan for on the high school level.”
When Etta-Tawo wasn’t serving as McEachern’s go-to deep threat, he was an effective decoy that freed up the No. 2 receiver enough to showcase himself and earn offers from Middle Tennessee State and Ohio University. Etta-Tawo remained the Indians’ most reliable pass catcher with “maybe three drops” all season long.
“He was the guy that kind of made us click,” Hockman said. “Amba definitely was the long deep threat. [We’d say], ‘Go get the ball when it’s in the air.’ He’s a good route runner, too. A strong kid, really amazing with the long body he has. He’s a good worker and I really think he improved his leadership a bit this year.”
Hockman said Etta-Tawo played an integral role for an Indians offense that outscored opponents 451-147. McEachern finished the year 10-2, with its season ending in a 20-17 loss to Lassiter in the Georgia Class AAAAA playoffs. The Indians ended up with the No. 8 ranking in the state.
Etta-Tawo received some good-natured jabs about the Terps’ ostentatious uniforms this year, but Hockman – a defender of Maryland’s outfits – said the wide receiver took everything in stride. The future Terp -- whose older brothers played football at Clemson and West Georgia, respectively -- is “really excited” about starting his college career. Hockman, meanwhile, is looking forward to seeing his star player make his trademark “circus catches” in College Park.
“High school referees would say, ‘Wow, I’ve never seen a kid make these catches,’” Hockman said. “And [Etta-Tawo] told me, ‘I’m going to play next year.’”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun