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have strug­gled some aca­dem­i­cally in high school or didn’t get the chance to cul­ti­vate their sport of choice an­other op­por­tu­nity to get their names in front of col­lege re­cruiters and to get a jump on col­lege course­work.

Other schools such as the Ge­or­gia Prep Sports Acad­emy, Ac­tion Sports Acad­emy and the At­lanta Sports Acad­emy, op­er­ate in sim­i­lar ways. But NewRock is unique in that it didn’t take as long for it to grab hold to some of the ac­cou­ter­ments — like sta­ble cam­pus space and ath­letic com­pe­ti­tion space — as quickly as the Cov­ing­ton school did.

Nel­son at­tributes it to the lead­er­ship of founder and ath­letic di­rec­tor Anthony Ivory. And Ivory says his suc­cess in help­ing the school cre­ate a trust­wor­thy iden­tity early on is all about con­nec­tions.

“We just met the right peo­ple through the years,” Ivory said. “Peo­ple who want to see some­thing like this hap­pen for the stu­dents in this area.”

If you’re won­der­ing why Ivory has such an affin­ity for New­ton County and the East At­lanta Metro area in gen­eral, it’s be­cause de­spite be­ing a Mor­gan County na­tive, Ivory has spent the bet­ter part of 16 years learn­ing about the ath­letic tal­ent that’s in New­ton and Rockdale coun­ties.

He also says giv­ing kids that ex­tra chance re­flects on what he ben­e­fited from per­son­ally, as a high school ath­lete.

“I was that kid grow­ing grow­ing up that didn’t have many op­tions sports wise,” Ivory said. “So this is some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to do for kids like that in this area. I’ve coached at New­ton High, at Cle­ments Mid­dle and Green County, Mon­roe Area. So whether I’ve been a teacher or law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, my roots have been here since 2001.”

Ivory says he be­lieves the ath­letes on this side of At­lanta get largely over­looked, and he wants NewRock to be an­other out­let to help give de­serv­ing stu­dent-ath­letes that no­to­ri­ety they need to get to the next level.

“The east side of At­lanta, it gets for­got­ten about,” Ivory said. “Once you get past this I-20 cor­ri­dor, we get for­got­ten about. Peo­ple think there’s noth­ing on this side of town. But I’ve watched kids from all three high schools in New­ton and Rockdale, and some­times they’ll end their high school ca­reers and don’t know where to go next.

“So we got this build­ing and started to of­fer kids from South­east Ge­or­gia an op­por­tu­nity to play at the next level and give them an­other foun­da­tion to be suc­cess­ful in the class­room and on the court or on the field. “

Ivory and Nel­son ac­tu­ally knew each other af­ter grad­u­at­ing high school to­gether, So Ivory said Nel­son was among the first peo­ple he con­tacted when he was ready to get his ath­let­ics pro­gram off the ground with bas­ket­ball.

“I knew him,” Ivory said of Nel­son. “I knew what kind of com­peti­tor he was, and I knew he wanted to be a head coach, and I wanted to present him with that op­por­tu­nity, and re­ally more than just a head coach. We have a his­tory to­gether, so I know what kind of guy I was get­ting here.”

Nel­son saw sev­eral state cham­pi­onship pro­grams first hand dur­ing his ten­ure as a Mor­gan County as­sis­tant. He also helped tu­tor big time high school tal­ent like Tookie Brown who’s now star­ring at Ge­or­gia South­ern.

But Nel­son says the se­cret to what he be­lieves will be suc­cess is the fact that his com­pet­i­tive na­ture doesn’t tempt him to sell a kid a false sense of hope.

“Prep school is tech­ni­cally a fifth year of high school,” Nel­son said. “We like to take se­niors here. We like to take guys who need that sec­ond chance. And some kids will come in with a false sense of re­al­ity. A lot of these guys from other schools, train­ers and all that talk a lot of stuff and they grow up be­liev­ing it. But I’m cut and dried. I tell them, it’s not al­ways about go­ing Di­vi­sion I. Just play col­lege bas­ket­ball in a good place that fits you. That’s more than enough.”

Nel­son said he’ll have room to take about 18 stu­dents into his pro­gram in the com­ing year, but he said he’s al­ways try­ing to find the next crop of guys will­ing to put in the work to make them­selves suc­cess­ful for the sec­ond time around.

He points to guys like 6-foot-5 shoot­ing guard Da­mon John­son — a 20 year old from Comp­ton, Calif. who will play at Chat­tanooga State next sea­son. Then there’s Ubon Okon, a 6-foot-10 de­fen­sive spe­cial­ist from Nige­ria who signed to play at Chipola Col­lege in Florida, although he left the prep school boast­ing Al­lAmer­i­can hon­ors and car­ry­ing five Di­vi­sion I of­fers.

“We en­cour­aged Ubon to get some things to­gether aca­dem­i­cally first,” Nel­son said.

It’s that aca­demics-first ap­proach he be­lieves will set NewRock apart from some other prep schools that just fo­cus only, or pri­mar­ily, on sports.

“Our sched­ules are struc­tured days here,” he said. “Up at 6 a.m. for work­outs. Prac­tice at 9 a.m., Eat lunch at noon. Then you go to class and hit the books each day from 1 un­til 4.”

NewRock part­ners with Athens Tech­ni­cal Col­lege and Ge­or­gia Pied­mont Col­lege to pro­vide the means for stu­dents to get a jump on col­lege course­work. Nel­son says if they do it right, they’ll leave with 18 col­lege credit hours and “be al­most con­sid­ered a sopho­more” once they get to their next school.

“I tell our guys that if you take ev­ery­thing we give you, I can’t guar­an­tee you a schol­ar­ship,” he said. “But I can prom­ise you’ll be pre­pared with what­ever op­por­tu­ni­ties come.”

Ivory cor­rob­o­rates that, and says cre­at­ing such on-ramps — par­tic­u­larly for ath­letes from New­ton and Rockdale coun­ties’ six pub­lic high schools — is part of an ever grow­ing vi­sion.

“That’s why we’re launch­ing our foot­ball pro­gram this year,” Ivory said, also not­ing that the first-year pro­gram al­ready has 55 stu­den­tath­letes slated to at­tend.

“We’re not out here try­ing to com­pete with the New­tons and East­sides, Al­covy, Her­itage or any of those schools,” Ivory said. “We just want to pro­vide an­other av­enue for these kids to ful­fill their goals and dreams. We’re like that show that’s on Net­flix right now. LastChance U. This is who we are for this area. If you’re a kid who screwed up in high school, we’re giv­ing you a sec­ond chance to cor­rect your wrongs.”

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