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.”