Hidden in Plain Sight

Despite throwing a state-record 56 TD passes with only two interceptions for his state championship team, small town Georgia QB K'Hari Lane waits for a major college scholarship offer that may never come

By Adam Kramer

Photography by Ryan Gibson

January 31, 2017

Welcome to Montezuma, Georgia, a rural community of hard-working, football-loving folks and home to one of the nation's most productive high school quarterbacks—coming off one of the greatest seasons this state has ever seen.

The downtown is a mix of abandoned buildings and small businesses. Farther out, farmland takes over. Large trucks carrying enormous piles of lumber speed by.

Somewhere in the middle sits Macon County High School, where quarterback K'Hari Lane leads the football team. His teammates call him the Red Rifle, in reference to the dominant color of the team's red and black football uniforms and his powerful right arm. He's six feet tall, give or take an inch, depending on who is doing the measuring, and weighs 230 pounds.

He does not look like a typical quarterback, and that's part of his problem.

His shoulders and biceps bulge from his black T-shirt on this 70-degree January day as he throws to his wide receivers. His legs are capable of squatting 500 pounds and seem to belong to a lineman, not a skill-position player.

As a senior this fall, Lane threw for 56 touchdowns, completing 62.4 percent of his passes for 3,740 yards. Even more incredibly, of his 319 pass attempts, only two were intercepted, none during the regular season. Not one. And his teammates and coaches are quick to note that both postseason interceptions were not his fault.

No player in the storied history of Georgia high school football has thrown for more touchdowns in a season. Not Deshaun Watson of Clemson, who topped out at 50 in 2012 at Gainesville High School. Not Hutson Mason of Lassiter High in Marietta, who set the mark with 54 in 2009 before playing at the University of Georgia.

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K'Hari inside his workshop, a few miles from Macon County High School.

All this production culminated in Macon County's first state championship since 1996.

"When we were watching film, there were some times when you almost say, 'That's not fair,'" Manchester High School head coach Evan Hochstetler says of Lane's ability to thread the needle on 50-yard passes from one side of the field to the other. "He's college-ready right now."

If only major college recruiters would agree. For despite his remarkable numbers on the football field and a 3.4 GPA in the classroom, Lane, who works part time for the town's handyman, has only seven scholarship offers, all from FCS or junior college programs.

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K'Hari at a dairy farm in town.

Macon County coach Dexter Copeland’s cellphones do not stop buzzing.

A gray flip phone from a different era and a sleek black iPhone sit side by side on his cluttered desk. The flip phone used to be purely for work—his way of communicating with college assistants when they called about a player. But these days, his personal iPhone does the majority of the heavy lifting.

"I'm not sure how they got this one," he says, referring to the iPhone. The screen glows brightly and rings once again. It is Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker checking in. But he's not checking in on Lane.

Georgia is not the only major program to reach out this morning, less than two weeks before national signing day. Two assistants from major programs drop by, while another calls to reschedule.

None of this is particularly unusual given the calendar. Not the timing or the deluge of interest. What is unusual, and what Copeland can't answer, is why so few want to talk about his quarterback with the astonishing numbers.

"I told him that if he made it to the state title game, they would come," Copeland says. "They're aware of him, and they'll ask on occasion. But they haven't done anything else to date."

"When we were watching film, there were some times when you almost say, 'That's not fair.'"


They do show constant interest in Lane's teammates: Christian "Buddy" Meadows, a guard Scout.com rated a 4-star prospect and a Florida State verbal commitment, and Trey Brown, a rangy 6'4" wide receiver who had 24 touchdown receptions.

In between inquiries for these juniors, Copeland fields texts for Lane. But they do not come from programs of the same caliber.

"From California all the way down to Mississippi," Copeland says of Lane's interest. "The FCS schools have taken a look at him. Junior college coaches are telling him that he can come there for a year, and they'll get him the offer that he wants. And that's basically it."

According to Lane, he has offers from Grambling State, Southern, Hampton, Savannah State, Morehouse and a mounting list of JUCO programs.

Montezuma's off-the-beaten-path location is not the reason for the lack of interest from major college recruiters. Jake Fromm, the No. 3 quarterback prospect in the country, according to Scout.com, played his senior season 35 miles up the road at Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia, before enrolling early at the University of Georgia. He had no issues attracting national interest.

So why is Lane not on the radar of Power Five conference schools?

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Macon County's football stadium

One reason is the perceived lack of competition he faced. There are only 394 students in Macon County High School, which puts the football team in the state's smallest classification.

Another is his unusual build for the position. Earlier in the recruiting process, an SEC school asked Lane, who rushed for eight touchdowns this season, if he would be interested in a position switch. They saw his size and potential to add mass and asked if he would have any interest switching to fullback and gaining 40 pounds.

"He's a quarterback," Copeland says. "That's all he has ever played. That's what he wants to play."

At a workout in January at his high school, Lane's throwing motion is compact and fluid. With a simple flick of the wrist, he is capable of sailing the ball 65 yards. His passes are delivered with rhythm and accuracy to his wideouts, who struggle at times to keep up with the pace.

No, Lane is not the prototype. That much is certain as he throws one final deep ball that drops perfectly into the outstretched arms of his sprinting target.

"When you talk about Division I schools, they are looking for the prototype quarterback," says James Latimore, a Macon County assistant coach who works with Lane. "That kid who is 6'3" or 6'4", or if he's 6'1", he can run. Because of our offense, he hasn't had to run."

"Yes, I'm a big ol' quarterback, but watch me throw," Lane says following the workout. "Watch me play ball first. This is all I have known my whole life."

While it's easy to be consumed by the physical prerequisites of the position, this is not what those around Lane discuss first when explaining his impact. They have been far more impressed with his film obsession—how he's always carrying his tablet around—and the way he's managed tense moments.

"Junior college coaches are telling him that he can come there for a year, and they'll get him the offer that he wants. And that's basically it."


Copeland recalls the time he found his star quarterback in what he thought was an empty locker room following a crushing loss to Pace Academy during his junior year. There he sat, hunched in his chair, staring at the floor.

"When he saw me," Copeland says, "he told me that any loss from that point on was on him. He also told me then that we would win a state title before he was done."

There was also the now-famous halftime speech Lane delivered when Macon County trailed Turner County 24-6 at halftime during the second round of the playoffs this fall. It had the right mix of disgust and encouragement and came at precisely the right moment, after his first interception of the season.

"There was nothing to be said when he got done," Copeland says. "I didn't say a word."

Four minutes into the second half, Macon County took a 27-24 lead and never trailed again.

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K'Hari Lane, late arriving, at his team's pep rally.

On the family room mantle in K'Hari's home, in plain sight when you walk through the front door, is a picture of him wearing an astronaut suit with an orange Clemson paw print on the left shoulder. The photo, a keepsake from his visit to the school last spring, is one of many football artifacts in the room.

Look closer, however, and one small but meaningful flaw comes into focus. The name tag on the front of the suit does not read "K'Hari Lane." It reads "Trey Brown," his teammate and visiting partner for the weekend. Mother and son keep the photographic reminder front and center regardless.

To the right of the image is a glass trophy case that can no longer hold all of K'Hari's accolades. Krista Hudson, K'Hari's mother, fetches a five-foot tall trophy from his room and begins to dust it. "Nobody ever knows how big your appetite is for whatever you desire in this world unless you go out there and show them," she says. "He's done that. He's proven himself."

Hudson gave birth to K'Hari while she was still in high school and has raised him as a single parent. In search of a stable job to support her son, Hudson went to work as a corrections officer at Macon State Prison in nearby Oglethorpe. She worked nights until K'Hari was 13. When she would leave for the evening, K'Hari's grandmother would take over. Once he hit his teenage years, however, Hudson switched to the day shift. She felt an obligation to be home at night once her son began the slow climb to adulthood.

Long before those years, Hudson knew her son had a deep love for football. It was the way he threw passes to himself in their backyard—heaving the ball upward as high and far as possible and running underneath to catch it just in time. Occasionally, she joined in.

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Some kids, Hudson says, need a favorite stuffed animal to sleep with at night. K'Hari "needed his football for his comfort."

Backyard moments eventually became more structured. Because her son was bigger than his classmates, he began his football career by playing nose guard. Then his coaches watched him throw.

K'Hari's excess weight was a concern as he adapted to the quarterback position. To help her son, Hudson stopped stocking the house with soda and sweets. "I may make some sweet tea on Sundays," she says. "But that's about it."

As a freshman, Lane was named Macon County's starting quarterback under former head coach Larry Harold. But it was not until Copeland was named head coach heading into his junior year that Lane was given an opportunity to throw the ball more than he ever had before. He took full advantage, throwing for 3,156 yards and 30 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, setting the stage for his historic senior season.

Locally, as his interception-less streak grew, life changed for Lane. The football-obsessed town buzzed louder each week, wondering how long it would last. Watson's and Mason’s names began to surface more as the record became a possibility.

With this local attention came the expectation that interest outside the community would soon follow. But the scholarship offers didn’t pour in. Neither did the phone calls from coaches or the request for official visits.

"We talk every day," Hudson says. "My main focus is that he keeps his grades where they need to be. I've told him that we're just going to keep our faith. I just tell him to continue to stay humble. And that he is. He is a humble kid."

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In the past decade, town handyman Roy Yoder has employed two of Georgia's most prolific football players. First, it was Roquan Smith. In 2015, he was Scout.com's No. 1-rated middle linebacker. He signed with Georgia and this past fall led the Bulldogs in tackles.

A Macon County product, Smith still has a large presence around town. Plastered near the high school's trophy case is a newspaper clipping of a smiling Smith with arms crossed. The headline of the article reads, "Small town, big moment."

Beyond being an exceptional talent, Smith could dig one heck of a well. That's what Yoder will always remember and appreciate about him. "That kid loved to play in the mud," he says.

Smith would do wind sprints after school. Once he was done, he and Yoder would do whatever the day demanded. When it was time to leave Montezuma for Athens, Smith gave Yoder a suggestion: Hire the quarterback.

And so, in the summer or on holiday breaks or even Saturday mornings the day after a game, his body still sore from the night before, Lane arrives to work at 8 o’clock sharp and waits for Yoder's orders.

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K'Hari Lane working at Yoder's workshop.

The work varies, but it is mostly physical labor. At Yoder's shop a few miles from the high school, Lane spends hours cutting PVC pipe for future wells. Lane has cut so many pipes over the past few years that the ground on the shop floor is buried in white dust.

When he's not cutting pipe, Lane will drive a truck to pick up parts. He'll put in electrical outlets and sockets around town. He'll move wayward cows off roads and back to where they need to be. He'll shovel manure if he has to.

He'll do whatever the boss asks, all for $10 an hour so he can buy enough food to feed his dog, pay his cellphone bill and hopefully tuck away a few bucks for college.

"I didn't know what to think of him to begin with," Yoder says with a smile. "But he turned out pretty good."

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The power goes out in the gymnasium at 12:05 p.m., and the star quarterback of the state championship team is nowhere to be found.

The parade that was supposed to guide the football team through the streets of Montezuma on this Saturday morning—a celebration of its dream season—has been consolidated into a pep rally inside the school due to bad weather. The skies outside darken and quickly open up.

With tornadoes in the area, the pep rally moves briskly. Each player is introduced, starting with Lane, although he is not around to hear the mild applause. The stands are not full, but the showing is admirable given what’s going on outside.

"Yes, I'm a big ol' quarterback, but watch me throw."


After taking the SAT with a few of his classmates that morning, he is late to arrive. He has decided to take the exam, after already taking the ACT, to make himself more appealing to colleges. He uses his own money to pay for it.

As the rally nears an end, Lane emerges through the gym's back doors. No standing ovation for the state's all-time touchdown passing leader. No dramatic entrance. By this time, much of the rally has already dissolved as the weather worsens.

Not long after he enters, a small child holding a mini-football engages Lane in a game of catch. As his coaches and teammates leave, Lane and the boy throw the football back and forth until the gym is almost completely empty.

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In the days and months to come, after signing day has passed, those close to the quarterback will continue to spread the word about him any way they can. Not because he's asked them to, but because they choose to.

"There is still some hope," says Copeland, who has a fresh list of 75 emails on his desk from college coaches he needs to contact.

Lineman Christian Meadows, Lane's primary pass protector, is doing his part. Meadows is comfortable with his commitment to Florida State, but he still hears an onslaught of pitches from other major programs. When he can, he uses his contacts to push Lane forward.

"I've sent his film and stats out to coaches," Meadows says. "I'm trying to help him the best way that I can. I think it's coming."

The plan now is to listen to every offer. He is not without options. His football career will continue in some capacity. The level is still to be determined. But he's in no rush to finalize this yet.

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"We had a situation like this five years ago when an undersized quarterback put up big numbers, but no one wanted him, except for Eastern Washington," Scout.com's National Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman says. "Then Vernon Adams became the thorn in the side of a number of Pac-12 teams. Lane could end up that same way, having to go to an FCS school to prove it."

As he waits, Lane will continue to cut PVC and shovel manure. He will focus on his grades; his mother will make sure of that. He will go on recruiting visits. He will continue to hone his craft, throwing to his wide receivers a few times each week.

His body will not suddenly evolve into what college coaches seek. This is who he is; this is all that he has accomplished. Those interested in seeing it up close know where he is and how to find him.

"I can only control what I can control," Lane says. "I come from a small town where there is nothing but football, and I love it. I am going to come in and work. I love to compete. I enjoy school. And I am a winner."

Although the rally was anticlimactic, the day is not a total loss. His coach's cellphone continues to buzz throughout the morning as thunder rattles the building. One particular inquiry piques his interest.

It's a prominent Big Ten school requesting film of his star quarterback.

Maybe this is the one.

Adam Kramer is the national lead college football writer and CFB video analyst at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.

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