Apr 25, 2024 - Sports

Ravenwood teammates on track to achieve NFL dreams

Junior Colson (left) and Graham Barton (right) talk to reporters in a composite.

Junior Colson (left) and Graham Barton (right). Photos: Michael Hickey and Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Two former Ravenwood High stars are expected to win the football lottery in the coming days by hearing their names called during the early rounds of the NFL draft.

Why it matters: NFL experts predict Ravenwood alums Graham Barton and Junior Colson are on track to be selected in the draft, which begins Thursday in Detroit.

  • Getting drafted into the NFL is difficult enough, but to have high school teammates selected rather high is even more uncommon.

What he's saying: "They're really good young men, and have been since I met them," Matt Daniels, who coached the duo at Ravenwood, tells Axios. In addition to talent, Daniels says it takes "intangibles like leadership skills and relationship-building" to advance a football career to the NFL level.

  • "Both of them very early on in very different ways showed that," Daniels says.

Zoom out: To get a sense of how rare it is, NFL draft expert Dane Brugler chronicled scouting reports on more than 1,900 incoming pro prospects for his annual draft guide "The Beast."

  • Among the top prospects most likely to be selected according to Brugler's guide, just one other played high school football in Tennessee: Adonai Mitchell from Cane Ridge High.
  • Four other prospects from Tennessee high schools are categorized as likely free agents, who won't get drafted but will sign contracts with pro teams after the draft concludes.

State of play: Brugler rates Barton, an offensive lineman who played collegiately at Duke, as a likely first-round choice. Colson, who played linebacker for Michigan, is a likely second-round choice, according to Brugler.

Every player good enough to get drafted in the NFL is a super athlete, but Barton is an exceptional athletic freak.

  • Barton came to focus on football after playing lacrosse. His feet became nimble from running on lacrosse fields, and then Barton grew to be a 6-5, 311-pound physical anomaly.
  • "I don't think any of us expected him to look as good and continue to perform physically at over 300 pounds," Daniels says.
  • Daniels says Barton was a natural leader who would hang out in the coaches' offices and talk about practice or the upcoming game. "Almost like an old soul." Barton interned in the office of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) last summer.

Colson was raised in Haiti, and ended up in an orphanage after his father died. He was taken in and eventually adopted by a Brentwood family at the age of 9, arriving in the U.S. not knowing how to speak English.

  • According to Brugler's guide, football helped Colson make friends and find a way to bond with classmates.
  • Colson played for Michigan, which won the national championship last season. At 6-2, 238 pounds, Colson is also regarded as a superior athlete.
  • "He had this naivete in that he didn't know how physically gifted he was, and he was always a happy kid," says Daniels. "So you had this specimen just walking around, always smiling with a very infectious personality."

The bottom line: Asked how Ravenwood was able to produce two top prospects, Daniels, who left coaching to work in health care, says his coaching strategy was to give the teenagers "a nurturing environment where they felt like they could be themselves, have fun at practice, enjoy the game and enjoy being teammates."

What we're watching: Ravenwood may not be done producing NFL players. Three former Raptors, Jake Briningstool of Clemson, Reggie Grimes from Oklahoma and Luke Akers from Northwestern are college players on NFL radars.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Nashville stories


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Nashville.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more