Preseason preview: Grayson isn’t going away
For the past few seasons in the highest classification, Georgia teams have flirted with national titles.
Colquitt County actually got one (High School Football America) in 2015 with its second straight 15-0 team.
Reigning champion Grayson and runner-up Roswell took top-10 national rankings into the 2016 championship game, and Grayson finished top five in all of them.
Norcross’s back-to-back state champions in 2012 and 2013 also garnered national acclaim (finished No. 3 in MaxPreps in 2012). So did Grayson’s 15-0 team with Robert Nkemdiche in 2011. USA Today and MaxPreps had the Rams at No. 4 in the end.
This season, don’t expect any of that.
There’s plenty of talent, plenty of good teams, but it’s spread around, and things will play out unpredictably.
This season is going to be more like 2010, when Brookwood won the championship after a 6-6 finish the year before. Or like 2009, when Camden County was the defending champion but graduated a ton, started 1-2, was written off. Camden entered the playoffs ranked No. 9 but won it again.
Colquitt County coach Rush Propst summed it up well last month to Daniel Brown of the Moultrie Observer: “I think it’s more wide open. I don’t think there is a Grayson or a Roswell like last year. Or McEachern or Mill Creek. Those four squads were far ahead of everybody last year that you played knowing the best you could be was fifth. This year, I think you can jumble it up. It could be one of eight, 10 teams or more that could emerge.”
Rush should have his own blog.
Here’s a closer look at the teams that made the dartboard-driven preseason top 10, released Sunday:
Grayson – The Rams start No. 1 because (1) they’re the defending champions, which does not mean No. 1 by default, but counts for something, (2) there is no conspicuously loaded team to take their place and (3) they still have the most high-end talent despite massive graduation losses. The starting offense was virtually wiped out by graduation. J’Kori Jones or Gainesville transfer D.J. Irons will replace Chase Brice (Clemson) at quarterback. But Grayson has nine of the top 55 junior recruits in Georgia, according to 247Sports. That’s even more than the wildly talented Grayson class of 2017, only younger. They are LB Owen Pappoe (No. 1 OLB prospect nationally among juniors), OL Wayna Morris (Florida State), OLB Kevin Harris (four-star recruit), Ronald Thompkins (Florida State), WR Kenyon Jackson (LSU), DB Kenyatta Jackson (Florida State), DT Trente Jones (three-star recruit), DT Tru Thompson (Florida State) and DB Jalen Alexander (three-star recruit). By the way, the preseason schedule is brutal – Hoover, John Curtis, McEachern & more. And there’s a new head coach. Christian Hunnicutt, a long-time coordinator at Buford, is in. Jeff Herron is off to T.L. Hanna in South Carolina.
Colquitt County – Colquitt County’s new quarterback, replacing graduated Jay Saunders (2,915 yards passing), will be Steven Krajewski, who moved in from Michigan a year ago. Propst reportedly said this summer that he thought Krajewski could be the third-best QB in the state. It was presumed he meant that Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields would be 1-2. Krajewski has several mid-major offers, including one from Georgia State. Another rising star is Daijun Edwards, who rushed for 887 yards as a freshman last season. Colquitt returns four starters on defense. One is J.J. Peterson, the No. 1 OLB prospect nationally. Colquitt’s schedule also is ridiculously strong with Norcross, Vista Murrietta of California, No. 1 Tucker of AAAAAA, Roswell, Brookwood and Valdosta before hitting the region slate.
Roswell – Matt Kemper comes in for John Ford (now at Buford) as head coach of a program that has reached the state finals in consecutive seasons. Roswell graduated its quarterback, two 1,000-yard rushers and its top four receivers. Also gone are the six leading tacklers. But, good news came from North Carolina, where the Littlejohn brothers – Cordel and Jamal – transferred in. They are cousins of Roswell star TE Tyneil Hopper. At Lincolnton High last season, Cordel threw for 3,655 yards and 50 touchdowns. (Trevor Lawrence threw for 51, for reference.) RB/LB Jamal was a two-way standout as a sophomore.
Lowndes – Lowndes returns three preseason all-state offensive players from a team that scored a school-record 594 points (45.7 per game). They are QB Michael Barrett (2,753 yards passing, 1,170 rushing), RB Travis Tisdale (1,018 rushing) and OL Jalen Goss. Six starters return on a defense that allowed a school-record 336 points (25.8 per game). This could be the best Lowndes team since 2010, but the question marks on defense are significant.
McEachern – McEachern lost 15 college signees, nine on defense, to a team that went 11-2. QB Bailey Hockman, a three-year starter who finished with top-10 all-time passing totals in Georgia, is off to Florida State. But McEachern’s talent supply never runs out, as the Indians led the state with their number of college players (54) in 2016. The best returning players are 1,000-yard rusher Paris Brown and DE Michael Fairbanks.
Brookwood – The Broncos return 10 of 11 offensive starters on a team that scored nearly 40 points per game. Anelo DiSpigna (2,067 yards passing last year) is the quarterback on a team that has all-state candidates at RB, WR and OL. The defense needs to improve, but this is probably Brookwood’s most promising team since the 2010 state champion.
Mill Creek – The Hawks have only six starters back from a team that has reached the semifinals two straight seasons. The biggest loss might’ve been defensive coordinator Bill Stewart, now head coach at North Gwinnett. Three-year starter John Harris, a Virginia Tech commitment, is the top player.
Parkview – Parkview’s offense should be a strength with eight returning starters plus Peachtree Ridge transfer Fred Payton to replace QB Caleb Mitchell, the most significant loss. Parkview has two preseason all-state players on defense – DB Malik Washington and LB/DB Tommy Rogers.
Norcross – Norcross graduated QB Baron Radcliff (Georgia Tech baseball) and almost every substantial yard-gainer on offense. Norcross has a strong front seven led by DE Dareus Barnhill (18 TFL), DT Nazir Sy (16 TFL, eight sacks, committed to Western Kentucky) and OLB Terrion Dangerfield (10 TL). Norcross has the most accomplished kicking game in the state with Cole Hanna and Jake Carmada sharing duties.
Westlake – Westlake made the semifinals last season, the quarterfinals the year before, but has been ranked only one week out of the 26 excluding the final polls. Maybe there’s a lesson in that. Westlake returns eight first-team all-region, two that are specialists. QB Ravaughn Burch, who rushed for 122 yards in the Lowndes playoff victory, also returns, but the Westlake passing game needs to step up. Westlake’s best player is DB Myles Sims, who is committed Michigan.
That’s the 10.
Came close to ranking Mountain View. Don’t want to waste a blub written just in case. Here you go:
Mountain View – Mountain View returns four starters on each side, but those are some key players including QB Matthew Edwards (2,165 yards passing, 25 TD), WR Malachi Carter (preseason all-state) and OL/DL Jaelin Humphries (Division I recruit) and all-region LB/RB Blake Carroll.
Others to watch –Tift County, North Cobb, Hillgrove, Marietta, Woodstock and more.