Teams moving from highest class should make early impact
Valdosta beat North Cobb 21-17 in the first round of the playoffs last season. The Wildcats have moved down to the second-highest classification, where they are projected to win a region championshp this season. SPECIAL/DANIEL VARNADO
The state’s second-highest classification will have a new name this season (Class AAAAAA instead of Class AAAAA), but it will have a familiar feel to it as 38 of the 58 schools are back from last season.
Those returning schools include football state champion Allatoona, runner-up Glynn Academy, semifinalist Northgate, and quarterfinalists Houston County and Drew.
That leaves room for 20 newcomers in the new Class AAAAAA. Eighteen of them dropped from the highest classification, four of which are projected by the computer Maxwell Ratings to win region championships. The other two – Jonesboro and Mount Zion of Jonesboro – moved up from AAAA.
Here are some of the newcomers that could make an immediate impact:
*Dacula: As recently as 1993, Dacula was a little Class A school that had only recently found its winning ways. In just 15 years, it had grown into the highest classification, where it has averaged seven wins a year over the past eight seasons. The Falcons slumped to 5-5 last season but were 10-2 in 2014. The Maxwell Ratings project Dacula as the No. 3 team in AAAAAA and the champion of Region 8.
*Lee County: The Trojans toiled in obscurity a bit the past two seasons in powerful Region 1 of the highest class, but they still managed a 14-7 record and a playoff appearance (2014). They tied a school record with 10 wins in 2013 before being bumped up. Dean Fabrizio took over the program in 2009 following an 0-10 season and has gone 44-31 since. Maxwell projects Lee County at No. 6 in AAAAAA but third place in Region 1 behind Valdosta and Northside-Warner Robins.
*Lovejoy: The last time the Wildcats played a game in the second-highest classification, they were meeting Tucker for the 2011 state championship. Lovejoy returned to the final again the next year despite being bumped in class. That began a four-year run in which the Wildcats averaged nine victories per season against the state’s biggest schools. Lovejoy is projected by Maxwell as the No. 12 team in AAAAAA but will have to deal with Tucker and Stephenson in Region 4.
*Tucker: The Tigers were 18-7 the past two seasons playing in the highest classification, but they also know how to win at this level. The last time they were in the second-highest class, they had a stretch of 12 10-win seasons in 14 years, won two state titles (2008 and 2011) and reached at least the semifinals four other times. Maxwell projects Tucker as the No. 4 team in AAAAAA and the champion of Region 4.
*Valdosta: The nation’s winningest program moved out of the highest classification for the first time since the 1950s. Former defensive coordinator Alan Rodemaker takes over as head coach for Rance Gillespie, who resigned to join the staff at Georgia Southern. Rodemaker will try to lead the Wildcats to their first state championship since 1998. Maxwell projects Valdosta as the No. 2 team in Class AAAAAA and the champion of Region 1.