A popular preseason high-school football question: What’s the toughest region?
In Class AAAA, Region 5 has a very strong case, starting with Sandy Creek, which enters the season ranked No. 1 by the AJC. It’s not hard to see why, with a half-dozen players likely to sign Division I scholarships next February and experience all over the field.
Yes, the Patriots lost RB Mike Hilton, DL Quinteze Williams and WR JaQuay Williams to graduation, but there are plenty of talented players to step in, and the return of QB Cole Garvin (more than 2,300 passing yards in 2011) to pull the trigger to a deep corps of receivers makes the Patriots the early favorite.
There are two big question areas: Depth on the offensive line and how they’ll navigate their most difficult regular-season schedule in years. Perennial power Carrollton (eight 10-win seasons in the past 10 years) joins them, as do Troup, LaGrange and Shaw. All of them were playoff teams a year ago.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve had a team in there that I guess you’d consider a state power,” said Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker, who has compiled a 73-16 record in eight seasons as the Patriots’ head coach. “Carrollton is definitely in that category. LaGrange is a team I think is going to surprise some people. They’ve never been down too long. I look at our schedule and there aren’t any gimmes in there.”
Two other regions figure to have dogfights for playoff spots and seeds:
Region 3: There’s plenty of intrigue in 3-AAAA, where Burke looks to replace what was likely the strongest senior class in school history. The Bears won the AAA title a year ago, and while they may have a bunch of new starters, it’s worth noting that a lot of understudies saw time on Friday nights last year, when Burke’s 14 wins were by an average of 35 points. Not an understudy: Donquell Green, who rushed for 127 yards and scored two touchdowns in the state final. He’s back to lead the offense.
The 3-AAAA team that appears to have the best chance to unseat the Bears is Statesboro, which went undfefeated in the 2011 regular season before falling to Thomas County Central in the first round of the playoffs. Augusta’s Butler looks to take the next step after going 8-3 last year.
Region 2: Mary Persons and Baldwin appear to be the front-runners in the region that saw the departure of Peach County. This region had a huge late-season free-for-all to get into the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 figures to be no different even with Peach out of the mix. Mary Persons, under new head coach Brian Nelson, should enjoy some continuity after the retirement of Rodney Walker; Nelson was Walker’s defensive coordinator.
A look around: The Class AAAA landscape looks remarkably similar to last year’s AAA. Of the 77 schools in AAAA (the most playing football in any of the six classes), 49 were in AAA last year, including state champion Burke.
Double jump: Four schools – Albany, River Ridge, South Atlanta and Therrell – moved from AA last year to AAAA for the two-year cycle that begins this year. The four of them were a combined 19-22 last year. The only one with a winning record was River Ridge, which went 8-2 against a non-region schedule.