By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Week 3 saw a number of good teams take losses, which caused a huge shake up in the Top 10 rankings. We’ll look at how our Top 5 Public and Private lists were impacted, see how far mighty Clinch County has fallen and have another installment of “My Take.” Here we go:
1. Wilcox County (1-1, Ranked No. 2 overall) Wilcox lost to a pretty good Class AAAA team in Monroe (28-14) last week without one of the state’s best players in quarterback/safety Mikail Grace, who sat out due to concussion-like symptoms after a jarring hit in the final minutes of the previous week’s win over Wilkinson County (No. 4 overall). The Patriots will complete the third leg of what is arguably the state’s toughest three-game stretch to start the season on Friday, when they travel to Dooly County (No. 8 overall).
2. Wilkinson County (1-1, No. 4 overall) Last week the Warriors dominated Landmark Christian (41-10), which had been ranked in the Top 10. Wilkinson will get a week off before hosting Irwin County on Sept. 21.
3. Marion County (2-0, No. 7 overall) The Eagles’ jump into the Top 10 might be a reward for going largely un-noticed over the past three seasons. Since head coach Mike Swaney’s arrival in Buena Vista in 2009, Marion County is 30-7 (counting this season) and is the two-time defending Region 4 champion. But Marion struggled last week to beat a AA Kendrick (0-2) team (21-20 in OT) that has won just seven games in the last 5 years. The Eagles are off this week but should get a minor test – call it a quiz – when they host Greenville (2-0) on Sept. 28. The big test will come Oct. 19 when they visit Dooly County.
4. Dooly County (2-0, No. 8 overall) Vienna will be off the chain Friday night when No. 2 overall Wilcox comes to town to test the Bobcats. Dooly held off AAAA Americus-Sumter (21-12) last week, as the combination of quarterback AJ Smith and receiver Courtney Clark hooked up for touchdowns covering 43 and 54 yards. The Bobcats also have the state’s most dominant defensive tackle in Montravius Adams, who also plays running back.
5. Lincoln County (1-1, No. 9 overall) The Red Devils lost last week to Washington-Wilkes (2-0, No. 9 in AA), 21-6 in one of the state’s best and oldest rivalries, the Highway 378 War. On Friday, Lincoln will host Ninety Six of South Carolina, a Class A school that has a combined record of 32-25 over the last five seasons.
Trending: Charlton County (Indians are ranked No. 10 overall but got penalized for losing to AAAAA Ware County, 31-0, last week. They will battle Wilcox for the Region 2 title.); Commerce (Tigers are 2-0 but neither Jefferson nor East Jackson is very good this season. They will get their first true test on Sept. 28 at George Walton Academy.); Emanuel County Institute (After falling to Washington County, No. 6 in AAA, last week, the Bulldogs may not lose again during the regular season.)
1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (2-1, No. 1 overall) Nothing is ever guaranteed, but the odds are long against anyone knocking off the Chargers the rest of this season, including the divided playoffs. ELCA manhandled a down Clinch County team last week without three of its best players – running back/linebacker Keyonte Green, lineman Isaac Rochelle and defensive back/receiver DJ Curl.
2. Prince Avenue Christian (3-0, No. 3 overall) The Wolverines went from unranked to a lofty spot in the rankings after taking down defending champion Savannah Christian last week, 28-12. Prince Avenue will get its next test on Oct. 5 when it hosts Athens Academy.
3. Aquinas (2-0, No. 5 overall) The Irish have more than just Class A Player of the Year candidate running back/linebacker Brendan Douglas. Ruben Garrett, who returned a kickoff 100 yards in last week’s 28-21 overtime win at George Walton Academy, is one of the most dangerous players in the state.
4. Calvary Day (2-0, No. 6 overall) With Savannah Christian on the down side after losing 14 seniors, the Cavaliers could be on their way to their first region title since they won back to back championships in 1996 and 1997.
5. Athens Academy (2-0, unranked) The Spartans have toyed with their first two opponents, beating Glascock County and Pace Academy by a combined score of 83-13. Athens Academy will have a week off before hosting upstart Our Lady of Mercy (2-0), Sept. 21
Trending: Brookstone (Early indications show that the Cougars are continuing the winning ways established by Blair Harrison, who went 72-29 in nine seasons and won three region titles before moving on to a private school in Knoxville. Brookstone, 2-0 under new coach Brad Dehem, will take a week off before being AA Wesleyan’s homecoming guest on Sept. 21. Deham was an assistant at Wesleyan before coming to Columbus.); George Walton Academy (The Bulldogs will try to get back on track at Holy Innocents, 2-1, on Friday.); First Presbyterian Day (The Vikings’ loss this season was in their opener at George Walton, 41-38. After blanking AAA Pike County last week, 24-0, they get a week off before visiting Pace Academy, Sept. 21).
Clinch is down, not out
The Panthers are clearly not the team they were two years ago, when they went 15-0 to claim the Class A championship in 2010. They beat Mitchell County (36-20), which is 28-26 over the last five seasons, but were drilled by AA Brooks County and ELCA by a combined score of 90-23.
However, both Brooks and ELCA might just be state champions at season’s end. Still, Clinch head coach Jim Dickerson knows he has a tough task ahead of him.
“It’s going to be the most challenging year for us, not only our team but me and my coaches as well. We’re going to have to do the best coaching job we’ve ever done in our lives,” said Dickerson, in his ninth season in Homerville, where he has gone 86-25-1 and played for three state championships, winning two (including a 14-14 tie with Hawkinsville in 2004). “We have to keep our kids believing in themselves and believing in what we’re doing as a team.”
My Take: North Gwinnett’s Sphire has courage, integrity
Excuse me while I step out of the Class A realm for a bit to say that “My Take” is that North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire is not only an outstanding football coach, he’s a man of true integrity as well.
His son, Hayden, is a junior quarterback on the team who plays behind starter Michael Haynes, also a junior. But here’s the rub: Haynes misses almost all of spring practice as well as the voluntary summer workouts because he is also a standout baseball player. During that time, Hayden gets all of the first-team reps. But when Haynes returns to the team, he becomes the starter.
Sphire could easily make Haynes choose, as some coaches would, between football and baseball, and punish him by starting his backup, who also happens to be his own flesh and blood. Who could or would argue with him? North Gwinnett was largely a doormat before Sphire arrived from Kentucky with his spread offense in 2006. In the seven years before Sphire, the Bulldogs were 38-36. In the seven years since, they are 69-11 and have won three straight region titles. They are currently ranked No. 5 in AAAAAA.
So Sphire could pull rank and start his son, who makes all of the spring and summer workouts and is in the same grade as Haynes. Yet, he chooses to let the competition play itself out, and let the best man play.
After Haynes helped lead the Bulldogs to a dramatic, last second 16-14 win over No. 7 Colquitt County in the Corky Kell Classic last month, Sphire said of Haynes: “He’s a heck of an athlete and a competitor. He and Hayden push each other and it makes both of them better.”
We all say that we would do the same as Sphire. But, truly, how many of you would have the character and courage to make the same decision if your son were in the same spot?
Now it’s your turn. Have at me on the Top 5’s, Clinch’s chances of rebounding this season, and Sphire’s integrity.
UPDATE: Michael Haynes is a senior, not a junior this season, and made most of the spring and summer workouts, including 7-on-7 competitions with the Bulldogs. He went to several college camps as well. Here’s to him continuing to have a fantastic season, and then passing the reins to Hayden to continue the legacy of North Gwinnett quarterbacks in 2013.
Email S. Thomas Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org