Class A: (Updated) New Top 5’s; Clinch is down, not out; My Take on North Gwinnett’s Bob Sphire

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:

PUBLIC:

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.)

PRIVATE

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 s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

22 comments Add your comment

Flyer

September 11th, 2012
1:43 pm

Thomas I agree with almost everything you have said about Coach Sphire except one thing. Hayden Sphire is a Junior. Coach Sphire does not have a problem with any of his players playing multiple sports. Understandably he would love to have the baseball players for spring practice and summer workouts, but he works with the boys and makes it all work out.

Flyer

September 11th, 2012
2:49 pm

Sorry, You have Hayden Sphire as a Junior. However, Michael Haynes is a Senior.

The Dogfather

September 11th, 2012
3:57 pm

Aquinas makes it to the state semifinal the past TWO years beats- wilcox and wilkinson last year- has the class A player of the year- and Garnett (one of the states best -according to AJC). NO.S 1,3,4 lose -Aquinas plays up in classification- wins- and does not move up in the poll! What is the recipe for choosing who goes where? What spineless dogs are getting lobbied to put their choice in place.

north

September 11th, 2012
6:44 pm

Also to add to what flyer said, Michael made all of the spring, and most of the summer work outs(the workouts he missed were due to other football camps he was attending at colleges). Do not get me wrong Bob Sphire is a great coach and a great person, but if you are going to write a story just make sure you have the facts straight

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
7:54 pm

@Flyer: The rosters I saw (one at the Kell Classic and one online) had Michael as a junior. That means I had it wrong at the game too! Sorry about that. And I know Coach Sphire doesn’t have a problem with his players playing other sports. Another good thing about him, I think.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

Augustafballer

September 11th, 2012
8:01 pm

Dogfather, your facts are not correct. Aquinas made it to the quarter-finals last year (losing to Landmark in the final 30 seconds) and did not make the playoffs the year before. Also, they lost a lot of quality players, especially with at the line positions, while Wilkinson returns most of its players. Winning against a poor higher class team doesn’t prove much. Rankings make sense to me.

Swamp Lizard

September 11th, 2012
9:17 pm

STC … Great “take” on the Top 5’s, Clinch County, and Coach Spire! I’ll give you my take on the top 5’s & trending teams later ( still gathering my information ). I like to have some idea of what I’m talking about. I wish Clinch County and Coach Dickerson the best this year. I grew up down that way and it’s a great program rich in tradition … they will be back strong. Great read on Coach Spire. Every father wants to see his son be successful, you have to admire him and his commentment to the team and himself for playing the best QB. Wish North Gwinnett and Hayden the best this year … keep working hard and good things will fall your way.

jad

September 11th, 2012
9:18 pm

Thomas, I disagree with you. The next test for Marion County will be Miller County on Sept 21st. The Pirates, despite their loss to Early County, are a good team.

DawgFan

September 11th, 2012
9:34 pm

Good article, Thomas, on Coach Sphire. He had a very difficult decision to make and was certainly torn. However, Michael Haynes did not miss any spring or summer workouts. He stoodout in the spring and at the 7 on 7 tournaments. Haynes expected to play more as a junior than he did, behind Scott Hosch, but he only got cleanup duty. He stuck it out, waiting his turn, rather than transferring to another school as many others would do. This has hurt his recruiting. No doubt if he had played as a junior that he would be mentioned with the likes of Eddie Printz and Brice Ramsey and would already have committed to a D1. So kudos to that young man as well!

Hayden is a fine young man and he will get his turn. It is hard to become QB for Bob Sphire, who might be the best QB coach in the southeast. But if you get one year as starter for Bob, that’s better than 3 years most anywhere else. We’ll see if Haynes agrees at the end of the season.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
9:37 pm

@Dogfather: Far be it from me to defend the overall rankings, but Aquinas made the quarterfinals last season, 2011, when they went 9-4, not the semis. They went 6-4 in 2010, 5-5 in 2009. They did beat both Wilcox and Wilkinson last year though.

That said, I could see them ranked higher than No. 5. But I don’t know if they’re better than Wilcox and Wilkerson this season, and I don’t think any team in Class A is on the same level as ELCA at this point. But, that’s why they play the games.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
9:46 pm

@north: Don’t get your undies in a bind. The point is that Coach Sphire does not put his personal, parental feelings over principle and plays the best man for the job, Haynes, a heck of an athlete who plays both football and baseball, instead of playing his son, who is a football only guy.

And I hope Haynes gets an opportunity to play whichever sport he chooses on the next level. He was fun to watch. And I hope Coach Sphire’s son gets to start next season and has a heck of a year as well.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
9:56 pm

@Augusta: Thanks for the backup. Aquinas is still a good team, but I don’t know if they’re better than Wilkinson County. It’s good that we’ll get a chance to find out on Oct. 19 down in Irwinton. Wish I could be there! Send me a report if you go, and thanks for reading.

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
9:58 pm

@Swamp: Thanks for the love! Let me know what you think of the Top 5’s when you get a chance, and thanks for reading/posting!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
10:05 pm

@jad: Not sure about that one. Miller needed OT to beat Schley, not a traditionally strong team over the past few seasons. They are 9-20 over the past three seasons. But we’ll see on Sept. 21 when Marion comes to your place.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 11th, 2012
10:09 pm

@DawgFan: Thanks for the clarification and detailed info. I really hope Haynes gets a shot to play either football or baseball on the next level. Like I said, he was fun to watch and CLEARLY outplayed the QB from Colquitt County (who came in with tons more hype) at the Kell Classic.

And I hope Hayden has a great season next year when he gets the reins full time. Best of luck to Coach Sphire and the Dawgs the rest of this season. You guys are almost as fun to watch as Oregon …. almost!

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

Swamp Lizard

September 12th, 2012
9:26 am

The Top 5’s ( Public ) ….
#1 Wilcox Co – Might be the best team on the Public side. Big win over Wilkinson Co. I think they will come out of a tough Region 2 with the championship.
#2 Wilkinson Co – could be the best team in the state …. if they run the table the rest of the way. Tough 43-39 loss to Wilcox Co but have a big win against a good Landmark Christian team ( 41-10 ). Hugh games remaining with Aquinas, FPD, & Lincoln Co.
#3 Marion Co – I’m just not sold on them yet, beat Greenville & Dooly Co and your a soild Top 5 Public team. I do think they could end up 8-2 or even 9-1, but will they be battle tested come playoff time.
#4 Dooly Co – Same as above …. you can prove me wrong this Friday night against Wilcox Co. Win and I’ll show you the LOVE !!
#5 Lincoln Co – I think this team should be higher ( #3 or even #2 ). Losing to a tough Washington-Wilkes team hurt, but playing ( & winning against ) FPD, Aquinas, & Wilkinson Co would validate being a #1 or # 2 on the Public side. This team will be a “player” in the playoffs.
Stock on the Rise – ECI …. I agree with STC they will run the table the rest of the way … until the Region 3 play-in game …. probably matched up against Calvary Day.
Charlton Co – getting beat 31-0 to a tough AAAAA Ware Co team knocked them to # 10 in the polls this week, but this is a very solid team. Coach McWhorter will have them ready come playoff time and may even beat AAAAA Bradwell Institute this Friday. I also think they will give Wilcox Co all they want come Sept. 28th @ home.

Mighty Hornet

September 12th, 2012
10:02 am

Swamp Lizard you and STC should get a room you brown noser. Were to you work to have so much time on your hands? ELCA can’t run with Hapeville, it will be loss #2.

Swamp Lizard

September 12th, 2012
11:41 am

Top 5’s ( Private ) …..
#1 ELCA – this team is well coached, has great talent, and will be hard to beat during the regular season and throughout the playoffs. I think this is the best team in Class A football ( Private or Public ) …… “IF” they don’t lose to the MIGHTY HORNET & Hapeville Charter this Friday night !! ;)
#2 Prince Ave Christian – really good team, #3 ranking in the Top 10 polls might be a little overrated …. big 28-12 win over Sav Christian last week. Big games with Commerce, Athens Academy and a showdown with George Walton at the end of the year. I do think this team will be a “player” in the playoffs.
#3 Aqinas – very good team …. soild playoff team …. but a # 5 overall ranking in the polls will be tested. Games looming with Lincoln Co, Wilkinson Co, and a solid First Presbyterian Day … win those & your better than # 5 in the state.
#4 Calvary Day – This is a team to look out for! Already a big win over Landmark Christian, I think this team will beat Sav Christian ( Oct 12th ) and run the table ( 9-0 ) …. then have a hugh showdown with ECI for the Region 3 championship.
#5 Athens Academy – I do think this is a soild team, but I’m not sold just yet. Still have to play PAC, Commerce, and George Walton. BEWARE of Our Lady of Mercy this Friday night.
Stock on the Rise
George Walton & Holy Innocents … why both? They play each other this Friday night. I think they are playoff teams, but both need a big win right now.
First Presbyterian Day – this is a really good team with a rough schedule. After a tough 41-38 loss to George Walton, they still have Lincoln Co, Wilkinson Co, & Aquinas to go …. need a big upset sometime this year. Could be the best 7-3 or 6-4 team in the Class A playoffs.

chattoogatrion

September 12th, 2012
6:27 pm

What is the deal with Southwest Atlanta Christian? They have forfeited their first two games. Are they going to play this year or not? SACA is scheduled to come to Trion October 19th, one of only 3 scheduled home games for the Bulldogs.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 12th, 2012
9:59 pm

@Mighty: I can really appreciate your enthusiasm for your program over there at Hapeville. Eventually, I think you guys will be a real contender in AA, or even higher if more and more kids continue to enroll. But right now you guys aren’t ready for a program like ELCA.

You beat a North Springs team that is 10-82 over the past 10 years. That’s a nice win for your program, but it in no way gets you ready for ELCA. They have several pretty fast kids, plus you guys haven’t had time to install a really good weight training program, which is essential if you’re going to compete on a high level in Georgia high school football. ELCA’s program is one of the best in Georgia.

Now, your basketball program is another story. If you were able to keep all of those kids that I saw last year who were 9th and 10th graders, you guys should be really good this season and really, really good the season after that.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

S. Thomas Coleman

September 12th, 2012
10:03 pm

@chatt: I called and left a message for SACA’s AD, Dwight Howard Sr., but didn’t hear back yet. I’ll try again tomorrow. But my guess is that they’re avoiding the inevitable by not announcing that they are canceling their season. It’s really unfair to teams like yours.

Thanks for reading!

S. Thomas Coleman
s.thomascoleman@yahoo.com

Zone3canE

September 13th, 2012
12:37 am

Mighty Hornet, sorry to inform you but this game will probaly be over before halftime. RUNNING CLOCK 4 quarter. The BABY BEE’S from the Charter School of Hapeville(real HORNETS COME FROM Zone3 South ATLANTA HIGH!)don’t have the facilities or the athletes to compete with ELCA.