Norcross returns 16 of 22 starters from a team that went 15-0 and beat every opponent by at least 10 points except one – Lovejoy, which went down 21-14 in the Class AAAAAA championship game.
Three Norcross players are rated four-star prospects or better by Rivals. Those are defensive end Loenzo Carter (rated No. 1 at his position nationally), wide receiver Myles Autry and linebacker Kevin Mouhon. Free safety Jordan Noil has an offer from Maryland.
Those credentials have earned Norcross an offer by a marketing company to play in a Sept. 1 game at home against Florida power Booker T. Washington. It’s expected to be televised nationally. (South Gwinnett, Norcross’ originally schedule opponent, will play Lincoln of Tallahassee as part of a double-header at Norcross.)
“A lot of things are happening that don’t usually happen for high school football teams,’’ Norcross coach Keith Maloof said. “I hope we don’t get the big head.’’
Maloof doesn’t think they will as they enter spring practice next month.
The most interesting battles of spring will be finding replacements for underrated quarterback Joseph Wilber, all-classification player of the year Alvin Kamara and a pair of cornerbacks on defense.
Wilber threw the winning touchdown pass in the state final to Kamara in the closing minutes. Wilber passed for 2,448 yards and 29 touchdowns (against only five interceptions) on the season.
The contenders to replace him are rising senior Ridwan Issahuku, who started at Meadowcreek as a sophomore before transferring and sitting out, and rising juniors Griffin Barker and Jacob Gassert, who attempted one pass apiece for the varsity last year. [Edit: Former Milton QB A.J. Bush transferred to Norcross just prior to spring practice and after this article was written.]
Kamara, the tailback, rushed for more than 2,000 yards and signed with Alabama. Among those who will get looks to replace him are Brandon Garner (a starter at strong safety), KaDarius Garrett and Jibri Hicks, all rising seniors. None had significant carries in 2012.
If they don’t work out, Norcross could turn to Autry, who ran for more than 500 yards, but Maloof would rather leave him be. Autry finished with 560 yards rushing, 632 receiving and 505 receiving and scored 20 touchdowns last season.
‘’We’ll use Autry like we always did,’’ Maloof said. “We’ve got three or four [running backs] we can rotate. If they can’t do it, Autry will, but Autry is so good all over the field because he creates mismatches as an inside slot receiver.’’
The rest of the pieces in the offense are in place as Norcross returns all five starting offensive linemen, the tight end and the top two receivers.
On defense, Norcross has three major Division 1 prospects in Carter (18 sacks), Mouhon (152 tackles) and Noil (48 tackles, five interceptions).
Blake Bingham, who kicked off as a sophomore, is expected to take over field goals and punting this fall.
It wouldn’t be surprising if Norcross is ranked No. 1 in one of the preseason national rankings.
‘’They should be,’’ said Colquitt County’s Rush Propst, whose team lost to Norcross in the semifinals.
Propst coached some of Norcross’ players in December in the Georgia Junior Bowl all-star game.
‘’They had five juniors in that game that are just phenomal players,’’ Propst said. “I would think they’d have shot to be No. 1 in the country. They’re definitely No. 1 in our state.’’
Maloof understands that, but he also notes that returning starters doesn’t count for victories. Grayson returned 10 starters on defense from a 15-0 team last season and lost in the second round.
“This group has a calm confidence last year, and this year will be same,’’ Maloof said. “We’re not going to let the hype and stuff get us. We could conceivably be a better football team and not go 15-0. High school football in this area is so competitive. You’re a shaved hair from being 5-5 in the league we play in. We’re approaching it like we’ve not doing anything yet.’’
2012 record: 15-0, won Class AAAAAA championship.
Starters returning: 9 offense, 7 defense.
Key players lost: QB Joseph Wilbur (West Georgia), RB Alvin Kamara (Alabama), DB Shon Akins (Middle Tennessee), LB Tommy Tate, DL Michael Marshall, LB Jahmal Jones
Key players returning: ATH Myles Autry, DE Lorenzo Carter, LB Kevin Mouhon, LB Jaquan Frazier,
Spring practice dates: May 6-17
Aug. 24 vs. Booker T. Washington (Fla.)
Sept. 6 at Parkview
Sept. 13 vs. North Gwinnett
Sept. 20 at Duluth
Sept. 27 vs. Mill Creek
Oct. 4 at Habersham Central
Oct. 11 vs. Collins Hill
Oct. 18 at Mountain View
Oct. 25 vs. Peachtree Ridge
Nov. 8 at Meadowcreek
Outlook: Norcross returns 16 of 22 starters from a team that went 15-0 and won the school’s first-ever state championship in football. Three Norcross players are rated four-star prospects or better by Rivals. Norcross is unquestionably the team to beat in Class AAAAAA.