Only 17 Class AAAAA teams will be in action on the first weekend of the high school football, including just four (No. 2 Tucker, No. 7 Whitewater, No. 8 Kell and No. 9 Thomas County Central) that were ranked in the GHSF Daily/Atlanta Journal-Constitution preseason top 10. Still, there are some teams that will kick off the season that could really benefit from a strong start:
*Bainbridge: Jeff Littleton will make his head coaching debut when the Bearcats host East Gadsden, Fla., looking to avenge last year’s 33-14 loss. Littleton, formerly the defensive coordinator at Cairo and previously an assistant at Worth County, Dooly County and Tift County, replaced Ed Pilcher, who took the head coaching job at Berrien. Bainbridge went 7-3 in the regular season last year before losing to Union Grove in the first round of the playoffs. Of the four losses, only the East Gadsden game was by more than seven points.
*Jenkins: The Warriors pulled off one of the biggest surprises of the first week of the 2012 season when they defeated defending Class A champion Savannah Christian, sparking a 4-1 start. The Warriors faded down the stretch and failed to make the playoffs, but their 5-5 record was just their fourth non-losing season in 27 years. This non-region rematch won’t affect Jenkins’ playoff chances, but a victory on Thursday night could give the Warriors a confidence boost that could keep them in the playoff hunt.
*Kell: Big things are expected from the eighth-ranked Longhorns this year. Kell went 10-2 in 2012, losing only to Class AAAAAA Lassiter and AAAAA champion Gainesville on its way to a 10-2 season that included a 19-8 victory against Chattahoochee in the opener. Kell and Chattahoochee will meet again at the Corky Kell Classic at 9 a.m. Saturday, and a Longhorns victory would help confirm their status as the heavy favorite in Region 7-AAAAA.
*Paulding County: The Patriots reached the semifinals in 2001 and followed that up with consecutive 8-3 seasons in 2002 and 2003. Since then, they are 20-71 and have not won more than four games in a season (although they did reach the playoffs in 2007 despite a 3-7 regular-season record). Last year, the tone for a 1-9 season was set in the opener, when Paulding lost 23-20 to a New Manchester team playing its first full varsity season. A playoff berth probably isn’t in the cards, but a victory against New Manchester on Friday would give Paulding County a chance to at least improve on that 1-9 mark.
*Whitewater: The seventh-ranked Wildcats have one of the more challenging tasks of the opening weekend, traveling to Douglas to face Coffee of powerful Region 1-AAAAAA. Last year, Whitewater was crushed 41-3 at home by the Trojans, but it didn’t lose another game until it fell to Gainesville in the state semifinals. No telling what the Wildcats might accomplish if they make a better showing on Friday.