By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
The season launches tonight with Class A schools taking the spotlight.
Savannah Christian will look to pick up 14 Power Ranking points when the Raiders kick off the season at Class AAAAA Jenkins. Last season a young and rebuilding Savannah Christian squad lost a close one to Jenkins, also located in Savannah, 21-20. The Warriors went on to finish 5-5.
Meanwhile, Savannah Christian, the 2011 Class A champs, finished 8-4. But all three loses after the season opener to Jenkins came at the hands of teams that won or played for a state title. The Raiders were defeated by Prince Avenue Christian (28-12), the eventual private school runner up, in Week 2, by eventual public school champ Emanuel County Institute (48-14) in the Region 3 championship game, and by eventual private school champ Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (42-7) in the second round of the state playoffs.
This season, look for head coach Donald Chumley to have Savannah Christian back in the hunt for a state title. Chumley’s signature hard-nosed defensive unit will be led by linebackers Ahmad Johnson, JaVon Green and Nick Bateman, and defensive back Wade Benton. The Raiders’ triple-option offense will be led by quarterback Brandon Thomas.
Defending champs kick off
Both defending state champions begin their seasons this weekend. ELCA will travel to Washington County, ranked No. 5 in Class AAA, while ECI will face Class AA Metter on Saturday in the second annual Erk Russell Classic at Paulson Stadium on the campus of Georgia Southern.
ELCA, No. 1 in Class A, suffered its only loss of the season to the Golden Hawks in the opener last year, 24-19, when the Washington County defense thwarted a Charger drive deep in Washington County territory with less than a minute left. ELCA led the game 19-0 at one point. The Golden Hawks went on to finish 11-2, losing to eventual Class AAA runner-up St. Pius, 40-35, in the quarterfinals.
The Chargers are the odds-on favorites to repeat as champions in December. ELCA lost five Division I players last season, including RB/LB Keyonte Green (Purdue) and DL/TE Isaac Rochelle (Notre Dame). But the Chargers return seven starters on offense and six on defense. ELCA will be led on offense this season by senior quarterback Dalton Etheridge and receiver David Carrandi, and on defense by linebacker Josh Shockley and defensive back Bryson Durden.
Washington County had the distinction of defeating both Class A champions last season, as the Golden Hawks defeated ECI, 48-22, in Week 2, after the Bulldogs trounced Metter (42-7) in the opener.
ECI head coach Chris Kearson said his team didn’t play well against Washington County last season, but rebounded to reel off 12 consecutive victories en route to the public school title. Kearson said this year’s group “has a long way to go,” but he likes their effort.
“We’re still doing some evaluating and moving some people around,” said Kearson, in his third season as head coach after spending several years on the Bulldog staff as an assistant. “The weather has made things hectic, having to move practice inside a lot.”
ECI returns seven starters on offense and eight on defense, including two of the state’s most productive players regardless of classification. RB/DB James Brown is a pre-season all-state selection and linebacker Des Williams has been among the state’s leaders in tackles the past two seasons. Senior Jacoby Boatwright will step in a quarterback for Caleb Pressley, who signed to play baseball at Georgia Southern.
Kearson knows many consider his team to be the favorite to win the public school championship again.
“It’s a good thing for this community to be recognized that way,” he said. “They really support this program and the kids have bought into it. There isn’t much to do in Twin City but go to school and play football. That’s all these kids know from the time they are in first grade.
“[The pre-season ranking] is a great feather to have in this community’s cap, but the only ranking that really matters is the ranking at the end of the season.”
Other Class A games
Here’s a look at a half dozen other games on the Class A slate this weekend:
Glascock County at No. 10 Athens Academy. Athens Academy won last year 41-6, en route to an undefeated regular season. The Spartans graduated 13 seniors from last year’s team.
No. 2 (AA) Brooks County at Clinch County. Clinch will try to rebound from its worst season since 1985. Hosting the No. 2 team in Class AA, led by AJC Super 11 member Malcom Parrish, will give a good indication as to whether or not the Panthers are back to their old form. Brooks won last year’s game 43-3.
Landmark Christian at Calvary Day. This is turning into a nice rivalry. The teams have met three times in the past two seasons, including twice last year. Calvary Day won the regular season opener 28-21, but Landmark won the rematch in the first round of the state playoffs, 10-7.
Mt. Pisgah Christian at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian. Mt. Pisgah threw a major scare into then-No. 1 Athens Academy in the first round of last year’s state playoffs, losing 17-13. The Patriots will try to use the momentum from that moral victory to start this season. Mt. Vernon will try to move forward without one of its best players, as WR/DB Keon Douglas, has decided to focus on basketball and track.
No. 3 Prince Avenue Christian at St. Francis. It’s the debut of legendary head coach Jeff Herron, who takes over at PAC. Herron was 154-18 in 18 seasons at AAAAAA Camden County, with state titles in 2003, 2008 and 2009. PAC advanced to the private school championship game last season, before losing to ELCA (33-0).
Walker at Temple. It’s the beginning of the “P.E.” era at Walker – “post Evan.” All-state RB/DB Evan Kasian, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and led Walker to its best season ever in football (11-1), before leading the soccer team to a state title in the spring, has graduated. The Wolverines will look to prove that the 2012 season was no aberration.
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