By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Here’s the AJC.com Class A Blog Divided Top 5 after Week 3. The overall AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily ranking is in parenthesis. Right now with most teams having played two games, the Power Rankings don’t mean a whole lot. We’ll start linking to those after Week 6, when most teams will have completed half of their regular season (five games).
1. Seminole County (8). The Indians are 2-0 after blasting Turner County (0-2) 49-0 last Friday. Seminole County gained 281 yards rushing and was led by senior RB Robert Speight who ran for 135 of those yards on 12 carries. Speight also accounted for three touchdowns. He ran for a 37-yarder, caught a 20-yarder from QB Alex Fudge, and threw a half-back pass for a 27-yard score to Tyler Peters. The Indians host Clinch County (1-2) on Friday in Donaldsonville.
2. Lincoln County (3). The Red Devils (1-1) were shut out in the second half in a 28-14 loss to Washington-Wilkes, ranked No. 6 in AA, in the 76th edition of the Highway 378 War. QB Keith Lockhart figured in both Lincoln County touchdowns with a 2-yard pass to Jamar Norman and a 51-yard run. Mike McIntire finished with 96 yards on 22 carries. The Red Devils will take a week off before traveling across the South Carolina boarder to face Ninety Six on Sept. 19.
3. Marion County (NR). The Eagles (2-0) jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead and then hung on to defeat Class AA Kendrick 20-14. A.J. Wells, one of the state’s top kickers, had field goals of 29 and 42 yards, while QB Dustin Eckert threw touchdown passes of 43 yards to Trae Swanson and 15 yards to Lorenzo Smothers. Marion County will take a week off before Miller County (1-1) pays a visit to Buena Vista on Sept. 20.
4. Wilcox County (9). The Patriots (1-1) came out flat and were dominated 26-7 by Class AAAA Monroe. Quinn Tisdol scored on a 57-yard pass from QB Antwan Benjamin for the Patriots’ lone tally. Wilcox will host defending Class A public school runner up Dooly County (0-2) on Friday in Rochelle.
5. Johnson County (10). The Trojans (2-0) jumped all over Twiggs County 43-0, and have now outscored their first two opponents (Jenkins County) 83-0. JoCo (2-0) will host Portal (0-1-1) on Friday in Wrightsville.
Another half dozen to watch: Charlton County (1-1), Hancock Central (2-0), Miller County (1-1), Telfair County (2-0), Trion (2-0).
1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (1). The Chargers (2-0) shut out Clinch County 30-0 last week down in Homerville. The ELCA defense led the way stoning Clinch County on four downs at the ELCA 1-yard line in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Dalton Etheridge threw two touchdown passes to Davis Carrandi and ran for another. The Chargers will host Class AA Hapeville Charter (0-2) in McDonough on Friday.
2. Aquinas (4). For the second time in as many years, the Irish (2-0) defeated George Walton Academy in overtime, this time 19-16. Ruben Garnett, who finished with 164 yards rushing, scored from 5-yards out on a direct snap for the win, after GWA kicked a field goal on its overtime possession. The Irish will take this week off before traveling across town to visit AA Josey on Sept. 20.
3. Savannah Christian (5). The Raider (0-1-1) defense held previous No. 2 Prince Avenue Christian (2-1) to just 148 total yards in a 17-9 win in Savannah. J.T. Mertz, Nick Korzick, Nick Bateman, P.J. Green, John Jackson and Ahmad Johnson led the effort. The Raiders will take a week off before traveling to Mt. Vernon to face Montgomery County (0-2) on Sept. 20.
4. Prince Avenue Christian (7). The Wolverines (2-1) ran into a defensive buzz saw in Savannah as their leading rusher, Zantravious Shields, was held to 26 yards on 11 carries by Savannah Christian. PAC will take a week off before traveling to Gibson to face Glascock County (1-2).
5. Landmark Christian (2). The War Eagles (3-0) made a statement last Friday with a 37-18 win over Wilkerson County (0-2). QB Stockton McGuire ran for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Sam Ward and kicked a 36-yard field goal. Landmark will play its fourth game in as many weeks on Friday when it welcomes upstart Mt. Paran Christian (2-0) to downtown Fairburn.
Another half dozen to watch: George Walton Academy, Holy Innocents, Mt. Paran, Mt. Pisgah, Pace Academy, Walker.
Coachspeak: Pace Academy’s Chris Slade.
It was bound to happen. Once Pace Academy, which finished 3-7 last season, jumped all over its first two opponents (Whitefield Academy and Athens Academy) in dominating fashion, the “R” word would inevitably soon follow.
The 180-degree turnaround with the Knights’ program must mean new head coach Chris Slade and his staff is recruiting players. Nonsense, according to the nine-year NFL veteran linebacker.
“I hear [recruiting accusations] a little bit here and there, but not a lot,” said Slade, a former All-American at Virginia, who served as Pace’s defensive line coach last season. “But here’s the thing. We have a squad of less than 40 kids, and I didn’t get the [head coaching] job until January. But those kids that have been here bought into what we’re doing – kids like Denzel Franklin, Kameron Uter, Kevin Johnson and Trevor Cefalu, who have been here a long time.
“They wanted to be a part of building this program and they set the tone in the off season,” Slade said. “We had over 90 percent participation in our summer workout program. No one talks about that, the work that these kids put in.”
Slade said Pace returned 17 of its 22 starters from last year. While 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore RB Malik Staples transferred in from Peachtree Ridge, the biggest reason for Pace’s early success has been a transfer of attitude. There is a new dedication to football on behalf of the players and coaches. For example, many of the coaches from last year’s staff are now running the Knights’ middle school program, which worked better for their schedules, Slade said.
What has developed has been a high-powered offense that can strike from anywhere on the field, whether it’s with Staples and Franklin on the ground, or Johnson, Uter and Cefalu through the air. Defensively, the catalyst for the Knights is their quick, strong and aggressive front seven, led by sophomores Anthony Trinth, DeAndre Byrd, and Jack Walsh, as well as senior Baiza Cheirnet.
“Our staff is here, watching film every day, trying to help us get better every day,” Slade said. “That’s something people don’t know and don’t see when they start all of that talk.
“And the other thing they don’t know is that every kid that is here, whether they are a student athlete or not, had to go through the same admissions process as every other student,” Slade said. “They are held to the same rigorous academic standards that every Pace student is held to.”
To that end, the UVA grad, who knows a lot about balancing football with academic rigor, make sure his players have more than enough time for school work, even though their football work load has increased. He has kept that top of mind, while developing his coaching style through taking a little bit from all of the high-caliber coaches he had throughout his playing career. That includes Pete Carroll, Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick in the NFL, George Welch at UVA, and even his prep coach at Tabb High in Yorktown, VA.
“I try to incorporate some things from all of them. It might be how we warm up or how we watch film,” Slade said. “All of them were great coaches. I’ve been very fortunate over my 18 years of playing football to be around some of the best coaches.”
Slade, who also tried his hand at broadcasting after his NFL career ended, hopes to carve out his niche as a stellar coach. So far, so good.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Slade said. “We won our first game last year and ended up going 3-7. We still have a long, long way to go, but the kids have bought into our team concept. They are a very tight group and they realize that no one is bigger than the team.”
Now it’s your turn, Class A Blog heads. What say you? Until Thursday …