Class A Blog: New Divided Top 5 Lists, Coachspeak with Johnson County’s Don Norton

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

Here’s the AJC.com Class A Blog Divided Top 5 after the sixth week of the season (overall AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily ranking in parenthesis). While some teams are already half way through their regular season schedules, we’ll wait until next week – when everyone will have played at least five games – to link to the GHSA/MaxPreps Power Ranking site.

This week’s “Coachspeak” features Johnson County’s Don Norton, who has the Trojans rolling at 5-0.

PUBLIC

1. Seminole County (4). Seminole County (4-0) was idle last week, and will begin Region 1 play on the road in Dawson on Friday against Terrell County (3-2, 1-0).

2. Johnson County (5). The Trojans (5-0) went to Savannah last week and out-physicalled one of the traditionally most physical teams in the state, No. 6 Savannah Christian (2-1-1), 14-7. JoCo will take a week off before welcoming Montgomery County (1-4) to Wrightsville on Oct. 11 in the sub region opener for the Trojans.

3. Irwin County (8). Irwin County (3-0-1) was off last week and will travel to McRae for its Region 2 opener at Telfair County (3-2, 0-1) on Friday.

4. Marion County (9). The Eagles blasted Greenville (0-4, 0-1) 35-8 last week. Marion County will visit Ellaville to face another winless Region 4 foe, Schley County (0-4, 0-1), on Friday.

5. Lincoln County (10). The Red Devils (2-1, 1-0) thwarted a two-point conversion run in the game’s final minutes to earn a 21-20 win over First Presbyterian Day (1-3, 0-1) last week. Lincoln County, which has a handful of key players nursing injuries, will host winless Warren County (0-4, 0-2) on Friday in Lincolnton.

Another half dozen to watch: Charlton County (3-2, 1-0), Clinch County (2-3, 1-0), Commerce (3-2, 1-0), Gordon Lee (3-1), Hancock Central (3-1, 1-0), Turner County (3-2, 1-0).

PRIVATE

1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (1). ELCA (4-0, 1-0) fought off an early challenge from Holy Innocents (2-3, 0-1) last week to win going away 34-14 in the Region 5 opener for both teams. The Chargers will take their final bye week of the season on Friday, before traveling to Mt. Vernon Presbyterian (1-4, 0-1) Saturday, Oct. 12.

2. Aquinas (3). The Irish (4-0, 1-0) routed Twiggs County (0-5, 0-1) 52-21 in the Region 7 opener for both teams. Aquinas will visit Hancock Central (3-1, 1-0) in Sparta on Friday for a key region contest.

3. Prince Avenue Christian (7). The Wolverines raced to a 43-0 halftime lead en route to a 50-10 demolition of Athens Christian (2-3, 0-1) last week. PAC (4-1, 1-0) will face another Athens-based rival, Athens Academy (3-1, 1-0), on Friday.

4. Landmark Christian School (2). The War Eagles (5-0, 1-0) dominated Mt. Vernon Presbyterian (1-4, 0-1) 56-19 last week, and will host rival Our Lady of Mercy (1-3, 1-0) Friday in Fairburn.

5. Savannah Christian (6)/Mount Paran Christian (NR). Another tie in the fifth and final spot on the list. Savannah Christian (2-1-1) lost a close one at home last week to No. 5 Johnson County (5-0). The Raiders will try to rebound at home against Claxton (2-2) Friday. Mt. Paran (3-1) took last week off and will open Region 6B play at home on Friday when King’s Ridge Christian (2-2, 1-0) comes to Kennesaw.

Another half dozen to watch: Christian Heritage (4-1, 1-0), Darlington (4-1, 1-0), George Walton Academy (3-2, 0-1), Mount Pisgah (4-0), St. Anne-Pacelli (4-0, 1-0), Walker (3-1, 1-0).

Coachspeak: Johnson County’s Don Norton

Quietly, unassumingly in a place as rich in high school football tradition as there is in Georgia, Don Norton is guiding one of the most consistent programs in the state, the Johnson County Trojans.

This season, “JoCo” is 5-0 and ranked No. 5 in the AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily Class A Top 10. The Trojans are taking this week off after outmuscling No. 6 Savannah Christian, 14-7, last week in Savannah. But this success isn’t all that new to Wrightsville, where Herschel Walker (for some reason, the stadium is named after him) led JoCo to its lone state title in 1979. The Trojans’ record under Norton, in his seventh season, is 53-17 with four playoff appearances.

The winning formula is as simple as it gets, and Norton and his team are following it again this season.

“They key is that we’re blocking and tackling pretty well,” Norton said. And when asked in what areas the Trojans need to improve, Norton said, “Our blocking and tackling.

“It sounds really simple, but that’s all football really comes down to,” Norton said, “blocking and tackling.”

Additionally, Norton said the 14 seniors on this year’s team have provided exceptional leadership.

“This group of seniors has really stepped up not only on the field, but more importantly, in the classroom and in the locker room,” said Norton, who declined to single any of them out “because I might forget one of them and all of them have really been great leaders for us.”

The other important factor this season has been Norton’s philosophy of taking one game at a time, which has permeated his team. That way of thinking does not disappear this week, even though the Trojans have a bye week and then two games in which they will be heavily favored – against Montgomery County (1-4) and Treutlen (2-2) – before a showdown at defending Class A public champion Emanuel County Institute (3-2) on Oct. 25.

“Right now we’re concentrating on ‘Open County,’ ” Norton quipped. “That is all that is in front of us now, so that’s all we can control. We’ll focus on next week, next week. “

Now it’s your turn, Class A Blog heads. What say you? Until Thursday …

43 comments Add your comment

bucket

October 1st, 2013
12:52 pm

Athens Academy vs Prince should be a great game Friday night. Prince has always held ACAD up as the standard of where they were trying to get their sports programs to and it has been exciting watching Prince grow into a team that can compete with ACAD on a regular basis. The football series especially has developed into an intense rivalry as evidenced by the teams splitting their 2 meetings last year.

Puzzled Prince

October 1st, 2013
2:22 pm

Looking at the rankings, I am not sure I can understand how Prince Avenue can be rated ahead of Savannah Christian, when SC beat PAC head-to-head (17-9). I understand that officially Prince is 3-1 while Savannah Christian is 2-1-1, but they have already met on the field, with SC coming out ahead.

TC Rebel

October 1st, 2013
3:14 pm

If Turner County wins this week at Charlton I think Turner County’s coach would be a good person to contact for Coach Speak! Keep up the good work!

S. Thomas Coleman

October 1st, 2013
7:01 pm

Bucket:

Rivalry games are always tough to call. But I think PAC is very good. It will be a tall order for Athens Academy to pull the upset, but it’s possible.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 1st, 2013
7:04 pm

Puzzled:

Head to head competition will only matter if PAC and SC end up tied in points. Other than that, point total is all that counts, unless a team wins its region championship. The 8 region champs get automatic bids and are guaranteed a home payoff game in the first round.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 1st, 2013
7:06 pm

TC Reb:

I try to alternate between public and private from week to week, but Turner County would definitely be a candidate the following week.

STC

At last

October 1st, 2013
8:24 pm

Can we talk about coaches for a moment and how they are able to motivate and teach kids to believe in themselves and win. Well what does that look like? Well first you have to be realistic with them and demand that they are prepared because the first step to winning is commitment to preparation. Once they have committed to preparation you have to convince them that they can reach beyond their ability. This is not enough though because coaches not only need to be relational, motivational, and love kids they have to have football minds and dedication to study. Late nights, dedication to film study, and developing game prep to the kids strengths.

I remember growing up as an athlete in college and having a coach that required excellence and nothing less, he was just relentless. We never missed a practice, rain, sleet, snow, and lightning too…needless to say we weren’t very fond of him at the time, but we won multiple conference championships and challenged much larger programs for national championships. Later we realized we needed that coach and loved that coach and I think he loved us more.

Don Shula, Tom Landry, John Madden, Chuck Knolls, Bill Belichek, The Harbaugh brothers, and Nick Saban to name a few and many others in the high school ranks just demand excellence of their players and themselves. They just don’t settle for mediocrity at all and the level intensity they carry bleeds over into their coaching staff and their players and they just win in the trenches by effective leadership.

We have a few teams in single A that take good kids and teach them to be winners. Maybe they are big and maybe they are fast, but can they win? To win when it’s all on the line it takes resilience and discipline and if you hadn’t noticed that is something that is not at a premium for players of this generation. It becomes all about stats and what scouts are in the stands. There are still coaches out there who love kids, have brilliant minds, and love to win. Not many can do this year in and year out. It’s a special thing to bring out the best in kids and that’s what sports should be about. Do teams win championships because their kids are big and strong and fast? Do they win because of great game plans and coaching? What about great character and discipline? Let’s celebrate programs that have 200 to 400 kids in their high schools and they consistently win…somehow that sounds a whole lot tougher than having 2000 to 4000 kids to choose from. Great single A coaches are the unsung heros!!

LoveFridayFootball

October 1st, 2013
8:34 pm

STC: the last blog you had up there was discussion about how big a 8th grade team was and worries of the smaller kids getting hurt by the huge kids. Well… ELCA played host to the Carrolton 8th grade team today. If I tell you they are big it’s an understatement. THEY ARE HUGE!!! But, the bigger team was not the one victorious. Nor were they the ones layin the wood so to speak.
Final score..ELCA 30-20

S. Thomas Coleman

October 1st, 2013
10:33 pm

LoveFridayFootball:

I didn’t start the conversation about “big 8th graders.” That was a parent obviously upset with the size of the Landmark middle school team. Personally I thought the parent was/is a bit off base. Size, even in football, is not always the ultimate factor in winning or losing. Glad to hear your MS team proved that.

STC

LoveFridayFootball

October 1st, 2013
10:55 pm

STC: yeah I know you didn’t partake in that discussion. And I assumed you would feel the way you do. It seemed most of the bloggers feel the same. I just wanted to show smaller teams (in number and size) can compete, not get hurt, and win!

Sam Roney

October 1st, 2013
11:17 pm

No more true than with Aquinas, with only about 280 in the school. One key to success is that they encourage 8th graders to play in a league of similar players, so they know how to play when they get to high school.

Swamp Lizard

October 2nd, 2013
6:34 am

@ Sam Roney …… morning Sam !! ;) We all good, enjoy your passion for football.

dap01

October 2nd, 2013
6:47 am

Don Norton does more with less than any other coach. He is great at adapting his coaching to the talent each year. JoCo has many weapons this year. They have many ways to beat you. Friday’s game at Savannah Christian was a GREAT game.

SEGACoach

October 2nd, 2013
6:57 am

STC, Just throwing this out there. Montgomery County, who you have listed as 0-4, is actually 1-4, beating Jenkins County last week 35-14.

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
8:04 am

STC & AJC.com:

Kudos to you et al for keeping a clear head when ranking top teams.

I certainly don’t see enough to be qualified to speculate about state-wide rankings, but try to stay as informed as possible. Based on your rankings and comments from the Class A committed, I need to retire early, go into debt, buy an RV and hit the road on Friday nights.

Information other than top performances and convoluted points ranking systems is hard to come by. Too bad we’re held hostage to that awful link you’re forced to post next week.

My wife thanks you.

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
8:13 am

Dap01:

Sounds like it was a great game, and Coach Norton has really fortified what was already a great program.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
8:15 am

SEGA:

Thanks for the update. The blog has been corrected.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
8:20 am

Tiger Patpaw:

Thanks for the kind words and for reading and posting!

Yes, I’ll supply the link to the power rankings next week. I’m still trying to get an explanation of how points are awarded for ties.

And thank your wife for allowing you to spend valuable time on a trivial, time-sucking (but hopefully informative and semi-entertaining) football blog!

STC

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
8:33 am

I hope the “8th Grade” debate stays in the former blog, destined for digital oblivion.

After contributing to youth football for 17 years, graduating players to a few good programs (including Louisville St. X and Trinity), I say that no child I coached was ready to play on Friday night.

It was hard enough to prepare the youngsters for the shock of going from a squad so small we had to go with a half-line scrimmage in practice, to sharing a locker room with 100+ their freshman year.

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
9:56 am

Tiger Patpaw:

I agree. There is a huge difference between Rec Ball/Youth Ball/MS Ball and varsity high school football. It takes a special freshman to be able to be successful at the varsity level, especially in a state like Georgia. And based on what I’ve heard/read about the programs at St. X and Trinity in Kentucky, it would be very difficult to get any varsity playing time as a ninth grader at those schools.

STC

War Eagle

October 2nd, 2013
10:58 am

Yes I agree, adjusting from middle to high school football is a major difference, at least in middle school you are playing with kids your own age, but if you play varsity you will be facing kids 16-19 and you may only be 14-15 yourself.. Kids will be more mature, physically developed, faster, Stronger…… Literally playing against MEN……. But football is a mans game…… Good coaching will hopefully put the younger kids in a great situation to adapt / overcome …….

jocochief

October 2nd, 2013
1:08 pm

Great job, STC. I’m surprised you got that much out of Coach Norton…

LCS Middle School Parent

October 2nd, 2013
3:01 pm

Sorry in advance for blogging about the “big 8th graders” on the Landmark MS team on this new article, as I know many of you just wanted the whole thread to go away! I missed the article and communications on Monday, and just had to weigh in. My son is a 7th grader on the Landmark MS team, and yes, we are blessed to have big lineman and a pretty good team.

I’ve helped coach in Landmark’s youth football program since my son was 6, and most of boys on the team, particularly the lineman, have been at Landmark since early Elementary. Those “big 8th” graders were big kids throughout. And frankly, it’s a bit of an anomaly. The 7th grade lineman on the team aren’t the same size, and the 6th graders who still play in the youth program aren’t tracking to be that size either.

But having big kids isn’t the only reason this team has had some success this year. These boys work their tails off and are well coached. The youth program has also allowed us to get kids playing for their school at a young age. So even though the class sizes are small, we get a large percentage of those boys playing ball because they want to play with their buddies and for their school.

To the HI parent that started this whole thread, I get being a passionate advocate for your son. But complaining about “big kids” and making the point that LCS should reclassify because of what I know to be a one year anomaly is way off the mark. I would hope the HI parent would find a more valuable teachable moment for his/her son after a tough loss, and not just say, “they are bigger, and you shouldn’t have to play against them.”

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
3:09 pm

Jocochief:

Yes, Coach Norton seems like a no-nonsense, man-of-few-words type of guy, and he’s obviously a good football coach. Good luck to the Trojans!

STC

Swamp Lizard

October 2nd, 2013
5:47 pm

@ At Last … Very good read from you and with it, I’d like to take a minute to shower some blessings on Coach Jonathan Gess of Eagles Landing Christian Academy. First off I’d like to say that as a father, I could not have hand picked a better man to turn my son over to as a coach, as a teacher, and as a leader of young men. He’s a Godly man, a motivator, he’s Old School ( Shula, Landry, Madden, etc ), and he loves every kid on his team. He too, demands excellence, failure isn’t an option, and he teaches every young man to persevere. He’s also humble enough to surround himself with other Godly men that are great coaches. Thank you Coach Gess !!

TCDAWG25

October 2nd, 2013
6:08 pm

I still can’t believe ECI is not ranked. I guess we will have to wait until we beat Johnson Co. to get some love.

Swamp Lizard

October 2nd, 2013
6:40 pm

@ TCDAGWG25 …. I’m not saying this to make you feel better, but I really believe ECI is one of the best 5 teams on the Public side right now. Your 3-2 right now with a 1 point loss to a good Metter team and the other loss is to Washington Co ( #3 AAA team ). I can’t figure out why your not getting any love either, I mean, your are defending state champs. I had it out with Sam Roney about Lincoln Co being ranked …. I have nothing against them personally, just don’t think they have beat or shown anything so far to be ranked in the Top 10. I’m sure it will come out in the wash in the end …. prove me right! JoCo is just a few weeks away ( 25th Oct ).

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
7:27 pm

Swamp:

Yes, Coach Gess is as good as it gets. And here’s a shameless plug for Our Lady of Mercy’s Mike Earwood. To do what he has done, without a true middle school or elementary school feeder team, is nothing short of phenomenal.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 2nd, 2013
7:30 pm

TCDAWG25 and Swamp:

I meant to include ECI in the Divided Top 5 . . . and forgot! My apologies to everyone in Twin City. I think before it’s all over ECI will be back in the championship mix.

STC

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
7:35 pm

On another note:

I see that nine teams in Class A are playing a non-Region schedule. Is 2014 the year for the GHSA to do a Class/Region reset?

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
8:24 pm

Anybody look at the Maxwell Ratings? My thoughts:

ECI – STC may have missed ya this week but LOL = Lots of Love. So hang in, you’ll get where you want to go.

ELCA – Tell me this is accurate. I get “In Class” but if 38 … I got to see this team.

Landmark Christian – Tough to look up. Hope to never see you unless it’s in the dome.

Prince Avenue – WHAT? Don’t think so. Not enough respect.

Darlington – Would love to crow, but will not nibble, much less bite.

Sorry, bye weeks are for blogging.

LoveFridayFootball

October 2nd, 2013
9:01 pm

@tiger patpaw…..ELCA should be in the top 20 if not top 15. I don’t know if there are 15 teams in the state that beats ELCA.

At last

October 2nd, 2013
9:22 pm

Landmark might have their hands full with a hungry OLM. Cross-town rivals and many kids that maybe at one time attended Landmark. OLM has great kids but are they disciplined enough to take on Landmark ranked no# 2 in the state for a reason behind powerhouse ELCA. Landmark is a methodical team that wears its opponents down. Can OLM be composed enough to stay on the field with them. They are going to Landmark to a raucous crowd. My prediction close game and Landmark pulls it out or OLM gets completely blown out because of the fierce rivalry. How about some great football Friday nite!! LCS 25-OLM 16 or LCS 49-OLM 14

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
9:43 pm

LoveFridayFootball

Hope to see them at the appropriate occasion.

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
9:50 pm

Ya gotta love a small school building a big time program. All the darts and daggers that must be fended off and maintain focus on the goal of building young men into contributors.

Tiger Patpaw

October 2nd, 2013
10:02 pm

At last

We have OLM last game of the season at their place. This one and that last week will tell about where we stand.

Agree, every Friday in the fall is a Great Football Friday.

Swamp Lizard

October 3rd, 2013
5:26 am

Top 10 accroding to Maxwell Power Ratings …. Top 10 Private, Class A ranking in state, and power rating …….

PRIVATE
1. ELCA (1) 71.78
2. Landmark ( 3 ) 55.55
3. Darlington (4 ) 51.91
4. Aquinas ( 6 ) 50.67
5. Prince Ave ( 9 ) 47.43
6. Sav Christian ( 10 ) 47.12
7. Mt Paran ( 14 ) 46.24
8. George Walton ( 15 ) 44.24
9. Calvary Day ( 18 ) 43.32
10. Holy Innocents ( 21 ) 39.71

Swamp Lizard

October 3rd, 2013
5:32 am

Top 10 according to Maxwell Power Ratings … Top 10 Public, Class A ranking in state, and power rating ….

PUBLIC
1. Seminole Co ( 2 ) 55.57
2. Lincoln Co ( 5 ) 51.15
3. Charlton Co ( 7 ) 49.49
4. Irwin Co ( 8 ) 49.42
5. Marion Co ( 11 ) 46.77
6. ECI ( 12 ) 46.72
7. Johnson Co ( 13 ) 46.52
8. Clinch Co ( 16 ) 43.86
9. Hawkinsville ( 17 ) 43.58
10. Dooly Co ( 19 ) 42.47
11. Wilcox Co ( 20 ) 41.67

Swamp Lizard

October 3rd, 2013
5:48 am

@ Tiger Patpaw & LoveFridayFootball …… about ELCA ….. ELCA IMO is the “class” of Class A. Notice the power rating ( 71.78 ) ….. #2 is Seminole Co at 55.57 …. that means ELCA would be favored by 16 pts. What does it really mean? …. NOTHING! As far as ELCA being ranked # 38 overall, “maybe” ( they were # 33 last week ). I don’t know if they are the 38th best best in the state, but I will say they could “play” with nearly anyone for awhile.
This is a different ELCA team than last year’s team. Last year’s team had more “flash” about them, more star power …..this team is more “football” …. tough, never say die, a clam confident about them. I heard it said ….. last year’s team was like a Lambergini ….. this year’s team is more like a LOADED F-150 with all the bells and whistles.

Swamp Lizard

October 3rd, 2013
7:22 am

@ At Last / STC …… I’ll be at the Our Lady of Mercy / Landmark game Friday night. I really think this is going to be a BATTLE !! OLM is a lot better football team than their record indicates and the intensity should be high after a game I’m sure OLM felt like slipped away from them last year. I’m thinking this is going to be a really good game ….. CLOSE !! Hope to see you all there Friday night.

S. Thomas Coleman

October 3rd, 2013
7:59 am

Tiger Patpaw:

Yes, the Executive Committee will get together and do the region realignments this winter.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 3rd, 2013
8:02 am

LoveFridayFootball:

I don’t put any stock whatsoever in Maxwell Ratings. They may be good for obvious matchups, like say ELCA vs. Mt. Vernon, but for any other more competitive games they are useless. Not sure how many games the Maxwell Raters are actually watching these days.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

October 3rd, 2013
8:03 am

Swamp: God willing, I’ll be there!

And the new blog will be up today by noon.

STC