When Cedar Grove walked off the field after its loss to Calhoun in the semifinals of the 2017 Class AAA football playoffs, the Saints held their heads high.
A winning streak of 23 games, the longest streak in DeKalb County history, had been snapped, but Cedar Grove's last loss had come against Westminster on Sept. 23, 2016. The Saints stormed through the bracket in 2016, beating Crisp County 55-0 in the semis, then winning its first state title with a 30-19 victory against Greater Atlanta Christian in the championship game.
The streak continued with a perfect regular season in 2017, and it looked as if Cedar Grove would carry its head of steam to back-to-back championships. All went according to plan until Calhoun, the little team that could, defeated Cedar Grove in the semis, 14-6.
Cedar Grove will have holes to fill next season; there’s no way around it. But there is big-time talent in key spots.
Xavier Dennis, the quarterback, was lost to graduation. He completed 111 of 160 passes for 1,684 yards and 26 touchdowns. Rising senior Kendall Boney and rising sophomore Austin Smith, who did not play the position last season, will compete for the job.
Whoever wins the position will be throwing to one of the top recruits in the nation -- receiver Jadon Haselwood. In 2017, Haselwood had 42 receptions for 792 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Army All-American is committed to Georgia.
The running game also took a hit with the graduation of Darrell Neal. In 2017, Neal rushed for 1,389 yards on 156 carries and scored 14 touchdowns. Returning to fill the void is Chevon Wright. Last season Wright, who misses spring ball after being injured in the first practice, rushed for 590 yards and five touchdowns on 72 carries.
On defense, the Saints have some depth across the board. Roderic Forts, who had 74 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, will need to be replaced. Returning is Alabama commitment Rashad Cheney, who had 55 tackles, four sacks and 15 tackles for loss last year.
The linebacker group is solid with Isaiah Ratcliff returning. Ratcliff, the DeKalb County defensive player of the year, has offers from Michigan, South Carolina and Tennessee, to name a few. William Jenkins (111 tackles, three sacks, 12 tackles for loss) also returns and has offers from Marshall and Miami (Ohio).
Overall, Cedar Grove will have to rely on experienced players to get the newcomers ready for the season. But if recent history holds, Cedar Grove again will be a factor in the playoffs.
This was the final installment of a series that looked the 2018 prospects for the Class AAA football programs that finished in the top 4 last season.
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