One of the most commonly asked questions prior to a new season revolves around a prediction: Who is the team to beat this year? Most of the time, particularly in Class AAAAA, it’s the same teams that are expected to be around at the end. That’s liable to be the same for 2018.
Here’s a look at the teams to beat in each of the eight regions:
Region 1: Bainbridge won the championship last year with a huge second-half run. The Bearcats return junior quarterback Quayde Hawkins and all-state defensive back Deyon Bouie, a true playmaker. But game-breaking tailback Caleb McDowell moved to Lee County. ... Warner Robins has been in the state championship game the last two seasons, but lost a lot of talent, including region player of the year QB Dylan Fromm. The Demons return record-setting receiver Marcayll Jones, but can they get him the ball? Marquis Westbrook was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach when Mike Chastain resigned after the season to go to Jones County. … Veterans went 8-3 in coach Milan Turner’s first season and appear ready to play with the big boys.
Region 2: Wayne County and Ware County have been the heavyweights in this league and that isn’t likely to change. Wayne was 11-1 last year and graduated all-state receiver Ashby Cribb and running back M.J.Fuller. But coach Ken Cribbs’ Yellow Jackets return linebacker Jalen Barnum to spark their defense. … Ware County has a new coach in Jason Strickland, who took Pierce County to the semifinals in 2018. … New Hampstead bears watching now that former McEachern coach Kyle Hockman has signed on to run the program.
Region 3: Starr’s Mill is the standard bearer for the league. The Panthers replaced a lot of players last year, won the region and finished 7-4. This fall there are 18 returners, including quarterback Hunter Lawson and all-state running back Kalen Sims. … Griffin has a new coach in Kareem Reid, who took Westlake to the 2016 semifinals. The Bears return all-state caliber defensive lineman Demarjhe Lewis and wide receiver Jamoi Mayes and should challenge for the title.
Region 4: Dutchtown has at least three Division I prospects – DL William Anderson (Alabama), TE Nate McCollum (NC State) and DT Dezmond Tell (Louisville) -- and brings back one of the top defenses in the state. The Bulldogs went 12-1 last season are in the conversation for being the state’s best team. Now coach Clifford Fedd must survive in a region that is challenging Region 7 for being the best in the state. … Stockbridge has a new coach in Steve Boyd, formerly the defensive coordinator, who will lean heavily on the likes of linebacker John Prince and QB Javon McDonald to retain the program’s high standards. … Jones County brought in Mike Chastain, who inherits an offensive loaded with skilled players like QB Hunter Costlow and wide receiver Jontavis Robertson.
Region 5: Southwest DeKalb returned to prominence last season by going 10-0, but was stunned in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers will again be the class of the league that features a lot of teams who are trying to rebuild. Quarterback Rion White and receiver Aquil Muhammad have forged a great connection, but SWD has unproven backs. The defense, led by lineman John Grant and defensive back Tommy Wright, will be among the best in the league.
Region 6: The league is one big question mark. Riverwood made huge strides in 2018 under coach Robert Edwards and return a solid defense, but lost 11 offensive starters to graduation. … Banneker won the school’s first region title last year, but suffered big losses and saw coach Mario Allen leave after two seasons. … Carver returns all-state running back Jo’Quavious Marks, a Mississippi State signee, and has a chance to get back in the mix. … Keep an eye on Lithia Springs, which brought in Corey Jarvis to turn around the program. Jarvis has a proven track record, but Lithia hasn’t had a winning season since 1999.
Region 7: Still the best league in the state. Carrollton, Rome and Kell are three contenders for the state championship. … Carrollton has one of the state’s top rising quarterbacks in Myles “M.J.” Morris and running back Mecose Todd. The Trojans have the best linebacking tandem in the state in Kevin Swint (Clemson) and junior Chaz Chambliss. … Rome fell short of a third straight state title last year and graduated Mr. Georgia Football Jamious Griffin, who signed with Georgia Tech. The Wolves, who turn out defensive lineman like an ATM, returns another good one in Rayquan Jones (Coastal Carolina). … Kell is loaded with 10 starters back on offense and seven returning on defense. Running back Ebony Jackson, linebacker Branson Hall and defensive end Vincent Dinkins are all worth all-state consideration.
Region 8: Buford had a change at the top and Bryant Appling, who has been on the staff for 15 years, is likely to field a team that more resembles the school’s tried-and-true bruising style. The Wolves will run the ball using guys like Elijah Turner, who run behind big linemen, like Alabama commit Seth McLaughlin, and bring a slobber-knockin’ defense, led by defensive backs Jalen Huff (Georgia Tech) and T. Lee (Arizona State). … Clarke Central, Cedar Shoals and Loganville will be slugging it out for second place.
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