The Longhorns graduated the region’s offensive and defensive players of the year. Linebacker Phillip Webb was the highest-rated Class AAAAAA player in Georgia last year and was named the AJC’s defensive player of the year for the classification. Webb signed with LSU. Running back Taj Barnes, who rushed for 1,560 yards and 17 touchdowns, signed with Fordham. The Longhorns had nine players named first-team all-region, but only wide receiver Tyler Washington returns.
The obvious challenger to Dacula and Lanier’s hold on the region will be Buford, which will enter the season as the only reigning state champion in Class AAAAAA. The Wolves are moving up from Class AAAAA, where they were crowned champions last season after defeating Warner Robins 17-14 in overtime in the state final. Reigning Class AAAAAA champion Harrison has moved up to the highest classification.
The state title for Buford, which was in its first season under head coach Bryant Appling, was its first in five years but also its 11th in 19 seasons. The Wolves lost five first-team all-region players to graduation from that team but will bring back three – wide receiver Jake Pope, offensive lineman Jacob Smith and linebacker Tommy Beuglas. They also return Gabe Irvin, who was the team’s leading rusher last season with 1,212 yards and is the No. 47 senior in Georgia in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Region newcomers Central Gwinnett and Shiloh made the playoffs in the highest classification last season and should be in the hunt for a return to the postseason in 2020.
Central Gwinnett reached the playoffs for the fifth time in six years but is seeking its first winning season since 2015. The Black Knights lost two all-state selections when quarterback Skylar Adams graduated and wide receiver Daejon Reynolds transferred to Grayson.
At Shiloh, first-year head coach Tion Ierulli led the Generals to their first winning record (7-4) and playoff appearance since 2003. Jasheen Davis, a Wake Forest signee, was a first-team all-state selection last year.
Winder-Barrow and Habersham Central have had mixed success in the past four seasons in 8-AAAAAA.
Winder-Barrow went 9-3 and reached the second round of the playoffs in 2017 and made two other playoff appearances in that four-year stretch but has had losing records in three of the four years, with an overall record of 19-25. Returnee Jacob Merrifield, a tight end and defensive end, was the region’s defensive lineman of the year last season and reportedly has offers from Liberty and Navy.
Habersham Central has had a similar overall record (17-25) to Winder-Barrow but made the playoffs just once in the past four seasons, posting a 7-5 mark and reaching the second round in 2018. Defensive back/wide receiver Joshua Pickett (the region’s two-way player of the year, committed to Duke) and all-region first-teamers Jackson Clouatre (1,105 yards rushing) and Grayson Taylor (495 yards receiving) return from last year’s 3-7 team.
2019 Region 8-AAAAAA standings
Team / Overall record / Region record / Playoff result
Dacula / 13-1 / 5-0 / Lost to Harrison 38-7 in semifinals
Lanier / 10-2 / 4-1 / Lost to Richmond Hill 48-34 in second round
Gainesville (moving to 6-AAAAAAA) / 5-6 / 3-2 / Lost to Allatoona 49-7 in first round
Winder-Barrow / 3-8 / 2-3 / Lost to Harrison 45-25 in first round
Apalachee (moving to 8-AAAAA) / 3-7 / 1-4 / Did not make playoffs
Habersham Central / 3-7 / 0-5 / Did not make playoffs
(Teams moving in)
Buford (from 8-AAAAA) / 14-1 / 4-1 / Beat Warner Robins 17-14 in Class AAAAA championship game
Central Gwinnett (from 7-AAAAAAA) / 3-8 / 3-3 / Lost to Milton 42-7 in first round
Shiloh (from 8-AAAAAAA) / 7-4 / 2-3 / Lost to North Gwinnett 51-14 in first round