Class AAAAAA football blog: Region 4 preview

The Georgia High School Association’s most recent reclassification, which will go into effect in the fall, took away six of the nine teams in Region 4-AAAAAA, which had been the domain of DeKalb and Clayton counties.

Perennial title contenders Tucker and Lovejoy and 2019 region runner-up Morrow remain, but region champion Stephenson, playoff team M.L. King and Clayton schools Drew, Forest Park, Mount Zion-Jonesboro and Mundy’s Mill were sent to lower classifications. In their place, the addition of Fulton-based schools Hughes, North Atlanta and Westlake and DeKalb’s Lakeside will give the seven-team region a new look in 2020.

The biggest story of the upcoming season will be the arrival of Westlake. The Lions won region championships the past six years in the highest classification, and they will have a loaded roster for 2020. Six Westlake players are among the top 59 seniors in Georgia, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Three are transfers – wide receiver Dacari Collins (from McEachern, No. 14, committed to Clemson), wide receiver Jaquez Smith (from Hapeville Charter, No. 17) and athlete Nathaniel Wiggins (from Grady, No. 21). The others are offensive tackle Jakiah Leftwich (No. 54), cornerback Demarko Williams (No. 57) and tight end Leo Blackburn (No. 59).

Tucker won Region 4 championships in 2016 and 2017, dropped to second place in 2018 and finished in third place last year with a 6-5 overall record that was the program’s worst since 1999. The Tigers’ No. 3 seed for the playoffs was their lowest since 2012. Tucker graduates wide receiver Isaiah Dunson (36 catches, 638 yards, eight touchdowns), a GACA all-state selection, as well as quarterback Myles Crawley and leading rusher Quarius Smith but returns nine of its 10 leading tacklers. Returning defensive lineman Dawson Rivers is a three-star recruit who has offers from five schools, including Louisville and Minnesota.

Morrow was one of the surprise teams in Class AAAAAA last year, recording its first winning record (6-5) and first playoff appearance since 1999. The Mustangs lost region games to Stephenson and Lovejoy in late September but upset Tucker 19-14 and went on to finish in second place behind Stephenson. Morrow had the region’s offensive and defensive players of the year – quarterback/wide receiver Jimmy Calloway and linebacker Owein Blas – and first-team all-region players Kendall Shivers (offensive line) and Jabari Tucker (wide receiver), but all were seniors.

Lovejoy had a winning record (6-4) last year for the ninth time in 10 seasons but finished in fifth place and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats had three players make first-team all-region, and two of them were juniors – defensive lineman Israel Nwokocha and defensive back Antonio Jones. They helped lead a defense that allowed just 15 points per game, second-best in the region behind Stephenson. Lovejoy opened region play 3-0 but lost three of its final five games, including an 18-12 game against M.L. King on Oct. 11 that ultimately decided the final playoff spot.

Among the region’s other new schools, North Atlanta moves from Region 7 after finishing 7-4 and reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1996. The Warriors will play in 2020 with a new head coach. Sean O’Sullivan, who was 12-9 in two seasons at a school that has had just three winning seasons in its history, was announced as the new head coach at Centennial last week. The Warriors also will have to replace running back TK Mack and defensive lineman Davis Bell, who both earned all-state recognition as seniors. Mack was the Region 7 player of the year. North Atlanta had 13 players on the all-region team last year, all of which were seniors.

Hughes, which moves from Region 5, went 2-8 in 2019 and finished in seventh place in the nine-team region in its first season since the retirement of coach Willie Cannon, who started the program in 2009. Coach Daniel Williams’ first team lost to eventual 5-AAAAAA champ Mays 20-13 in the region opener but finished 2-6 in league play. Running back Antonio Martin, who rushed for 1,535 yards and 16 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, is one of seven returning players who made first- or second-team all-region in 2019. Martin is a four-star recruit with 11 offers, including Alabama, Florida and Michigan.

Lakeside drops from Class AAAAAAA, where it struggled the past four seasons in a Region 7 that included Brookwood, Norcross and Parkview, going 8-32 overall and 3-21 in region play since 2016. The Vikings’ reached the postseason with a 4-6 team in 2015, their first playoff berth since 1997. Lakeside went 0-10 last year in its first season under former McDonough/Henry County and Tri-Cities coach Morris Starr and had one second-team all-region player, senior linebacker Thomas Steele.

Stephenson and Mount Zion will drop two classes into AAAA. M.L. King, Mundy’s Mill, Drew and Forest Park will move to Class AAAAA.

2019 Region 4-AAAAAA standings

Team / Overall record / Region record / Playoff result

Stephenson (moving to 6-AAAA) / 10-2 / 7-1 / Lost to Allatoona 23-13 in second round

Morrow / 6-5 / 6-2 / Lost to Brunswick 34-13 in first round

Tucker / 6-5 / 6-2 / Lost to Glynn Academy 31-7 in first round

M.L. King (moving to 5-AAAAA) / 7-4 / 5-3 / Lost to Richmond Hill 28-12 in first round

Lovejoy / 6-4 / 5-3 / Did not make playoffs

Mundy’s Mill (moving to 3-AAAAA) / 5-5 / 3-5 / Did not make playoffs

Mount Zion-Jonesboro (moving to 5-AAAA) / 3-7 / 3-5 / Did not make playoffs

Drew (moving to 3-AAAAA) / 1-9 / 1-7 / Did not make playoffs

Forest Park (moving to 3-AAAAA) / 2-8 / 0-8 / Did not make playoffs

(Teams moving in)

Hughes (from 5-AAAAAA) / 2-8 / 2-6 / Did not make playoffs

Lakeside-Atlanta (from 7-AAAAAAA) / 0-10 / 0-6 / Did not make playoffs

North Atlanta (from 7-AAAAAA) / 7-4 / 5-3 / Lost to South Paulding 41-27 in first round

Westlake (from 2-AAAAAAA) / 6-5 / 4-1 / Lost to Cherokee 41-23 in first round