Five teams to watch in star-driven Class AAAA

Credit: Craig Sager

Credit: Craig Sager

There are 52 teams that make up Class AAAA this season. Eight programs (Jefferson, Oconee County, Blessed Trinity, West Hall, Central-Carroll, Cedartown, North Clayton and Hephzibah) have made the jump from Class AAA, while 12 of the teams (Chapel Hill, LaGrange, Carver-Columbus, Columbus, Hardaway, Northside-Columbus, Shaw, Cross Creek, Richmond Academy, Druid Hills, Luella, Salem) arrived from Class AAAAA.

The Class AAAA season kicks off this Thursday as Mary Persons represents the classification in the MetroPCS Corky Kell Classic with a cross-classification matchup with AAAAA’s Houston County.

Here are five teams to watch in Class AAAA this season.

Cartersville: The Purple Hurricanes are the defending state champions and carry over the 15-game winning streak that brought home the program's first state title since 1999 into the 2016 season. Starring for Cartersville will be junior five-star quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The 6-foot-6 passer holds offers from every major college program and will represent the East Team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl following the season. Lawrence is coming off a 2015 championship run that included 3,655 passing yards, 43 passing touchdowns and just four interceptions. With the offensive side of the ball taken care of, Cartersville looks to pick up where a dominating 2015 defense left off. Former St. Francis defensive standout Avery Showell joins the unit after transferring this offseason.

2015 Record: 15-0

Woodward Academy: Woodward Academy has made the semifinals in back-to-back seasons and returns experience and big play ability for this year's title hunt. If you haven't already heard, dual-threat quarterback Ryan Glover has grown into one of the state's most impressive passers. This past season, Glover threw for 26 touchdowns and rushed for six more, despite current UGA freshman Elijah Holyfield taking 21 touchdowns into the endzone himself. Joshua Johnson will lead a potent passing attack at receiver and will stretch the field. With Johnson's ability to go deep and outleap defenders, along with Glover's arm strength, the War Eagles offensive playbook opens up with the constant threat of beating the secondary deep. Johnson averaged 21.8 yards per reception last season and finished the year with 1,111 receiving yards and 11 scores.

2015 Record: 13-1

Jefferson: The biggest storyline within the classification this season will be the race for Class AAAA Player of the Year. Cartersville's Lawrence and Woodward Academy's Glover will be put to the test with Jefferson's junior running back Colby Wood. The 5-foot-10 ball carrier took 322 carries in 2015 and accounted for 2,119 rushing yards and 32 rushing touchdowns. Wood's hard running can take control of the game and last year's 27-8 victory over Elbert County on Oct. 2 evidences his importance to the Dragons' success this season. Wood scored all four touchdowns in last year's win over Elbert County and took a career-high 46 carries for a season-best 285 yards. Zach Boobas is a safety and running back that added a pair of 100-yard rushing games last season and found the endzone seven times. Jefferson has posted 46 wins in the past four seasons.

2015 Record: 10-2 (AAA)

Sandy Creek: Head coach Chip Walker carries a 119-22-1 record into his 12th season at the school. The Fighting Patriots have the speed and defensive tenacity to compete with any team in the state, and offensively a deep cast of running backs lead the way. Junior quarterback Bryant Walker brings balance to the offense and senior Marvin Hubbard leads his stable of running backs. Jaelen Greene (8), Drezyn Parson (5) and Eric Woods III (4) all return after accounting for 17 of the team's rushing touchdowns last season.

2015 Record: 9-3

St. Pius: Like Sandy Creek, the Golden Lions were eliminated in last year's postseason by a surging Bainbridge team that will be compete in Class AAAAA this season. St. Pius' 18-17 loss in the quarterfinals to Bainbridge snapped a 10-game winning streak after the team opened the season with back-to-back losses to Blessed Trinity (17-6) and Woodward Academy (36-29 2OT). This resiliency and week-to-week improvement that has become par for the course under head coach Paul Standard, has resulted in a 139-47 all-time record in his 15 previous seasons at the helm. It will also be greatly needed to take on this year's slate. St. Pius resides in Region 8 with Jefferson, Madison County, North Oconee, Oconee County and Stephens County and will fight for one of four playoff spots after opening the season with Blessed Trinity, Benedictine, Marist, Greater Atlanta Christian and Lanier in non-region play. Two-way star Grant Holloman will be used as the primary offensive playmaker after rushing for 10 touchdowns last year.

2015 Record: 10-3