North Gwinnett's Warren Burrell is one of four major college prospects in the defending champions' secondary for 2018.

7A football: Five favorites coming out of spring

The 2017 football season was considered to be a down year by some in terms of great teams. None made a true run at a national title as Grayson did in 2016 or Colquitt County in 2015.

That won’t be the case this fall, though. Most of Georgia’s best teams will be as good or better in 2018.

Here’s a look at five from Class AAAAAAA that should look highly promising coming out of spring practice.

Archer – The Tigers went from 4-7 in 2016 to championship contention ahead of schedule last season with a young team that upset Grayson down the stretch and won Region 8. They lost to Colquitt County 12-7 in the quarterfinals. Unlike most top contenders, Archer is returning its quarterback, Carter Peevy. Leading rusher and first-team all-region pick Semaje Banks also is back. The Tigers also have more top senior prospects than any other team except Grayson. Those are defensive back Andrew Booth, a potential five-star recruit whose leaders are Auburn, Clemson and FSU; defensive lineman Colby Wooden; free safety Jalyn Phillips; and wide receiver Braylen Weems. The Archer-Grayson game Oct. 12 is perhaps the most important regular-season matchup of the AAAAAAA season.

Colquitt County – The Packers came within a play or two of winning their third state title in four seasons. This year’s team should be better. The only real question mark is quarterback and receiver. Steven Krajewski, who threw for 2,395 yards and 23 touchdowns, signed with UConn. Cam Singletary (1,025 yards receiving) also will be missed. But there won’t be two better running backs in one backfield than rising senior Ty Leggett (1,287 yards rushing) and junior Daijun Edwards (1,038). Offensive linemen William Rykard, Kamar Bell and Kameren Barnes were all-region players last season. On defense, defensive lineman Brian Merritt, linebacker and leading tackler Rashard Revels and defensive back Jay Ward are all-state candidates.

Grayson – It was the state-champion Rams of 2016 that were called the most talented in state history in terms of college prospects. That group, led by five-star DB/WR DeAngelo Gibbs, who signed with Georgia, had five of the state’s 50 most heavily recruited seniors. Three more were in the top 100, and seven ultimately signed with Power Five Conference teams. Well, get a load of Grayson’s class of 2019 – It boasts of eight of the top 50 seniors in Georgia. Using 247Sports’ composite rankings, they are linebacker Owen Pappoe (No. 2), offensive lineman Wanya Morris (No. 6), defensive end Kevin Harris (No. 9), safety Kenyatta Watson (No. 22), wide receiver Kenyon Jackson (No. 32), tackle Trente Jones (No. 35), running back Ronald Thompkins (No. 36) and defensive tackle Tru Thompson (No. 49). And there are another four or five beyond those who also are major Division I recruits, such as Duke-committed corner back Jalen Alexander, who was first-team all-region last year. Grayson was upset in the second round last year by eventual champion North Gwinnett 35-28.

Marietta – The Blue Devils were a surprise quarterfinalist in 2017, when they lost 51-41 to eventual champion North Gwinnett. They won’t be surprising if they make it again, or further, if their defense gets more competitive. Their best players last season, aside from all-state defensive end Azez Ojulari, were underclassmen. Quarterback Harrison Bailey, a rising junior and potential five-star recruit, threw for 1,885 yards in just six games, three of them in the playoffs. He had 465 yards passing against Pebblebrook and threw the game-winning touchdown in the final minute without knowing he had broken collarbone. He threw five TD passes in the North Gwinnett game against the state’s most talented secondary. Other mere juniors are two-way starting lineman B.J. Ojulari, the team’s best offensive lineman as a 10th grader, and tight end Arik Gilbert, who had 54 catches. Both are major Division recruits as is junior all-state wide receiver Ramel Keyton, who had 59 receptions for 1,298 yards and 16 touchdowns. Marietta has become a prime destination for move-ins, too. One of the latest, from Tennessee, is offensive lineman Jake Wray, a four-star recruit who is projected to sign with Ohio State.

North Gwinnett – Fresh off their first state title, the Bulldogs will have more high-end talent this season, although they must rebuild their defensive front seven and find a replacement for Jimmy Urzua, who passed for 2,398 yards passing and signed with Mars Hill. Cornerbacks D.J. Turner and Victor Burrell have offers from Alabama, Georgia and others. Safeties Quinton Newsome and Josh Shuler also are major Division I prospects, giving North Gwinnett the best secondary in the state. Running back Tyler Goodson, also a D-I recruit, rushed for 1,390 yards and scored 21 touchdowns despite missing three games. He ran for 295 in the quarterfinals against Marietta. Other first-team all-region players that are back are wide receiver Josh Downs (over 1,000 yards receiving, nine touchdowns), offensive lineman Justin Bullock and receiver/return specialist Javonni Cunningham.

About the Author