Georgia's reputation as one of the nation's best football states will get a challenge this week as 20 out-of-state opponents - four of them with top-50 national rankings - take on Georgia teams.
Eighteen of the 20 out-of-state opponents made the playoffs last season. Seven made the semifinals or better in those playoffs. Two won championships.
Here are five things worth knowing about those 20 games, the most of their kind in any one week this season in Georgia.
*Two of the nationally ranked teams are playing host to Georgia teams on Saturday. Johns Creek is traveling to Washington, D.C., to face No. 9 St. John's College. Cedar Grove is playing at No. 28 Hewitt-Trussville in Hoover, Ala.. St. John's won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship last season. Hewitt-Trussville lost to eventual champion Hoover in Alabama's Class 7A semifinals.
*Two of the nationally ranked teams are coming here. No. 7 Good Counsel of Maryland plays at Marietta on Friday, and No. 41 Central of Phenix City, Ala., plays Mays at Lakewood Stadium on Saturday.
*The Mays-Central matchup is part of the three-game C1N Football Classic at Lakewood. It's being run by Cam Newton's foundation. The other games have Griffin playing Clay-Chalkville of Pinson, Ala., and Westlake playing Sidney Lanier of Montgomery. Clay-Chalkville and Lanier each won 11 games last season in Alabama's 6A.
*Florida Class 8A champion Dr. Phillips of Orlando is playing Saturday at Lee County, Georgia's Class AAAAAA champion. Lee County head coach Dean Fabrizio was an assistant at Dr. Phillips in the 1990s, when current Dr. Phillips coach Rodney Wells was a star player there.
*Other intriguing matchups this week have Trinity Catholic, ranked No. 3 overall in Missouri, playing at Colquitt County; Brunswick traveling to Bartram Trail, the Florida Class 7A runner-up last season; and Callaway, No. 3 in Georgia's AA, playing host to Opelika, a 9-3 team last season in Alabama's 6A.
GISA teams hang with GHSA foes
The Valwood School, Frederica Academy and Trinity Christian are not household names to most high school football fans statewide, but they were three of the strongest teams in the Georgia Independent School Association last season, and they showed last week that they can hang with small-school GHSA. Valwood of Valdosta defeated GHSA Class A opponent Bowdon 21-20. Federica of St. Simons lost to GHSA Class A public-school No. 4 Charlton County 28-21. Federica has two four-star recruits, both committed to Auburn. They are Jashawn Sheffield and Jaylin Simpson. "The Auburn kids look the part - height, weight, speed,'' said Charlton County coach Rich McWhorter. "Outstanding skill players." Valwood plays at Frederica on Friday. Trinity Christian, the runner-up to Valwood last season, joined the GHSA this season and opened with a 20-19 victory over Northeast, a GHSA AA team that went 5-4 last year, beating the likes of Dublin and Lamar County. Kenny Dallas, who led Landmark Christian to six region titles from 2002 to 2007, is the head coach at Trinity, which plays at Luella of AAAA on Friday. Trinity Christian is in Region 5-A with Eagle's Landing Christian. The GISA was once deeper and stronger than it is now. The association is down to 32 football-playing members. Several of the GHSA's best Class A private schools - such as Stratford Academy, Tattnall Square, First Presbyterian, Savannah Christian, Calvary Day and even ELCA - are former GISA members.
Back-to-back-to-back: Kickoff return TDs
The Charlton County-Frederica Academy game was highlighted by three consecutive touchdowns on kickoff returns to open the second half. Frederica's Patrick Brunson ran the first one 85 yards. Charlton's Seaquon Clark answered with an 81-yarder. Isaiah Jackson made it a trifecta with an 85-yarder, giving Frederica a 21-14 lead. Charlton won 28-21.
Marietta players to get second appeal today
The GHSA will hear a second appeal today by three ineligible Marietta football players after a Superior Court judge in Cobb County ruled Monday that they didn't get a fair appeal hearing the first time. Rashad Torrence, Dawson Ellington and Jalen Hardy - all major college prospects - sat out Marietta's opener last week against Rome. The GHSA ruled them ineligible last month because the three did not make the required bona-fide moves in residency required for immediate eligibility. The GHSA denied Marietta's appeal earlier this month, but the players assert that they didn't get a fair opportunity personally to argue their cases, and the court agreed. Ellington and Torrence, who played for Marietta last season, argue that they played in good faith and were wrongly assured by Marietta that they were legal transfers because they had parents working in the school system. Marietta then filed inaccurate transfer documents with the GHSA, which led to Marietta having to forfeit eight 2017 victories.
Good day at hand for long-suffering Berkmar
Berkmar scheduled a game that it could win on Friday. And who could blame the Patriots. They've lost 47 consecutive games, the fifth-longest losing streak in state history. (Glascock County's 82-game skid from 1990 to 1999 remains the longest.) Berkmar is playing Cross Keys, a school that hasn't played a region schedule since 2009. Hope for Berkmar can be found at neighboring Meadowcreek, which suffered a 53-game losing streak from 2008 to 2013 but broke through last season with its first winning season (7-4) since 1990 and first playoff appearance since 1988. Berkmar's situation isn't so dire. The Patriots had a winning season in 2007 (6-4) and made the playoffs in 2005. Berkmar is a 40-point favorite over Cross Keys, according to the Maxwell Ratings.
GHSA's newest two do battle
The newest public high schools in the GHSA - Cherokee Bluff and Denmark - are playing each other Friday night at Denmark. It will be the first game for Denmark, a Forsyth County school coached by Terry Crowder, who led Chattahoochee to a state title in 2010. Cherokee Bluff, coached by Tommy Jones, formerly of Dacula, opened against Whitefield Academy last week and lost 33-0. Cherokee Bluff occupies what was Flowery Branch High School last year. Flowery Branch relinquished that space and moved back to its former campus, which had been serving as a middle school. The last time that two new schools played each other for the right to claim a first-ever victory came in 2007, when East Jackson defeated Woodland of Stockbridge 18-7. Not sure there's enough data to determine this, but the Maxwell Ratings have decided that Denmark is a 15-point favorite.
ACE Charter gets under way
A third school playing its first varsity season is ACE Charter, also known as the Academy for Classical Education, which opened in Macon in 2014. The school's nickname is the Gryphons. According to Gamepedia.com, gryphons "are powerful and highly intelligent winged beasts with the forequarters of an eagle and the hindquarters of a lion." The Gryphons lost to Treutlen only 35-21 last week in their varsity opener. That's a good effort considering that 95 percent of the team's players hadn't played since youth ball, or at all, when the program started last year with a JV schedule, according to head coach Jason Stephens. He's a former three-sport athlete at Westside (Macon) who played football under Robert Davis. Stephens thanked Macon-area coaches Joe Dupree, Sheddrick Risper, David Bruce and David Daniell and others for supporting him, some who even loaned equipment and practice guides. "I truly believe it was destiny and divine purpose that has brought me here," Stephens said. "Starting the program from nothing is the biggest challenge I have ever faced. And some of the most established coaches I know said they would have run from the opportunity. I found a way to embrace it. My parents are hands down the best in the business, and some of my high school coaches and mentors have been the most supportive and have been helping me every step of the way."
Harris County athletics director dies
A memorial service was held Tuesday for Harris County athletics director Danny Durham, who died suddenly late last week after suffering a heart attack while jogging. Durham is a former head coach at Gordon Central, Franklin County and Rabun County. He had been a star player at Dougherty in Albany and then Georgia Southern, a starting linebacker on two national championship teams in the 1990s. He was a defensive line coach at Georgia Southern in 1990 and 1991. He came to Harris County as defensive coordinator in 2012. Durham was 54.
Former Crisp coach hired at Tennessee
Shelton Felton, who led his alma mater Crisp County to the Class AA semifinals in 2016, is the latest former Georgia high school coach to move up the ranks in college football. Felton joined Tennessee's support staff this week. He abruptly left Crisp County last summer to join the staff at UT-Chattanooga, which had elevated him to assistant head coach in the offseason after he helped UTC lead the Southern Conference in total defense. Felton will be a quality control analyst for Tennessee. Felton led Crisp County to a 13-1 finish in his second and final season in 2016. It was Crisp's first region title and semifinal appearance since 1995. Some former Georgia high school coaches who have prominent jobs in major college football are Auburn offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey (formerly of Lassiter), Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee (Carver of Columbus), Miami defensive line coach Jess Simpson (Buford) and Clemson safeties coach Mickey Conn (Grayson).
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