Preseason poll: Starting No. 1 are McEachern, Creekside, Buford, WaCo, GAC, Aquinas

Three returning state champions begin the high school football season ranked No. 1 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s preseason rankings.

But McEachern, Greater Atlanta Christian and Washington County, schools that haven’t won state titles in 17 years, if at all, are on top of their classifications.

McEachern, the No. 1 team in Class AAAAAA, reached the semifinals in 2013 and returns four players who are committed to Division I schools. Offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (Southern California) and running back Taj Griffin (Oregon) are two of the top six senior prospects in Georgia, according to 247Sports Composite rankings. Also committed are lineman Chandler Jones (Louisville) and receiver T.J. Rahming (Duke).

McEachern’s schedule is probably the hardest in the state. Non-region opponents include North Gwinnett (No. 4 in AAAAAA), Lovejoy (No 8 in AAAAAA) and Buford (No. 1 in AAAA).

Defending AAAAAA champion Norcross lost 18 of 22 starters and starts at No. 9. Norcross opens Saturday against No. 5 Tucker at McEachern in the Corky Kell Classic.

In AAAAA, Creekside brings back eight of 11 starters from an offense that averaged 42.5 points per game and scored 50-plus in the semifinals (55-10 against Kell) and final (52-28 against Tucker). The returning players include Felix Harper (2,567 yards passing), Bricen Terry (1,383 yards rushing) and Super 11 pick Jayson Stanley (16 touchdown receptions).

“We’re talented enough [to repeat],” Creekside coach Olten Downs said. “We feel we have all the pieces it takes, but do we have it mentally? Last year, our guys were hungry, and we had strong senior leadership. It’s a matter of whether we’re willing to work.”

Buford, moving up from AAA, is the No. 1 team in AAAA, ahead of defending champion Griffin, at No. 3. Buford, which has won five state titles during the past six seasons, leads the state in major D-I prospects. Six will start on the defensive side.

Griffin returns 14 of 22 starters but lost its quarterback, all-classification player of the year Jaquez Parks, now at Kennesaw State. Griffin also has a new coach, Jarrett Laws, who replaced Steve DeVoursney, who resigned after a five-month investigation into alleged recruiting and academic misconduct at the school.

In AAA, Washington County, the 2013 runner-up to Buford, is No. 1. The team’s best player, Georgia Tech-committed quarterback A.J. Gray, returns to an offense that averaged 47.7 points. Washington County’s last state championship came in 1997 when the school had a similar type quarterback, Terrence Edwards.

The No. 1 team in AA is Greater Atlanta Christian, seeking its first-ever state title. GAC has the most high-end prospects of any smaller Georgia school. Linebacker Tyler Cooksey has committed to Georgia Tech, and receiver Darius Slayton and running back Micah Abernathy each are among the top-20 prospects in Georgia.

GAC must overcome defending champion and Region 6 rival Lovett, which has beaten GAC each of the past six seasons. Lovett returns 15 of 22 starters but must replace its best player, running back/defensive back Grant Haley.

The Class A champions – Aquinas (private) and Marion County (public) – will start in the rankings where they finished last season. Both return most of their starters and their best two-way players, Ruben Garnett for Aquinas and Lorenzo Smothers of Marion County.


1. McEachern (11-3)

2. Colquitt County (11-3)

3. Archer (11-1)

4. North Gwinnett (13-2)

5 Tucker (14-1)

6. Mill Creek (6-4)

7. Lovejoy (10-2)

8. Camden County (10-2)

9. Norcross (13-2)

10. Hughes (10-2)


1. Creekside (15-0)

2. Stephenson (9-3)

3. Coffee (5-5)

4. Northside-Warner Robins (10-2)

5. Ware County (11-2)

6. Warner Robins (11-2)

7. Kell (13-1)

8. Gainesville (12-2)

9. Carver-Columbus (11-2)

10. Mays (8-4)

Class AAAA

1. Buford (15-0)

2. Sandy Creek (11-1-1)

3. Griffin (15-0)

4. Marist (11-3)

5. Carrollton (13-2)

6. Thomas County Central (8-3)

7. St. Pius (9-4)

8. Woodward Academy (9-3)

9. Whitewater (7-4)

10. Westover (9-3)

Class AAA

1. Washington County (13-1)

2. Calhoun (11-2)

3. Callaway (12-2)

4. Cedar Grove (7-5)

5. Jefferson (10-3)

6. Blessed Trinity (9-4)

7. Elbert County (8-3)

8. Ringgold (11-3)

9. Peach County (8-4)

10. Westside-Macon (7-4)

Class AA

1. Greater Atlanta Christian (10-2)

2. Lovett (14-1)

3. Benedictine (13-1)

4. Brooks County (12-2)

5. Heard County (10-2)

6. Washington-Wilkes (11-1)

7. Vidalia (10-2)

8. Bowdon (11-2)-12

9. Dublin (7-4)

10. Lamer County (14-1)

Class A

1. Aquinas (14-0)

2. Marion County (13-1)

3. Calvary Day (11-3)

4. Eagle’s Landing Christian (11-1)

5. Mount Pisgah Christian (12-1)

6. Irwin County (10-2-1)

7. Clinch County (8-4)

8. Charlton County (9-5)

9. Stratford Academy (10-3)

10. Mount Paran Christian (9-3)