Class 3A blog: Breaking down the changes in a new-look classification

There’s a new look to Class AAA this season after the reclassification cycle and a lot to break down because of it.

The classification is smaller than last season, after losing 22 teams and gaining 14.

The biggest coaching name added to the class is former Eagle’s Landing Christian head coach Jonathan Gess, who became the head coach at Hebron Christian. At ELCA, Gess won six state championships, including five consecutive from 2015-2019.

The Gess hire was major for Hebron, which has played football since 2007 but never gained the reputation as a football powerhouse. The program’s best playoff finish was a quarterfinal appearance in 2019 under Jeff Saturday, the former Indianapolis Colts center. Stan Luttrell took over in 2020 and finished 3-7 and 4-7 in 2020 and last season, respectively.

ELCA began playing football in 2007 under Gess’ guidance and amassed a 160-39 record in 16 seasons. It took until 2012 before Gess led ELCA to its first state title and then, after losing in the 2014 championship game, the floodgates opened. In its streak of state title victories from 2015 to 2019, ELCA lost five games. After moving up two classes, Hebron will join Region 8 with Oconee County, Hart County and Monroe Area. Gess and the Lions will be tested … in a big way.

There are notable programs that left the class, including 2020 champion Pierce County (AA), 2021 semifinalist Appling County (AA), 2021 quarterfinalist Burke County (AAAA), Cherokee Bluff (AAAA), Greater Atlanta Christian (AAAAA) and Westminster (AAAA).

Some of the additions include Monroe, Pickens and Ridgeland from Class AAAA. Savannah Country Day and Wesleyan are up from the former A Private (now Class A, Division 1 or 2).

Another big get for the class is Class AA runner-up Thomasville, which lost to Fitzgerald 21-7 in the 2A championship game last season. Former head coach Zach Grage took over the Lowndes job and the Bulldogs promoted offensive coordinator Jonathan DeLay to head coach.

But it’s worth noting that the usual suspects, well, the usual suspect, returns.

Defending-champion Cedar Grove has won four Class 3A state championships since 2016 and defeated Region 5-rival Carver-Atlanta 56-26 in the AAA championship game last season. The Saints won the program’s first title in 2016 under head coach Jimmy Smith. Cedar Grove then won back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019. Smith won the 2018 title, and Miguel Patrick took over after Smith joined Georgia State’s staff and won the 2019 title. Then in 2021, John Adams, in his first season, won the 2021 championship.

Another perennial contender is Oconee County, which lost to Crisp County in the second round last season, 26-10. The Warriors made offseason moves and hired former Flowery Branch head coach Ben Hall to replace Travis Noland, who is at Jefferson. Hall amassed a 41-17 record coaching the Falcons and advanced to the playoffs in each season from 2017-2021, but never past the second round.

Speaking of Crisp, the Cougars promoted offensive coordinator Lawrence Smith to replace Miguel Patrick, who took a job on Ohio State’s staff. Smith, a Tennessee State-alum, played 16 games for the Buffalo Bills during the 2004 NFL season and was the head coach at St. Francis in its first two years with a football program in 2010-11. Patrick, the former Cedar Grove coach, left Crisp County after one season where he led the Cougars to a 9-4 record and quarterfinal appearance.

Here are the new-look regions:

Region 1

Team Coach

Carver (Columbus) Pierre Coffey

Columbus Phil Marino

Crisp County Lawrence Smith

Dougherty Johnny Gilbert

Monroe Lacey Herring

Thomasville Jonathan DeLay

Region 2

Jackson Dary Myricks

Mary Persons Brian Nelson

Peach County Chad Campbell

Pike County Bryan Holley

Upson-Lee Justin Elder

Region 3

Beach Michael Thompson

Calvary Day Mark R. Stroud

Groves Calvin Wells

Johnson (Sav.) Kenderrick Bonner

Liberty County Tony Glazer

Long County Mike Pfiester

Savannah Christian Baker Woodward

Savannah Country Day Ty Ward

Region 4

Cross Creek Ezzard Horn

Harlem Mark Boiter

Hephzibah Daniel Dorsey

Morgan County Clint Jenkins

Richmond Academy David Sammons

Salem Jarrett Laws

Region 5

Carver (Atlanta) Darren Myles

Cedar Grove John Adams

Douglass Stanley Pritchett

Sandy Creek Brett Garvin

Region 6

Adairsville Jon Cudd

Bremen Davis Russell

Coahulla Creek Danny Wilson

Gordon Lee Josh Groce

LaFayette Andy Scott

Lakeview-Ft. Oglethorpe Mac Bryan

Ridgeland Craig Pritchett

Ringgold Robert Akins

Region 7

Dawson County Sid Maxwell

Gilmer Paul Standard

Lumpkin County Heath Webb

Pickens Grant Myers

Wesleyan Franklin Pridgen

West Hall Krofton Montgomery

White County Chad Bennett

Region 8

Franklin County Parker Martin

Hart County Cory Dickerson

Hebron Christian Jonathan Gess

Monroe Area Kevin Reach

Oconee County Ben Hall

Stephens County Wesley Tankersley