Class 5A blog: Five teams that could surprise in 2022

The primary contenders for the Class 5A championship are well-documented – defending champion Warner Robins, Creekside, Jones County, Cartersville, Calhoun, Ware County, Clarke Central, Jefferson, etc. But there are always a handful of teams who rise up and surprise the experts during the season. Here’s a look at five teams who could potentially fill that role in 2022.

Cambridge: The Bears are dropping down in classification to compete in Region 6. Cambridge, in its 11th season under coach Craig Bennett, return 18 starters – including all five offensive linemen who are each three-year starters -- on a team that went 9-2 last season.

“Very rarely do you have two or three coming back, must less all five,” Bennett said.

Center Cameron Phillips is a four-year starter, but a lot of attention has been garnered by Tommy Broderick, whose offers include Columbia, Campbell, Stetson and Carson Newman. The experience of the line should help development of first-year quarterback Preston Clemmer, a 6-foot-2, 188-pound junior.

The offense works out of a spread, but leans toward the run. Cambridge has had 1,000-yard runners the last couple seasons and could have another one in four-year starter Jack Marlow, who has committed to play lacrosse at the University of Michigan. He rushed for 517 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021.

Receiver Will Taylor had 45 catches for 914 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 and has interest from Furman, Georgia Southern, Kennesaw State, among others.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Brooks Morley, a three-year starter who led the team with 69 tackles.

Kell: The Longhorns are dropping back into Class 5A, where they won nine-plus games from 2010-2019. They only won six games each of the last two seasons in Class 6A and coach Brett Sloan left after five seasons to join the staff at Collins Hill as offensive coordinator. Kell was able to lure Bobby May to take over the program. May rebooted the program at Westlake – going 6-5, 11-2 and 10-3 in Class 6A.

The Longhorns have a top talent in defensive end Joshua Barker (5-10, 250), who had 94 tackles, 10 sacks, 37 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and four blocked kicks in 2021. The offense features senior quarterback Davion Hampton, who threw for 1,500 yards and ran for 500 in 2021 and running back Ryan Barrett.

Kell and Cambridge are the early favorites in Region 6.

Chamblee: It’s been a while since Chamblee has been relevant in football. Last year’s 9-1 record in a non-region format indicates the Bulldogs may be a player this year in Region 4 when they return to a region slate. Coach Bob Swank’s team could even challenge for a postseason spot, which hasn’t happened since 2009.

Quarterback Fabian Walker threw for 2,275 yards and 35 touchdowns last year, completing 65.1 percent and throwing only five picks. Jordan Thornton caught 51 balls for 761 yards and 11 TDs and they make up one of the top combos in the league.

The defense returns leading tackler Carlos Chavez and Mason Carrington, who has the ability to get into the opposition’s backfield.

Statesboro: The Blue Devils went 5-5 in 2021 and did not make the playoffs last season in Class 6A when they dropped their final two games. They return one of their more experienced teams in years and should contend for the playoffs in Region 1.

Junior quarterback Kam Mikell ran for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore and should be a DI signee. Speedy Jordan Lovett ran for 482 yards and eight touchdowns and has offers from Georgia Southern and Coastal Carolina. Receivers James Flagg and Payton Wedlow are both 6-foot-2 and loaded with big-play potential. The defense features big bookends in Amontra’e Bradford and Leslie Black.

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Credit: Stan Awtrey

Ola: New coach Tom Causey will be the third head coach in three years at the Henry County school. Jared Zito left after seven seasons, departing after going 9-2 in 2020. Ryan Angel was promoted, went 5-6 and departed to join the staff at Loganville.

Causey has 28 years of experience in Alabama, where he won a state championship in 2008, and was looking for an opportunity to coach in Georgia. He sees potential to build a legacy at Ola.

“We’ve got some work to do,” he said. “Probably the biggest thing is to be consistent in how we do things as players and coaches. We’ve got some dang good athletes and we’ve just got to do a good job being consistent about what our expectations are for them.”

Causey inherits a team with decent depth on the offensive and defensive lines.

Top players include defensive back Tye Holsey (6-1, 205), linebacker Joel Jones (5-11, 196), three-year starting tackle Neil Sledge (6-6, 315), defensive end Kurtis Waye (6-4, 220) and Peyton Morefield, also one of the team’s top baseball players. All are seniors with size and experience who will be asked to play both ways.

“We’re going to put a lot of pressure on those guys to be good for us, not only on the field but off the field as well,” Causey said.