Class 6A blog: Two-time champion Buford departs, private schools move in

A total of 41 schools moved in or out of Class 6A as a result of a GHSA reclassification process that was more complex and drawn out than just about any in the history of the organization.

None of the moves will have more of an impact on 6A football this season than the departure of Buford and the arrival of four of the state’s premier private-school powers.

Buford spent two years in Class 6A after moving up from 5A in 2020 but made the most of its time there, winning state championships both seasons while compiling an overall record of 27-2. Both championship-game victories were dramatic – a 34-31 overtime victory against Lee County in 2020 and a 21-20 win over Hughes last year that wasn’t secure until Hughes missed a field goal on the final play of the game.

The Wolves’ only losses the past two seasons came against Class 7A North Cobb 28-14 in the 2020 opener and Florida powerhouse Chaminade-Madonna 7-0 last season.

Buford was a Class A school as recently as 2001 but has successfully climbed each rung of the ladder, winning at least one state championship in each classification (13 overall in that stretch). Now it’s on to 7A, where the Wolves can become the first program to win a state title in all seven classes.

“Of course, it is always on our minds,” Buford coach Bryant Appling told GHSF Daily’s Todd Holcomb about the move to Class 7A. “We have been saying repeatedly this could be our toughest schedule, both non-region and region, in the history of our program. Class 7A is hard to fathom, for us to come so far over these years, and we do recognize how tough it will be.”

Moving into Class 6A to try to fill the void will be private schools Blessed Trinity, St. Pius and Woodward Academy from 5A and Marist from 4A. Those four schools have combined to win nine state championships, and each has made at least two appearances in the semifinals in the past 10 seasons. All four could end up in the top 10, at a minimum (see “Teams to beat” item below).

The private schools were among 21 that were added to Class 6A. Twenty others departed.

Here are four things to watch in Class 6A this season:

*Comings and goings: The four private schools moving up won’t be the only new teams likely to make an impact in Class 6A this year. Perennial playoff teams Roswell and Tift County will move down from Class 7A. So will Gainesville, which won a state title in the second-highest class in 2012 but struggled to an 11-10 record the past two seasons in 7A. Thomas County Central will move up two classes from 4A under new coach Justin Rogers, formerly at Colquitt County. Among the big names departing for Class 7A are Valdosta (nation’s winningest program), 2021 semifinalists Carrollton and Dacula, quarterfinalist Westlake and region champion Kennesaw Mountain. And Tucker, which was dominant for years but has struggled the past couple of seasons, is leaving for 5A.

Teams to beat: With Buford no longer standing in the way, Lee County has been tabbed as the favorite in Class 6A by the computer Maxwell Ratings’ preseason projections. That’s not a reach, considering the Trojans won state titles in 2017 and 2018, lost an overtime heartbreaker to Buford in the 2020 final and reached the quarterfinals in 2019 and 2021. Lee County will be pushed by the incoming private schools, which come into the season ranked by Maxwell at No. 2 (Marist), No. 3 (Blessed Trinity), No. 8 (Woodward Academy) and No. 12 (St. Pius). Other teams in the computer’s preseason top 10 are No. 4 Roswell, No. 5 Rome, No. 6 Hughes, No. 7 Northside-Warner Robins, No. 9 Allatoona and No. 10 Creekview. Hughes lost in the final last season and returns four players picked as preseason all-state by Georgia High School Football Daily.

*Top players: Eight of the consensus top 30-ranked seniors in Georgia will play in Class 6A this season, and three play for 2021 state runner-up Hughes. The highest-ranked member of the group is Hughes OT Bo Hughley (No. 6, committed to Georgia). He is joined on the list by teammates Jelani Thurman (TE, No. 7, Clemson) and Terrance Love (S, No. 24, Auburn). Others in the top 30 include South Paulding OL Madden Sanker (No. 8, Louisville), Thomas County Central WR Adam Hopkins (No. 18, uncommitted), Rome DL Stephiylan Green (No. 19, Clemson), Roswell CB Ethan Nation (No. 26, uncommitted) and Woodward Academy DL A.J. Hoffler (No. 28, Clemson). Additionally, three Class 6A players are ranked among the state top 20 juniors: Woodward Academy LB Myles Graham (No. 10), Northside-Warner Robins S Ricardo Jones (No. 12) and Rome ATH Martavious Collins (No. 18).

*New coaches: Thirteen Class 6A schools hired new head coaches in the offseason, and none made a bigger splash than Gainesville. The Red Elephants landed Josh Niblett, a seven-time Alabama champion who won six state titles during his 14 seasons at Hoover. Niblett is replacing Heath Webb, who became head coach at Lumpkin County. Other new head coaches include Houston County’s Jeremy Edwards, Thomas County Central’s Justin Rogers, Veterans’ Josh Ingram, Brunswick’s Garrett Grady, Alcovy’s Spencer Fortson, Forest Park’s Corey Johnson, Mundy’s Mill’s Earthwind Moreland, Riverwood’s Michael Young, East Paulding’s Chris Hirschfield, Paulding County’s Umbrah Brown, Johns Creek’s Drew Connell and Lanier’s Tyler Maloof.