Football blog: Brookwood leads list of 7A teams most likely to improve

Brookwood quarterback Jack Spyke (10) attempts a pass in the first half of Friday's game against Grayson.
Brookwood quarterback Jack Spyke (10) attempts a pass in the first half of Friday's game against Grayson.

Credit: Jason Getz/Special to the AJC

This is the first in a series of football blogs this month that showcase teams most likely to make big jumps forward in 2021. Starting with Class 7A, here are six teams likely to improve.

1. Brookwood: The 2020 Broncos were having their best season in years, getting as high as No. 4 in the rankings, but injuries and youth conspired to run it off the rails in late season. Although the victory over Parkview was sweet, Brookwood lost three of its last five and was routed in the first round by Colquitt County. The main characters who put Brookwood in the top five last season are back. The Broncos probably have the best pair of wide receivers and best pair of cornerbacks in the state. Pass catchers Samuel Mbake and De’Nylon Morrissette are top-300 national recruits, and pass defenders Marquis Groves-Killebrew (Georgia) and Andre Stewart (Kentucky) are committed to SEC schools. Then there’s Dylan Lonergan, the consensus pro-style QB prospect nationally among juniors is a top-100 recruit. Longergan threw for 2,249 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games. This is the most talented Brookwood team since 2010, the year of the Broncos’ most recent state title, if not longer.

2. Marietta: The Blue Devils won a state title in 2019 with one of the most talented senior classes in state history, then plummeted to an 3-8 finish last year as their young defense was routinely scorched. Marietta had 11 all-region players last season (albeit it in era of extra-large all-region teams). More importantly, 10 are returning. Coach Richard Morgan saw the future in his rising senior class, which includes QB Tyler Hughes, who passed for 2,703 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 535 yards as a first-year starter, and WR/LB Daniel Martin, a top-100 national prospect. Marietta’s nine leading tacklers season were juniors. Another state title is probably too optimistic, but Marietta has a realistic chance overtaking North Cobb as Region 3 champion.

3. Milton: The Eagles quietly went 11-1, reached the quarterfinals and won their third straight region title last season, suggesting that the 2018 state title was the start of something permanent, not the flash in the pan many might’ve presumed after that epic upset of Colquitt County. Milton had 21 all-region players last season (yes, these all-region teams are generous, but still), and 14 were underclassmen. That includes player of the year L.T. Overton, a defensive lineman that some recruiting sites consider the No. 1 junior prospect in the nation. Also back will be QB Devin Farrell, a three-year starter committed to Virginia Tech; RB Jordan McDonald, a 1,338-yard rusher; TE Jack Nickel, who has committed to Notre Dame; and OL Maurice Clipper Jr., another Power 5 Conference recruit.

4. Collins Hill: It will be hard to improve on a state runner-up finish, but the Eagles will be better if healthy in 2021. They have the state’s best all-around player, Travis Hunter, a five-star cornerback who caught 137 passes for 1,746 yards and 24 touchdowns in his spare time last year. Sam Horn, who recently committed to Missouri, might be the state’s best quarterback. He threw for 3,910 yards and 41 touchdowns in ’20. Leading rusher Spenser Anderson is also back. On defense, seven of the top 11 tacklers will return from a unit that gelled down the stretch in 2020, holding four playoff teams to 14 points or fewer.

5a. Walton: The Raiders have reached the second round in each of Daniel Brunner’s four seasons as head coach. Even the 10-win teams with Dominick Blaylock couldn’t go further. In 2021, they could have the firepower to do it. The leading rusher, Braylen Stokes, and receiver, Stone McKnight, were sophomores last season. CB Marcus Allen, WR Raswon MacNeill and OL Cason Henry are major Division I prospects and rising seniors. QB Zak Rozsman has committed to Appalachian State.

5b. Cherokee: The Warriors, 8-3 last season, have a prolific QB-RB-WR trio primed for its final run as seniors. A.J. Swann, a Maryland commit, has thrown for 5,075 yards and 45 touchdowns for his career and will be a third-year starter. Keith Adams Sr. has rushed for 2,654 yards, topping 1,000 each of the past two seasons. Adarrius Harshaw, an elite track-and-field athlete whose recruiting stock will rise this off-season, has 1,497 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns the past two seasons. Cherokee will have several key players to replace, so it remains to be seen whether the trio can take the Warriors to another level – first region title in 19 years? – or simply ensures another solid team.

Others: West Forsyth’s surprise 2020 quarterfinal team had several underclassmen in key roles, including Oscar Delp, the nation’s top-rated senior TE prospect. Roswell was another borderline top-10 team that had several good juniors. McEachern should bounce back after playing younger players in 2020. And it’s just a question of how quickly for Camden County, which was pounded by injuries last season. The Wildcats brought coach Jeff Herron back to Kingsland, where one of the state’s most successful coaches of all-time won three state titles in the 2000-09 era. And teams such as Grayson, Lowndes and Colquitt County will be good again, that’s for certain, but their rosters don’t suggest they’ll be better than they were in 2020.