Football blog: These five 6A teams stand to improve in 2021

Buford quarterback Dylan Wittke (17) makes a handoff to running back Victor Venn (6) in the second half of their game at North Cobb High Friday, September 11, 2020. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado
Buford quarterback Dylan Wittke (17) makes a handoff to running back Victor Venn (6) in the second half of their game at North Cobb High Friday, September 11, 2020. PHOTO/Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

This is the second in a series of football blogs this month that looks at the teams most likely to make big jumps forward in 2021. The first covered teams in Class 7A. Continuing with Class 6A, here are five teams with the potential to be better.

1. Buford: Nobody outside Buford wants to hear this, but it’s the truth – The defending champions will be more talented in 2021. Buford’s past two state champions weren’t loaded with major Division I talent in their senior classes. This one will be. RB Victor Venn is committed to Colorado. DB/RB C.J. Clinkscales is committed to Boston College. Jake Pope and Isaiah Bond, the team’s leading receivers who also start in the secondary, each have more than 20 college offers. LB V.J. Payne, LB Malik Spencer and CB Ryland Gandy are Power 5-conference recruits as well. QB Dylan Wittke, a rising junior, also has experience and multiple D-I offers.

2. Hughes: The Panthers were probably 6A’s most underrated team last season. They shut out Region 2 champion Glynn Academy 35-0 in the second round, lost to Buford in the quarterfinals and finished 11-2, their only other loss to Westlake. Five first-team all-region players are back, and that doesn’t include RB Antonio Martin, who played only five games last season (injured) after running for 1,535 yards as a sophomore. He has committed to Georgia Tech. The QB duo of freshman Prentiss Noland and junior Xavier Smith also returns. Both passed for more than 1,200 yards last season, and Smith rushed for 794. OT Bo Hugley and DB Terrance Love are top-100 national recruits in the class of 2023. Love and leading tackler Gannon Weathersby, a linebacker, were two of six sophomores who started or played significantly on defense last season.

3. Rome: The Wolves have lost in the second round the past two seasons after their three year run of 41-3 with two state titles. They should rebound in 2021. Reece Fountain completed 68.2% of his passes as a freshman last season. Martel Height, a sophomore, had 30 receptions on offense, five interceptions on defense. Another freshman, Martavious Collins, had 30 receptions. Eight of the team’s 12 leading tacklers in 2020 were underclassmen, including freshman LB Alto Moore.

4. River Ridge: The Knights were Class 6A’s most improved team last season, when they won Region 6, finished 11-1 and beat Cherokee rivals Etowah, Woodstock, Creekview and Sequoyah for the first time. Topping that will be a challenge, but now, they’ll have the swagger of a team that knows it should win, plus several key figures for the 2020 ascension. River Ridge returns 7A’s leading rusher (Amehre Morrison) with their quarterback (Carson Lathem) and leading receiver (Jackson Head). The defensive will return five starters.

5. Valdosta: If the Wildcats improve on a semifinal finish amid their current turmoil – coach Rush Propst is on administrative leave, fighting for his job – then we’ll know the ghosts of Cleveland Field are real. But this team was set up to make a run this season before allegations of funny money put the program in limbo. Valdosta returns eight all-region players, including Region 1 offensive player of the year Tajh Sanders, a receiver with ACC and SEC offers, and Amari Jones, the quarterback, plus blue-chip DB JaDarian Ryhm who has committed to LSU. If Valdosta can get through spring and summer in one piece, it still can be a more legitimate contender than the one that Buford blasted in last year’s semifinals.

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