Preseason all-state: Caleb Downs, elite linemen headline 7A class

*Best player: Caleb Downs, Mill Creek. The five-star safety has intercepted 14 passes in his career, returning five for touchdowns. He’s also scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs. He’s a great student, too, with a 3.95 GPA.

*Best position: Lineman. It’s what separates the highest class. The bigger the school, the greater the odds of athletic, larger people walking the halls. This year, it comes out to 15 trench men rated as top-75 Georgia senior or junior prospects, with all-state room for only nine. With one exception (see Underrated below), all are at least 6 feet, 3 inches or weigh at least 275 pounds, and each projects to sign with a Power Five Conference team.

*Most highly recruited: Downs is Georgia’s consensus No. 1 senior prospect and the nation’s No. 1 safety. He’s committed to Alabama.

*That’s interesting: Brookwood’s Dylan Lonergan, the state’s highest-rated senior QB prospect, is noted for his strong arm, which also makes him an elite baseball pitching prospect. He plans to play baseball and football at Alabama. He’s thrown for 6,239 yards in his high school career and could finish third all time in the highest class behind Marietta’s Harrison Bailey and Collins Hill’s Sam Horn.

*Snubbed: In a fast game of musical chairs among five four-star linebackers, North Gwinnett’s Grant Godfrey won the motivating prize of not being seated on this team. He’s merely the consensus No. 322 senior prospect in the country, a first-team all-county player last season with the Gwinnett TD Club and the son of former All-Pro linebacker Randall Godfrey. Also not included is Georgia-committed defensive lineman Gabriel Harris, whom the GHSA has declared ineligible at Valdosta pending an Aug. 16 appeal regarding his transfer from Thomas County Central.

*Underrated: The only non-specialists on the team not certain to sign with a Power Five school are Colquitt County running back Charlie Pace (5-10, 185), who is committed to Georgia State, and Valdosta defensive lineman Eric Brantley (6-1, 250), who has more than 20 offers, about half what he’d get if he were a little taller. Pace had 1,345 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in 10 games last season. Brantley was Region 1-6A’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2021.

*What else is new: Buford is making its debut in the highest class with four preseason all-state players: running back Justice Haynes, left tackle Paul Mubenga, defensive tackle Eddrick Houston and safety/wide receiver K.J. Bolden. And it could’ve been more.

Offense

Dual QB – Malachi Singleton, North Cobb, Sr.

Pro QB - Dylan Lonergan, Brookwood, Sr.

RB - Justice Haynes, Buford, Sr.

RB - Charlie Pace, Colquitt County, Sr.

WR - Craig “C.J.” Adams Jr., Pebblebrook, Sr.

WR - Cayden Lee, Kennesaw Mountain, Sr.

TE - Ethan Davis, Collins Hill, Sr.

OL - Nathan Efobi, South Forsyth, Sr.

OL - R.J. Grigsby, North Cobb, Sr.

OL - Connor Lew, Kennesaw Mountain, Sr.

OL - Paul Mubenga, Buford, Sr.

OL - Shamurad Umarov, Denmark, Sr.

ATH - K.J. Bolden, Buford, Jr.

PK - Ryan Degyansky, Lambert, Sr.

Defense

DL – Eric Brantley, Valdosta, Jr.

DL - Eddrick Houston, Buford, Jr.

DL - Kayden McDonald, North Gwinnett, Sr.

DL - Tyler Walton, North Gwinnett, Sr.

LB - Jamal Anderson, Mill Creek, Sr.

LB - Dee Crayton, Denmark, Sr.

LB - Dion Crawford, Collins Hill, Sr.

LB - Jalen Smith, Grayson, Sr.

DB - Caleb Downs, Mill Creek, Sr.

DB - Mike Matthews, Parkview, Jr.

DB - Avieon “A.V.” Terrell, Westlake, Sr.

DB - Bryce Thornton, Milton, Sr.

P - Jacob Ulrich, Mill Creek, Sr.

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