Top 10 games of Week 1

Walton running back Braylen Stokes (32) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Stone McKnight (11) during Walton's 35-28 win against Kell at Walton high school Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Marietta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Combined ShapeCaption
Walton running back Braylen Stokes (32) celebrates his touchdown with tight end Stone McKnight (11) during Walton's 35-28 win against Kell at Walton high school Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, in Marietta. (Jason Getz/For the AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Brooks County at Thomasville

When, where: 8 p.m. Friday, Veterans Memorial Stadium, Thomasville

Records, rankings: Brooks County (13-2 in 2020) is No. 1 in Class A Public; Thomasville (8-5 in 2020) is No. 4 in 2A.

Last meeting: Brooks County won 20-14 in 2020.

Things to know: This is the 14th consecutive time that these two South Georgia powers have met when at least one was ranked. In four of the past five, both were ranked. In 2020, Brooks led 14-0 early, but the game was decided late when sophomore Jamal Sanders caught a 35-yard TD pass with 4:50 left, breaking a 14-14 tie. Brooks’ best player is Omari Arnold, a 5-9, 175-pound running back who has rushed for more than 4,000 yards in his career. Thomasville also has a similar smallish but top-notch running back, junior Ricky Fulton (1,707 career rushing yards), plus a two-time all-state linebacker, Ty Anderson. Brooks was the Class A Public runner-up last season and has a preseason No. 1 ranking for the first time. The last time Thomasville beat a No. 1-ranked team was 1993 (Dougherty).

Buford at North Cobb

When, where: 8:30 p.m. Friday, Emory Sewell Stadium, Kennesaw

Records, rankings: Buford (13-1 in 2020) is No. 1 in Class 6A; North Cobb (10-2 in 2020) is No. 3 in 7A.

Last meeting: North Cobb won 28-14 in 2020.

Things to know: This game will feature more of the state’s top 100 seniors than any game in the state this season. Buford has a state-best eight players in the top 100. The best-known among the group is likely RB Victor Venn (No. 78, committed to Colorado), who rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns on 137 carries last year despite splitting time in the backfield. The Wolves’ top-rated recruits are ATH Isaiah Bond (No. 23, Florida) and DB/receiver Jake Pope (No. 37, Alabama). North Cobb counters with five top-100 players. Four are ranked in the top 50, and all four are transfers from Brookwood – No. 11 Marquis Groves-Killebrew (CB, Georgia), No. 18 Denylon Morrissette (WR, Georgia), No. 26 Samuel M’bake (WR, uncommitted) and No. 48 Andre Stewart (CB, Kentucky). QB Malachi Singleton is a four-star junior who passed for 1,691 yards and rushed for 1,091. North Cobb used its victory last year to jumpstart a 10-2 season, winning its first region title since 2013. Buford rebounded with 13 consecutive victories and won its 13th state title.

Colquitt County at Marietta

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Northcutt Stadium, Marietta

Records, rankings: Colquitt County (9-1 in 2020) is No. 5 in Class 7A; Marietta (3-8 in 2020) is No. 8 in 7A.

Last meeting: Colquitt County won 34-3 in the 1994 Class 4A semifinals.

Things to know: Marietta fell to 3-8 last season after its 2019 state championship, but the decline was anticipated, and so is the revival. Marietta returns 20 starters, leading to its preseason top-10 ranking. QB Tyler Hughes (committed to Southern) threw for 2,703 yards and 28 touchdowns last season for team that got 80% of its offense passing. His top receiver is Daniel Martin (896 yards), whose prime position is actually linebacker. He’s a top-250 national recruit there. Colquitt doesn’t have many star players, just a tradition of excellence. The Packers reached their 11th quarterfinal in 12 seasons in 2020, finishing 9-1 over a COVID-scarred schedule. Colquitt returns only about eight starters overall. Only WR Dijmon Wheeler is a major-college recruit. Colquitt’s starting quarterback graduated, and his backup transferred. Sophomore Neko Fann, who attempted two varsity passes as a freshman, is expected to start.

ELCA at Woodward Academy

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Colquitt Stadium, College Park

Records, rankings: Eagle’s Landing Christian (9-4 in 2020) is No. 1 in Class A Private; Woodward Academy (7-5 in 2020) is unranked in 5A.

Last meeting: Eagle’s Landing Christian won 14-0 in 2020.

Things to know: Coming off a 7-5 finish, Woodward is unranked for its opener for the first time since 2012, but the 2021 team should bounce back. Woodward started four sophomores and a freshman on defense last season. DE A.J. Hoffler is now a top-300 national recruit. CB Christian Harrison is committed to Liberty. New starting QB Jalen Woods, a junior transfer from Marietta, also has D-I potential. The team’s star player is Damari Alston, an Auburn commit who rushed for 1,507 yards last year. ELCA’s streak of five state titles ended last season, but with Brock Vandagriff of champion Prince Avenue Christian off to Georgia, ELCA is back at its familiar No. 1 spot in the rankings. The top players are DB Peter Simmons (committed to East Carolina) and LB Jason Reynolds. Brandon Hood (800 yards rushing as a freshman) looks like the next great ELCA running back. Junior oOL Zack Owens is huge – 6-7, 350 pounds – and has an offer from Georgia. The new starting QB is Charlie Gilliam.

Lovett at Westminster

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Alfred E. Thompson Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Lovett (7-3 in 2020) is No. 5 in Class 2A; Westminster (4-4 in 2020) is No. 8 in 3A.

Last meeting: Westminster won 31-21 in 2019.

Things to know: These Buckhead neighbors had played each other every season since 1994 until the 2020 COVID cancellation. Their past six games have been decided by 10 points or fewer, and the lower-ranked team has won the past two. Westminster was 4-4 last season, its first non-winning season since 2013, but three losses were to top-five teams. The Wildcats’ best player is Holden Staes, a tight end committed to Notre Dame and also a beast on the defensive line. Junior quarterback John Collier is full strength after missing three games injured last year. Phillips Moore, a sophomore, is Westminster’s best lineman. He won the discus and shot put at the Class 3A meet last spring. Lovett was 7-3 last season and lost to eventual Class 2A champ Callaway 16-9 in the second round. Lovett’s best player is all-state LB Stevie Bracey, who is committed to Virginia. He shows up at receiver sometimes. Lovett expects much from QB Preston Lusink, who started as a freshman.

North Gwinnett vs. Hoover (Ala.)

When, where: 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: North Gwinnett (8-4 in 2020) is No. 10 in Class 7A; Hoover (11-2 in 2020) is No. 3 in Alabama’s Class 7A (MaxPreps).

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Alabama power Hoover will be the first out-of-state team to compete in the Corky Kell Classic in the 30-year history of the event. The Buccaneers have lost to Thompson in the state semifinals each of the past three seasons. Hoover’s highest-rated senior prospects are DL Markus Clark (committed to Coastal Carolina) and QB Bennett Meredith, who transferred from rival Spain Park after passing for more than 3,000 yards last season. North Gwinnett’s 8-4 season in 2020 ended a three-year run of 10-win seasons, but the Bulldogs are 44-10 in four seasons under coach Bill Stewart, with three region titles and the 2017 Class 7A championship. North Gwinnett lost seven starters, including all-state LB Barrett Carter, off a defense that allowed 12.5 points per game, but it returns two top-300 juniors in DL Kayden McDonald and LB Grant Godfrey. On offense, the Bulldogs have three returning starters on the line to help pave the way for junior QB Ethan Washington and junior RBs Marcus McFarlane and Brinston Williams, who combined for 1,044 yards rushing last season.

Rabun County at Jefferson

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Memorial Stadium, Jefferson

Records, rankings: Rabun County (12-2 in 2020) is No. 1 in Class 2A; Jefferson (12-1 in 2020) is No. 1 in 4A.

Last meeting: Jefferson won 28-14 in 2020.

Things to know: This is a matchup of top-ranked teams that are led by top-50 national recruits who are reigning offensive players of the year in their classifications and have committed to Georgia. Rabun County quarterback Gunner Stockton, the consensus No. 4 senior in Georgia, has passed for 9,518 yards, run for 3,416 and accounted for 184 TDs in his career and is within reach of Deshaun Watson’s state records in combined yards (17,134) and touchdowns (214). Jefferson’s Malaki Starks, No. 2 in Georgia, rushed for 1,537 yards and 24 touchdowns and threw 11 TD passes as a quarterback and had 41 tackles and two interceptions as a free safety last season, although he is projected as a linebacker in college. Jefferson has added RB Sammy Brown, who ran for 1,368 yards as a freshman at Commerce in 2020. On Wednesday, 247Sports released its first national prospect rankings for sophomores and rated him the No. 1 linebacker and No. 5 overall player. Rabun County, a semifinalist last season, has made six consecutive appearances in the quarterfinals or better but has yet to break through for its first state title. Jefferson lost to Marist in the Class 4A final last year and is seeking its first title since 2012.

Trinity Christian at Athens Academy

When, where: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Slaughter Field, Athens

Records, rankings: Trinity Christian (12-3 in 2020) is No. 2 in Class A Private; Athens Academy (9-2 in 2020) is No. 4 in A Private.

Last meeting: Athens Academy won 17-10 in 2020.

Things to know: Trinity Christian went 8-4 and 7-4 in its first two years in the GHSA but had a breakthrough season in 2020, winning a school-record 12 games and reaching the Class A Private championship game. The Lions’ three losses came against champion Prince Avenue Christian (41-21) in the final, five-time defending champion Eagle’s Landing Christian (34-0) in midseason and Athens Academy (17-10) in the opener. The Lions are led by brothers David and Josh Dallas. David has passed for 4,942 yards and 43 TDs in his career and committed to Western Michigan. Josh, committed to Liberty, was a first-team all-state defensive back in 2020, is a key receiver and returns kicks. Athens Academy has some holes to fill after graduating three all-state players – WR/DB Deion Colzie (Notre Dame), OL John Ferguson (Georgia) and DL Hugh Laughlin – and must find a replacement for Palmer Bush, a quarterback, defensive back and punter who was named the Region 8-A Private athlete of the year. All-state DL Johnero Holt (several mid-major offers) returns.

Walton vs. Lowndes

When, where: 2:45 p.m. Saturday, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta

Records, rankings: Walton (6-6 in 2020) is No. 9 in Class 7A; Lowndes (10-2 in 2020) is No. 6 in 7A.

Last meeting: This is the teams’ first meeting.

Things to know: Walton has gone 6-6 the past two seasons but is ranked in every human poll heading into 2021 because of some high-profile returnees. They include QB Zak Roszman (committed to Appalachian State), WR/TE Stone McKnight (781 yards receiving as a sophomore), OL Cason Henry (Georgia Power 100 selection) and CB Marcus Allen (committed to North Carolina). Eight first- or second-team all-region players are back. Lowndes is rebuilding a little – only three of its top 12 tacklers from 2020 are back – but the Vikings’ track record of three straight semifinal appearances and the return of four-year starter Jacurri Brown, an AJC Super 11 quarterback, can’t be ignored. Brown, a Miami commit, has more than 3,000 career yards both rushing and passing. LB DeAunte Hunter (more than 15 Division I offers) and DB Josh Pickett (committed to Duke, leading tackler in 2020) lead the defense. Star WR Chase Belcher has moved to running back this season.

Warner Robins vs. Valdosta

When, where: 8 p.m. Saturday, Five Star Stadium/Mercer University, Macon

Records, rankings: Warner Robins (13-1 in 2020) is No. 2 in Class 5A; Valdosta (0-12 in 2020, but with eight victories forfeited) is No. 7 in 6A.

Last meeting: Valdosta won 28-25 in 2020, although overturned by forfeit.

Things to know: Shelton Felton makes his debut as Valdosta’s interim head coach after a turbulent offseason in which the Wildcats fired Rush Propst after one season over allegations of illegal recruiting. Among the punishments was a 2021 playoff ban. Valdosta ultimately forfeited eight games, including the one against Warner Robins in the opener. Warner Robins went on to win the 5A championship, after having lost in the finals the previous three seasons (two in overtime). Demons DL Vic Burley, the consensus No. 2 player in Georgia among juniors, is the highest-rated Warner Robins prospect in the modern history of recruiting rankings. He had 11 sacks, 22 tackles for losses and 46 QB hurries as a sophomore. WR Daveon Walker (49 receptions for 790 yards and seven touchdowns) joined Burley on the preseason all-state team. Valdosta’s JaDarian “J.D.” Rhym is a three-year starter at cornerback who made first-team AJC all-state last season for a team that reached the semifinals. He is a top-200 national prospect and committed to LSU in January.

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