Views on 2022 season from media around Georgia

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

GHSF Daily prides itself in its statewide coverage of Georgia high school football, but nobody knows their local schools better than their hometown newspapers and radio stations. GHSF Daily reached out to members of the Georgia media this week, most of them local but a few with a statewide approach, to get their quick observations about the new season and some of the more interesting teams, players and coaches they’re following. This is what they said.

Chris Beckham, Chick-Fil-A Football Friday Night Radio Show

“Region 1-7A has a lot of great storylines this year, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they play out. Colquitt County has the most returning talent, especially on offense, but there are questions anytime you have a new coach. Lowndes has had to replace two coaches since they’ve had to replace a quarterback, so we’ll see what it’s like without Jacurri Brown, now at Miami, and with Zach Grage. How improved will Camden County be in Jeff Herron’s second year back? How will Richmond Hill adapt to a new and faraway region? And then there’s Valdosta. How will they fare back in 7A and coming off a year when the Wildcats weren’t eligible for postseason? They’ve got talent, especially on defense, but that might be the most interesting storyline of all.”

John Bednarowski, Marietta Daily Journal

“For Cobb County, it starts with North Cobb. The Warriors, led by Arkansas commit Malachi Singleton at quarterback, have arguably the best team in program history. Is this the year they put it all together? Walton will be North Cobb’s biggest competition in Region 5-7A. Kennesaw Mountain could get involved in the discussion, but they have to prove it as a Class 7A program. Marietta should be the favorite in 3-7A behind quarterback Chase McCravy. As always, get Allatoona early because it will be hard to get them late, as it should duke it out with Rome for the Region 6-6A title. It will be interesting to see if teams like Lassiter and South Cobb are able to continue the momentum they had at the end of last season and get back to the playoffs. Kell, with Bryce Clavon at quarterback, looks to be explosive, and Whitefield Academy has a roster with several Power 5 players to make them a player in Class A.”

Mark Brock, DeKalb County Schools Athletics

“DeKalb County Schools continue to churn out some top talent as evidenced by this year’s NFL Draft as five DeKalb alums were drafted to lead the state. Former Towers grad Devonte Wyatt was the highest chosen, going in the first round to Green Bay. Cedar Grove had three former players from their 2016 state title team drafted along with one McNair alum. The 2020 pandemic took a toll on the numbers in DeKalb with transfers and those electing not to play that season. The 2022 season is showing a jump in numbers again, and several teams who were relatively young last year such as Columbia (Class 2A quarterfinals) and Stephenson (lot of freshmen and sophomores playing) as well as a Chamblee Bulldog team that re-enters region play with a solid core returning could make some noise. Cedar Gove, which won its fourth title in six seasons in 2021, is of course the team most people know about and are playing a tough schedule due to having a hard time finding opponents.”

Brian Carter, BLITZ Sports GA

“In Northeast Georgia, plenty of programs enter new eras (Rabun, Jefferson, Lumpkin, White), some are looking to make big strides (Habersham, Lumpkin, Banks, Union, Towns) into hopeful playoff contention, and others are hoping for even more success (Commerce, Dawson). Still, all eyes are on Rabun, Jefferson and Stephens County. Rabun turns a new leaf from Gunner Stockton and 20-plus seniors and nearly the entire coaching staff. But with a plethora of skill players back under new coach Michael Davis, and perhaps their best receiving corps ever, look out for transfer quarterback Keegan Stover to make sure this program stays near the top. Jefferson is changing up the offense under Travis Noland, so be on the lookout for what that means for five-star Sammy Brown, who should have a monster year. And Stephens County is back with all their skill guys and looking like the best team in Toccoa since the 2005 11-win, region title, quarterfinal version of the Indians. There’s great talent up in this area, and all teams are seeking to turn some heads across the state.”

Tucker Cole, The Times-Georgian of Carrollton

“It would be difficult to find a high school football fan who has not heard of Carrollton freshman starting quarterback Julian ‘JuJu’ Lewis, with a pile of Division I offers, including those from Georgia and Alabama, already on his table. But that is not the only interesting piece of the Trojans’ offensive lineup. In late July, they added junior wide receiver Caleb Odom, a 6-foot-6, 200-plus pound, four-star transfer from just down the road – Villa Rica. Odom will be a big, athletic target for a fast-learning Lewis, who already had several key returning weapons, including running back Bryce Hicks and wide reciever Takare Lipscomb. Though they will be facing some tougher competition in 7A this year, the Carrollton offense is poised to explode.”

Derrick Davis, The Brunswick News

“After an undefeated regular season, Brunswick High’s season came to a premature end in the second round. Head coach Sean Pender left for North Hall, but the Pirates aren’t going anywhere. Garrett Grady will take over the ship. An assistant under Pender since his Pierce County days, Grady hasn’t shaken up much, making just minor alterations to the coaching staff. Nearly the entire defense remains intact around Wake Forest commit Ka’Shawn Thomas, who regularly made offenses abandon the run. The biggest change will be on offense, where following the graduation of four senior running backs, the Pirates will feature a deep passing attack built around the talents of quarterback J.R. Elkins and receivers Terry Mitchell, Kevin Thomas and Jayden Drayton. Brunswick ranked within the top 10 in Class 6A in points scored and points allowed a year ago, and they could repeat the feat while making a deeper postseason run this season.”

Ryne Dennis, Athens Banner-Herald

“Aaron Philo. You’ll want to remember the name of the Prince Avenue quarterback throughout the next two seasons as he torches defenses and his recruitment intensifies. He kind of flew under the radar as a sophomore, mainly because he replaced five-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff, now at UGA. But the dude can play, and he even broke his predecessor’s school passing record by nearly 400 yards. Philo passed for 4,540, fifth in Georgia history, and likely would have broken the single-season record had the Wolverines not faced a forfeit in the first round of the playoffs. He has interest from the likes of Duke, Wake Forest and Arkansas State, but watch for the big-time schools to come after him in the next few months.”

Alex Farrer, Rome News-Tribune

“The Rome Wolves return a ton of talent from, and many around the program believe this is the team that can take them back to competing for a state title. Coach John Reid and his bunch have plenty of motivation too after being eliminated in the first round of the state playoffs last season, failing to advance to at least the second round for the first time during Reid’s tenure there, which started in 2014. Darlington returns a lot of experience as well from their state quarterfinal team from 2021, including some big and experienced players at the line of scrimmage and some speedsters on the edge, which should help them compete for a region title in Class A Division I and be a contender to go deep into the postseason once again. Pepperell’s D.J. Rogers has the chance to put up big numbers again as he is back for his senior year at running back and will be featured heavily in the Dragons’ offense for a team that also has playoff goals in mind. Model has the athletes to be a sleeper team in a tough Region 7-2A, Armuchee has shown progress over the last few seasons and should continue that trajectory in Region 7-A Division I, and Coosa will likely also be improved after a tough season in 2021.”

Will Hammock, Gwinnett Daily Post

“This is a season of change for Gwinnett football with nine new head football coaches – counting Seckinger, a new school in Buford – the biggest single-season head coaching turnover ever for the county. For years in Gwinnett, there was a stable core of head coaches, and changes at the top happened much less frequently. I think that speaks to the stresses and challenges modern football coaches face. Of the new head coaches, the one that was eye-catching was Hebron Christian luring Jonathan Gess away from Eagle’s Landing Christian. Hebron was already set up to become a football power, and hiring Gess should accelerate that process greatly. I think two coaches who played such key roles in Collins Hill’s powerful offense the past two seasons as assistant coaches will do very well in their new roles as head coaches, Todd Wofford at Meadowcreek and Dante Williams at Archer. And Lanier made a nice hire in the offseason with Tyler Maloof, a promising young coach who grew up in a family of head coaches.”

Scott Herpst, Catoosa County News/Walker County Messenger

“Local rivalries are some of the best parts of high school football, and the new GHSA realignments have given fans in Catoosa and Walker counties a treat. Of the six GHSA football programs in the two neighboring counties, five of them – Gordon Lee, LaFayette, LFO, Ridgeland and Ringgold – are now in Region 6-3A. LaFayette, LFO and Ringgold have been in the region for the last couple of years, Ridgeland dropped from Class 4A, and Gordon Lee is playing up two classes from their normal level, which should make for a very interesting year with lots of big crowds. Heritage, the only team in the two-county area not in 6-3A, will also find itself in a battle each night as teams are looking to dethrone Cedartown in 7-4A. We also have two new coaches locally in Mac Bryan (LFO) and Craig Pritchett (Ridgeland). Both recently coached in North Carolina, but Pritchett is back at his alma mater, where he spent several seasons as an assistant coach with the Panthers, including the 2012 state runner-up season, before leaving Georgia for his first head coaching gig.”

Jonathon Hoppe, Columbus WTVM News Leader 9

“Carver remains the standard here in Columbus. The Tigers, who lost to Benedictine in the 4A finals last year, move to 3A with a new head coach and a number of new starters. Pierre Coffey takes over after two seasons as the head coach at Chattahoochee County. Coffey was previously an assistant at Carver under current Georgia running game coordinator Dell McGee. Speaking of Athens, that’s where senior four-star offensive lineman Kelton Smith has committed to play. We’ll see if Coffey, Smith and others can put the Tigers back in title contention.”

Phil Jones, ITG Next and ‘Extra Point with Phil Jones’

“Several factors should make the upcoming season quite interesting at a trio of South Georgia programs. At Lowndes, new coach Zach Grage is dealing with uncertainty at quarterback. This will be the first time in seven seasons that the Vikings don’t have an established starter under center to start the season. It will be sophomore Marvis Parrish or junior Brooks Best in their opener vs. American Heritage on Saturday at home. That, coupled with the loss of several key starters on both sides of the ball, has Viking fans somewhat reserved. Meanwhile, the city school neighbors, the Valdosta Wildcats, are still reeling from this week’s ruling by a GHSA appeals committee that found four-star DL Gabe Harris ineligible. While we wish Gabe the best and hope he can find a football home for his senior season, Valdosta’s defensive line will still include two of the best defensive players in the state and four-star recruits in edge rusher Eric Brantley Jr. and former Lee County four-star DL Omar White, who transferred. The two rivals are once again region foes with Valdosta joining Region 1-7A after moving from 6A. The two face off Oct. 7 in their annual rivalry game, The Winnersville Classic.”

Dennis Knight, Savannah Morning News

“Benedictine’s Luke Kromenhoek will get his first start at quarterback for the defending state champion Cadets when they take on Jenkins at Memorial Stadium on Friday night, a highly unusual situation for a player who committed to Florida State in March. The junior has waited his turn behind former BC star Holden Geriner, now a freshman at Auburn, but he wasn’t standing on the sideline holding a clipboard as he was a key contributor as a safety and tight end in the state title run. Look for Kromenhoek to bring an added dimension to the Cadet offense as a tough runner who picks his spots well, in addition to his powerful and accurate arm.”

Adam Krohn, AJC 2A beat writer; The Class 2A Blogcast

“There are many intriguing Class 2A storylines heading in — all of which are discussed in Ep. 44) – starting with Fitzgerald looking to become the first program since Buford (2006-10) to win consecutive 2A titles. They remain in a Region 1 that no longer has Thomasville (or Brooks County, which left in 2020), but that adds Dodge County and Jeff Davis. In Region 2, can Northeast build off its success after graduating Travion Solomon? Who will emerge from Region 3 between Appling County and Pierce County, or could a traditional 2A power like Vidalia or Toombs County throw in a wrench?. Robert Edwards, who played for Georgia and then in the NFL after a legendary career at Washington County, returns home to coach the Golden Hawks in Region 4. ELCA joins Region 5, where another powerhouse, Callaway, resides. The two have combined for 220 wins and seven state titles the last decade. In Region 6, South Atlanta set school records last year for wins (11-2) and best finish (quarterfinals), and returns the state’s leading rusher, Purdue commit Keyjuan Brown. In 7-2A, there are three 2021 region champions: Haralson County (Region 5), Fannin County (Region 7) and Rockmart (6-3A), plus North Murray, which could make this 2A’s deepest region. Region 8 looks like a misprint without eight-time defending region champion Rabun County, but Fellowship Christian and Athens Academy join, and you can expect both to be perennial contenders in 2A.”

Michael Lough, The Central Georgia Sports Report

“The anticipation comes in Region 2-5A, which now adds Warner Robins, in with Jones County. The top program in the area and perhaps the top fan base in the area, and they may play for the region title – in Gray, which would be electric. Baldwin and Perry have been alone atop 2-4A, but West Laurens has one of nine new head coaches in central Georgia, Kip Burdette coming from Mary Persons. The ‘can they do it again?’ questions for different reasons are asked of ACE, GMC, Northeast, Putnam County, among others. Can new Houston County boss Jeremy Edwards bring some magic winning dust after three years and consecutive state championships as Warner Robins’ offensive coordinator? And can Warner Robins reach the 5A finale for the sixth straight year? Don’t ask. Gut feeling is a fair number of teams in central Georgia will make some needed progress, making for more tight region races and surprises. And then there’s the ‘new’ Georgia Independent Athletic Association, kin to the Georgia Independent School Association, where 82% of the football teams will be in the playoffs.”

Daniel Mayes, Dalton Daily Citizen

“Chatsworth native Billy Napier is making national headlines as the new head coach at the University of Florida, but he’s not the only member of his family entering his first season in a new head coaching job. Napier’s younger brother, Kurt Napier, is the new head coach at the Napiers’ alma mater, Murray County. The youngest Napier brother is a little more reserved than the Gators’ head coach, but he’s got the meticulous attention to detail that his older brother has become known for. While Billy is trying to make a name for himself in the Southeastern Conference, Kurt is tasked with turning around a Murray County team that finished 1-9 in 2021. The Indians haven’t been in the playoffs since 2005, when they were coached by another Napier. The late Bill Napier, Billy and Kurt’s dad, coached Murray from 1991 to 2006.”

Chris Mooneyham, 680 the Fan/ GA High School Football Scoreboard Show

“Well, anyone who knows me, knows I am a sucker for history being made in our state. As someone who has seen both Buford and new Wolves running back Justice Haynes a ton over the years, I am very curious to see what sort of performance the transfer is able to lay down this season. If my numbers are correct, the senior has 5,879 career rushing yards, which according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association places him just 1,024 yards behind ninth all-time on the career rushing yardage list (Kawon Bryant, from North Oconee, at 6,903 yards). Moreover, the Alabama commit is just 1,443 yards shy of top five all-time (Eddie Dixon, ECI, at 7,322 yards). Finally, if he reaches his per season average of 1,959 yards, Haynes will be just two yards shy of Worth County legend Robert Toomer, who currently sits in third place.”

Bill Murphy, Gainesville Times

“The anticipation and excitement around the football program at Gainesville High is unlike anything I’ve seen in 18 years of covering sports in Hall County. The Red Elephants have loaded up on talent for first-year coach Josh Niblett, who won six state championships at Hoover High (Alabama). Gainesville has so much talent on both sides of the ball, led by middle linebacker Jeremiah Telander (Tennessee commit) and senior running back Naim Cheeks. During the offseason, Gainesville added a pair of seniors, Darius Cannon from White County and Tre Reece from Jefferson, who will both be big playmakers at wide receiver. The Red Elephants will almost certainly be in the conversation as a state title contender when it gets time for the postseason. I think Gainesville fans are more excited about this team than the 2012 squad that won Class 5A with Deshaun Watson.”

Jon Nelson, GPB Sports

“There are three schools playing their 100th season of high school football this season – Dublin, Mitchell County and LaFayette. There are crossovers with the head coaches at LaFayette and Dublin. Andy Scott talked to Roger Holmes about the Dublin job when it came open in 2002. Scott was on staff at Perry that year and Dublin played the Panthers, too. Dublin gets to celebrate their 1000th game in 100 years at the Shamrock Bowl on Friday night when Wilkinson County comes to town. Separately, Mitchell County coach Dondrial Pinkins is a legacy there, and he and his brother, Al, are both recognized as official ‘Thrillas from Camilla’ on campus. Coach Pinkins and his staff are now ‘on the hop’ trying to figure out how to celebrate their milestone on campus. Their season opener will be game No. 970 all-time at Monroe-Albany. LaFayette has had coaches that have completed their ‘rival trifecta’ patrolling the sidelines with the Ramblers, Trion and Gordon-Lee. But, if you beat the other two, you’re beloved on campus. Their first game this year is No. 947 at Chattooga Friday night.”

Gil Pound, The Union-Recorder of Milledgeville

“We’re going streaking here in Baldwin County this season. John Milledge Academy, playing in the newly formed Georgia Independent Athletic Association, has won 37 straight games after the 2018 GISA 3A championship loss to Frederica. Former UGA fullback and current JMA head coach J.T. Wall replaces only one starter on offense but lost about half his defense to graduation and transfers out. The Trojans this season will compete in a district with the Macon schools (FPD, Mount de Sales, Stratford, Tattnall) but will play for the GIAA 3A title while the Macons and other larger schools will bump up to 4A come playoff time. JMA staying down had some folks scratching their heads due to the team’s dominance in recent years, but Wall said when enrollment counts were done, John Milledge was only nine students above the AA/AAA threshold. Also locally, GMC Prep is coming off its best season in over 60 years. The Bulldogs under former East Hall standout Lee Coleman were 10-0 region champs last season before losing to a physically large Manchester squad in the first round. GMC’s regular season win streak is still intact heading into 2022, though. Baldwin High School this year will try to make it to the postseason for the seventh time in a row. The Braves’ 2024 four-star RB Micah Welch is the county’s premier player, with offers from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, among others.”

Brendan Robertson, Augusta WJBF News Channel 6

“The Thomson Bulldogs are ready for another run at a state championship and should pose a serious threat with their move down to Class 2A. The Bulldogs cruised to an 11-0 start before falling to Appling County in the 3A quarterfinals in 2021. They return with junior quarterback Noah Story, who split snaps with Tay Martin a year ago. They have two region player-of-the-year candidates joining Story in the backfield with junior Jontavis Curry and RB/QB Jahkiaus Jones. Linebacker Jaquan Hart leads a defense that led the region in scoring defense last season. Washington County will certainly contend with Thomson for the region title with new coach Robert Edwards and four-star running back Dontavius Braswell, who has committed to South Carolina. But Thomson head coach Michael Youngblood has already said publicly, ‘It’s state championship or bust for the Thomson Bulldogs.’”

Ethan Strang, LaGrange News

“If you like defensive line play, you will love football in Troup County this year. While the area is full of quality talent, it will be the players in the trenches stealing headlines. The Callaway Cavaliers will be heavily reliant on the defensive interior duo of Elijah Gunn and Sam Williams, both seniors. Gunn made the GACA all-state team as a junior and is committed to Southern Illinois. Williams, a member of the 2020 and 2021 all-state teams, is simply a dominant presence inside at over 6-4 and 280 pounds. Williams is committed to Wake Forest. While the Callaway duo is formidable, Troup’s Qua Birdsong is turning heads. 247Sports ranks him as a four-star recruit, and as a junior, he still has time to grow. That said, he might just be the best player in the county as he has shown great bend and speed from the edge. Birdsong carved up Villa Rica with multiple sacks and tackles for a loss in Troup’s scrimmage a couple of weeks ago.”

Nicholas Sullivan, Forsyth County News

“Five of the six Region 6-7A teams reside in Forsyth County, but the lone outsider, Fulton County powerhouse Milton, is the favorite. That said, the battle for the region’s other three playoff spots should be thrilling, with two intra-county matchups every week down the stretch. North Forsyth left the region, dropping to Class 6A during reclassification, and will be looking to return to the playoffs after missing last year despite finishing in a three-way tie for third place. In its second year of existence, East Forsyth will hope to take a big step forward, and coming off a solid scrimmage showing, the Broncos could surprise some people.”

Becky Taylor, Tifton Gazette

“Tift County enters year two of the Noel Dean era. They were 6-5 a year ago but were stung pretty hard by Lowndes in the spring game. In August, however, the two met again and Tift won 8-7 with very, very solid defensive play under first-year defensive coordinator Will Flowers. Dean spent the last year preparing Carlton Brannon for starting QB, and the senior responded by hitting his first six passes of the second half against Lowndes. In Region 1-6A, the Blue Devils have new opponents and a chance to reestablish their identity. Dean said he is eager to be the one to totally rebuild Tift, and it’s clear that he’s not going to settle for a second-best effort from anyone.”

Joe Whitfield, Albany Herald

“It is a fun time to cover football in Albany because two of the state’s best young athletes are here in Dougherty’s Kameron Davis and Lee County’s Ousmane Kromah. These two are the real deal. They are bigger and stronger and now realize that they have the ability to change a game. I interviewed them both for our ‘Fantastic Fifteen’ series, and I don’t know if I have ever met two more impressive young athletes. They both carry a 4.0 GPA and can choose whatever career they want to do if football doesn’t put them playing on Sunday afternoons. They are also genuinely nice, polite and respectful young men. Dougherty and Lee County are obviously the two best teams in the area, but I wouldn’t count the Monroe Golden Tornadoes out. Coach Lacey Herring has his team looking sharp. With three Division I players in the defensive backfield (Andrico Jackson, Johnny Cauley and Janorris Winkfield), they could surprise some people if they get their offense clicking.”

Produced by Georgia High School Football Daily, a free e-mail newsletter. To join the mailing list, click here.