The Purple Hurricanes were 13-0 last season before falling victim to visiting Buford (21-10) in the semifinals. In order to improve they are going to have to play near perfect football, but that is exactly what their returning quarterback did last year. Head coach Frank Barden took over the Cartersville program in 1996 and led it to a state title in 1999. This upcoming team looks as good as any in his 17 seasons. His son, Brooks Barden, quarterbacked his way to Class AAA Player of the Year honors last season as a junior. Barden passed for 2,878 yards and threw 39 touchdowns with only five interceptions. The 6-foot-3 quarterback has offers from Arkansas State and the University of Massachusetts.
Wideout T.L. Ford is the playmaker of the offense, and at 6-foot-3, the flanker is the perfect target for Brooks. Ford has over 11 confirmed offers including Kansas State, Cincinnati and Appalachian State. The explosive duo paced an offense that averaged 38.0 points per game last season, and the sky is the limit for them this season.
With plenty of talent at the coach's disposal, optimizing it is the challenge. "You do not look at your opponents," said Barden. "Our biggest opponent is going to be ourselves."
Barden likes what he saw from his young players last year and hopes to see them develop into the type of leaders that will continue to be catalyst to the team's success.
"We had a good group of seniors and young kids last year who were hungry and worked hard," said Barden. "I want them to be one of those leaders this year."
Rising sophomore Tiamon Pennymon is a guy that can find holes on offense and plug them on defense. Pennymon is an excellent ball carrier and uses his same field of vision to succeed at linebacker.
Kobie Whitfield is another key guy that, like Pennymon, made an impact as a freshman. Whitfield will be able to play receiver and defensive back this season. Rising senior, Mark Quattlebaum will also compliment the offense from receiver while starting in the secondary.
The early curb of this team could be on its line of scrimmage, Barden said. "We will need to find some offensive and defensive linemen to step up for us."
With Cartersville's rich football tradition, it is expected that Barden will find linemen on his roster to fill these roles, and will move guys around until they fit.
Barden believes that in order to surpass last year's 13-1 run, "The leaders will have to find the identity of our team."
I expect this team to only get better as the season progresses.
PRINCE AVE. CHRISTIAN
This past February, renowned head coach Jeff Herron left Class AAAAAA-powerhouse Camden County to accept the position at PACA, and championship aspirations were immediately restored in Bogart.
"I told these guys right away I expect us to work together and compete for championships," said Herron.
The Wolverines made it to the Class A state title game in 2012, but were shutout 33-0 by ELCA.
Despite the runner-up finish, they were 3rd place in their region. There is definitely room for improvement, and the new coach has been providing individual attention to his new group.
The smaller roster at Herron's new Class A home is half the size of his previous teams at Camden. I expect each player to benefit from this extra attention.
"I am really enjoying getting to know each kid, and getting that individual time when you have a group of new players to coach is very important," said Herron.
Assisting the new coach is Richard Bell who returns to his role as the Wolverines' valued defensive coordinator this season.
The Wolverines have four key two-way starters to replace from 2012, including linemen Tyler Parrish and Sam Kinnon, and running back/defensive backs Carl Mattox and Bryce Huff.
The leader of the team looks to be Christian Payne and the linebacker/tight end has earned his praise from coach Herron.
"Christian is a great player, and the type that would have been a standout for me any year at Camden."
Zach Graham, Conner Sibley and Chandler Gray are all rising seniors that Herron believes are poised for breakout years.
This is the biggest senior class Prince Avenue has ever had with the 20 guys. This record senior class will be backed by a talented group of underclassmen including Herron's son Tyson, who is a rising sophomore quarterback and could see time this year.
"[Zach] Graham is our starter, and he is a very talented quarterback. I can also see Tyson sharing some playing time this year if he continues to put in the work."
Herron plans to implement his same wing-T offense from Camden this season, which contains a fast tempo and heavy doses of no huddle attacks. The pace wears out opposing defenses, but the smaller roster at Herron's disposal will add challenges of its own for the head coach. Almost all of the starters will be two-way players, so preserving his guys throughout the game is going to require a busy offseason of conditioning.
In Herron's 23 years as a head coach he has a career winning percentage of .843 and four state titles. His titles came at Oconee County in 1999 and at Camden in 2003, 2008, and 2009.
GREATER ATLANTA CHRISTIAN
The Spartans have 18 starters returning including quarterback Rafe Chapple, offensive lineman Britt Lee, wide receiver Chris Williams and safety Ross Wood. Chapple shattered records last season and passed for 366 yards with five touchdowns against Heard County
Lee, who stands 6-foot-3, 273 pounds, can play on both sides of the ball, but is more known for his physical play on the offensive line where he is the Chapples main protector. Lee has been shown strong interest by college programs such as Air Force and Navy.
GAC went 10-4 last season, and lost 42-14 to eventual state champion Jefferson in the semifinals. In season ending defeat they were overwhelmed when Jefferson gained momentum and let them run away with it. With the firepower to match any team, and a defense loaded with returning starters, this could be the Spartans year.
Pierce County went 10-2 last season before falling victim to Class AAA-powerhouse Peach County 43-15 in the second round. The Bears' posted a flawless 7-0 record in Region 1-AAA and beat each region foe by double digits with the exception of Appling County (36-34). Hitting their stride in the regular season, but not their potential in the playoffs is something that Bears' head coach Sean Pender believes can change with more confidence this season.
When we got matched up with Peach County last year I think our players saw their track record and No. 1 ranking for most of the season and thought that they were better than they were," said Pender. "They [Peach County] are a great team, but we just left so many plays on the table. We were not confident enough."
Confidence and having something to prove is the tune of this 2013 football team. At quarterback is Tyler Harris who could be the best college quarterback prospect in his class right now. While splitting time with Micah Lareson last season, Harris threw for over 2,500 yards and 29 touchdowns. Harris has been considered as high as the top 10 recruit in the state this year, and his first offer came from the Alabama Crimson Tide. SMU, Mississippi State and South Florida are all trying to get a pledge from the 6-foot-3 pro-style quarterback, and Pender believes a college decision could come as soon as the end of June.
In order to make it over the playoff hump and escape the gauntlet of Class AAA powers, Pender knows that his players are going to have to become big-time playmakers this season. Junior running back Josh Henderson has proven to come up clutch in the big moments, and as a sophomore ignited the offense.
"Josh has such a great work ethic," said Pender. "He is a tough kid and shows up for the big games."
The Bears' offense was balanced last season with Harris under center and Henderson at ball carrier, and they will house that same versatility this year. Sennua Lawson is a solid 204 pounds and can play tight end or the slot. Lawson is the primary target for Harris and his physicality and great hands gives Pender belief that he can make plays when they need them this year.
The stumble against Peach County in the playoffs tattooed what had been a great season. Pender believes that because of the loss, some of his players, Harris in particular, have not gotten the recognition they deserve. As a result, he believes they have something to prove this season.
"Tyler knows that if he won a state title last year, that he would be able to go to any school in the country," said Pender. "I think he [Harris] is going to be the best college quarterback out of this class, and he [Harris] understands that winning a title makes all the difference. He wants to prove it to everyone."
The Bears will be set offensively and have a very strong secondary leading the defense.
"The secondary and perimeter guys are as good as any team I have had," said Pender. "The depth is not necessarily there however, so as long as we can stay healthy we will be fine."
Pender hopes that his team will focus on improving game-to-game this season and "Learn how to win" as the season progresses so they can hit their stride when it counts.
The Bears open at home against Bacon County and will be at Appling County on Oct.
Hillgrove missed the playoffs last season with a 6-4 record. Turnovers and poor starts held this team back tremendously. With head coach Phillip Ironside's son Elijah at quarterback, the mistakes will be limited. Elijah looks to be on the verge of a breakout season. He started as a sophomore in 2011, but was injured before the 2012 season. Senior Troy Thompson got the starting job, but Ironside would come in as relief in several games. The younger Ironside completed 32 of 61 passes for 519 yards and eight touchdowns in limited action. The 6-foot-1 quarterback is a dual threat and can take off and scramble at any point.
"Our main goal this year is to turn the ball over less and Elijah did a great job last year by not throwing any interceptions," said Ironside.
Omar Black, Errol Breaux, Justin Denton and Zach Katz are all starting caliber receivers and the corps will have four players in rotation this year that found the end zone in 2012. Evan Engram played a lot of tight end while having the versatility to flex out wide. He ended the year as the team's leading receiver and will suit up for Ole Miss next season. Without Engram, the receivers will become a bigger part of the offense and Hillgrove has the personnel for it.
"It [the depth] helps us because we will play four wide with Zach Katz at the slot," said Ironside.
Katz was just one of the many Hillgrove players injured last season, and a healthy team in 2013 will leave Ironside with a multitude of options.
Running back Richardre Bagley broke his ankle last season, but showed glimpses of what Ironside expects to be his major role this season.
"I think he [Bagley] is going to be the guy to get us moving next season," said Ironside.
Another option for Elijah will be Wheeler transfer Emanuel Beal. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound wideout finished the year with 855 yards and seven touchdowns. No Cobb County receiver returning to the field in 2013 accounted for more yards than Beal did last season.
"This is as deep as we've been at wideout," said Ironside.
Coach Ironside has always stressed his intent to spread the football offensively, and Beal's arrival will allow him to maximize the depth at receiver. Effectively sharing the football was evident last year when the Hawks came into the season without star running back Kenyan Drake, who had graduated and moved on to the University of Alabama. The offense split the touches and matched the productivity with an armory of playmakers.
Hillgrove has a chance to make the playoffs and find themselves in contention with McEachern, Marrietta and North Cobb for the 4-AAAAAA region title this season.