Over the next three days we will continue taking an in-depth look at Georgia's most competitive regions heading into 2013 and rank a top five. The criteria will be based on the amount of playoff contenders in the region, performance outside the region and overall depth.
2012 Final Standings
15-0 (8-0) Norcross
11-2 (7-1) North Gwinnett
9-4 (6-2) Mill Creek
6-5 (5-3) Collins Hill
4-6 (4-4) Peachtree Ridge
4-6 (3-5) Duluth
3-7 (2-6) Mountain View
1-9 (1-7) Habersham Central
0-10 (0-8) Meadowcreek
There are 48 regions in Georgia and being one of the more competitive ones requires depth and playoff prowess. Region 7-AAAAAA has the depth with about six teams vying for the four playoff spots each year, and also holds some of the most talented individual athletes in the country. This region's competition has tremendous coaching and has been able to match the level success of Gwinnett's Region 8. Norcross and North Gwinnett are two of the state's best teams, and this matchup could potentially decide the 2013 Region 7-AAAAAA crown.
Norcross won its first state title last season, and posted a perfect 15-0 record. The body of work is impressive enough being in Georgia's highest classification, but when looking at the region opponents they conquered it becomes that much more notable. The Blue Devils return 16 starters including five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter, who will likely be the number one prospect in the country this season. The towering Carter has the speed and strength to terrorize the line of scrimmage, and posted a sack in every game last season.
Quarterback A.J. Bush, who started at quarterback for Milton last year has received offers from Kansas State, Marshall and Troy. Miles Autry is healthy this season and the gifted playmaker will be one of the many offensive weapons. On defense linebacker Kevin Muohon and defensive back Jordan Noil, are big time college prospects and two of the many key returning starters.
North Gwinnett will be one of the best teams in the state this season, and could be the Blue Devils biggest threat to ruining a 2013 repeat. Head Coach Bob Sphire will go for his eighth consecutive season of 10 or more wins. A key addition that could spark the Bulldogs on offense is Chattahoochee transfer C.J. Leggett. Leggett is a physical running back that holds offers from UCLA, Vanderbilt and Georgia State. The running game will be matched with one of the best aerial assaults in the state this season.
Quarterback Hayden Sphire has had a big offseason in 7-on-7's and was named the offensive MVP at the Georgia Invitational at Lassiter. Sphire has built a solid connection with his long list of playmakers, and wideouts Nate Brown and Caleb Scott each had more than 30 catches last year. Junior Daniel Imatorbhebhe is a rising star for the Bulldogs and stands 6-foot-4 with a wingspan that is still filling out. This is probably the best receiving corps in the state and will challenge the Norcross defense this season. The Bulldogs defense is led by end Dante Sawyer, who has all the skills to be a standout for a major college program next fall.
It was not a normal year for Peachtree Ridge in 2012. The Lions finished with a 4-6 record, which was their first losing record since 2004, the program's second season of playing GHSA football. Head coach Mark Fleetwood made changes this season and offensively, the Lions will be more up-tempo. The defense will play an even front instead of an odd front. Leading the up-tempo offense will be quarterback Chance Thrasher, who could be one of the top college recruits in the state next year.
Thrasher will have a reliable running back beside him in Jordan Ellis who committed to Virginia in June. Ellis rushed for more than 800 yards and nine touchdowns last season. Athlete Myron Burton, who has gotten offers from Georgia State and UNC-Charlotte, can run the ball and play wide receiver. The Lions have one of the best linemen in the state in Orlando Brown. After weighing over 400 pounds his sophomore season, Brown has since lost 65 pounds and has committed to Tennessee.
Nick Glass, a Georgia commit, will hold down the strong safety spot while Walden Davis will play free safety. Glass has the ability to fill in at linebacker because of his size and Davis can also play running back and receiver. Aaron Harris is a hybrid defensive end and will be the leader of the defense according to Fleetwood.
Mill Creek cracked our top 10 rankings for Class-AAAAAA and it was because the team got better each week last season. After losing to Brookwood early in the season, the Hawks thumped them 56-21 in the state playoffs. Head Coach Shannon Jarvis reached the quarterfinals, before falling a touchdown shy of North Cobb 42-35. Mill Creek has the talent to challenge for the region title this season, and fell to Norcross 49-41 last season.
The starting lineup is stacked with 13 returning starters each playing a major role in the state quarterfinals run of 2012. DeVozea Felton will be replacing Jacorey Lewis, the leading rusher in Gwinnett County, and Carter Governale will be returning from a knee injury. The Hawks' offense will be led by quarterback Daniel David who ended the 2012 season with 1,841 yards, 15 scores, 71 rushes and nine rushing touchdowns. Also returning will be defensive backs Zac Turner and Chris Dickhute, offensive lineman Josh Fannin and running back/line backer Jonathan Hawkins.
Collins Hill made the state semifinals in 2010, but has been knocked out of the postseason early ever since. Quarterback Tyler Herman will continue to run the spread offense, and running back Tyler Henderson will help return the Eagles to the playoffs. Henderson has college interest from schools such as the Air Force Academy, Old Dominion and Buffalo. Christian Harris, a recent Duke commitment, and Rhyan England will be playing both sides of the ball for the Eagles. The defense will continue to line up in the 3-4 formation and will be led by lineman Miles Fox.
Duluth will have a new head coach this season in Jason Conner, who spent the last two seasons as the Wildcats' offensive coordinator. Conner's offense scored 26 points per game last season and he has QB Thad Bell returning. Every running back and receiver graduated and Tyler Davis is the skill guy returning that saw significant playing time. Conner has put together a staff of coaches that will focus on defense and running the football, and believes that is the formula for success in a tough Region 7. "The faster Duluth can get better in the trenches, the better we will be," said Conner.
Mountain View heads into the season without three of their key players from last year. Their leading rusher Marvin Elam and leading tackler William Tuider are playing college ball this fall. The team also must replace starting quarterback Chris Bartlett. Filling in this year will be Kielan Whitner, a rising junior who led the team in interceptions last year and was named second-team all-Region 7-AAAAAA as a sophomore. The Bears return defensive lineman Emmanuel Banjoko, linebacker Bryce McCloud and offensive lineman Edwin Alvarenga. The Bears have only been around four seasons and head coach Doug Giacone will continue building the program this year.
Habersham Central is still in the transition phase, but will likely model its program after its tough region neighbors and its new head coach Michael Pollack's previous success. In 2012, the Raiders made the jump from Class AAAA to AAAAAA and will likely need another few years to get back to a winning record. Pollack is a former UGA walk-on that has a 36-17 overall record and a 21-6 region record as a head football coach. Pollock's coaching history includes 16 total state playoff appearances, and he has never had a losing record.
Pollack embraces the challenge ahead in Class AAAAAA and will approach it with respect and confidence. While he was head coach at Cook County, his team reached the Georgia Dome for the state semifinals, and had the No. 1 scoring offense that year in all classifications in Georgia. On the other side of the ball his defense was the No. 1 scoring defense in AA.
Meadowcreek last won a football game in 2008, but years of playing in one of the states toughest region has created some tough kids in the process. DeAndre Smith is a 6-foot-2, 210-pound junior who will play tight end and defensive end this season. Kortez Towles, David Stewart and Laquan Johnson will be able to line up as receivers. Stewart also plays outside linebacker and running back and Johnson is a 6-foot-3, 190-pound receiver who has a chance to make plays this season.
All eyes will be on Norcross, North Gwinnett, Mill Creek, Peachtree Ridge and Collins Hill this year, but there are nine teams that will be challenging each week to survive this region.