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
10-3 (8-0) Wilcox County
7-4 (7-1) Irwin County
6-4 (6-2) Telfair County
6-5 (5-3) Turner County
5-6 (4-4) Charlton County
4-6 (3-5) Clinch County
2-8-6) Lanier County
Region 2-A has it all. Only two of its seven teams posted losing region records last season, but only two posted winning records as well. There are state championship teams battling it out each week and the gap between the top and bottom shrinks each year.
One of the main things that Class A football does differently than the rest of the classifications is that its playoffs are based off of power rankings. The playoffs are set up in a 16-team bracket with schools seeded 1-16. Every game matters, and even non-region games have tie-breaker and playoff implications. I caught up with Irwin County head coach Jonathan Lindsey to talk about this power region and the upcoming season. Lindsey's Indians made the postseason last year, and consistently participated in some of the closer games seen in Region 2 each week.
In his two years at the school he has brought the team from a 2-8 record in 2010, and 3-7 record in 2011 to a 7-4 mark last year. Against reigning region champion Wilcox County, who made the semifinals last season, his teams were tied 21-21 in the fourth quarter before falling 28-21. The game against Turner County has been decided by one point in each of Lindsey's seasons. In 2011, Turner County won 24-3 and last year Irwin County won 27-26. This season, Irwin County is among the top of the field of possible region contenders.
"There are up and down years regardless in every region, but 2-A is a top to bottom region. There are very good playoff teams and former state champions," said Lindsey. "To win the region you definitely need consistency, and its kind of like being in the SEC each week. Class A has it just like the 6A and the rest of the classifications. Every week is a big game and there is really no one in our region you can overlook."
Wilcox County has been the hot team as of late. The Patriots won the Class A state title in 2009 and head coach Mark Ledford's team cruised through the postseason before falling to eventual state champion ECI 38-27 in the semifinals. The Patriots lost their first region game to their biggest rival, Charlton County, 32-26. Charlton County's win over Wilcox County proves the depth of the region, as the Indians went 2-3 in its remaining region games.
Ledford will have to find new leadership after the departure of quarterback Makail Grace, who was voted as the Region 2 player of the year, as well as wide receiver and UNC signee-Jonathan Howard, who was named Region 2 offensive player of the year.
"I think we have a good chance to have a good year," said Ledford.
Seven players on offense and five on defense come back and Ledford will once again have a strong group in the trenches.
"One thing that makes me feel good about where we are, is that we're pretty big and athletic up front on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball," said Ledford.
The offensive line as well as junior running back Maurice Edwards, who finished the 2012 campaign with 665 rushing yards, will have to lead the team early while sophomore quarterback Antwan Benjamin gets comfortable. Senior defensive tackle Johnny Dwight, measures at about 6-foot-3, 300 pounds and is committed to Alabama.
Charlton County is preparing a winning season, and have reached the playoffs every season since 1990. Despite another playoff berth, Head Coach Rich McWhorter for first time in his tenure at Charlton County (since 1990) finished the season with a losing record. The competitiveness within the Region 2-A last season was at an all-time high and the non-region opponents will also be a challenge.
The Indians will have to play Brantley County (1-AAA), Ware County (3-AAAAA), Bradwell Institute (3-AAAAA), and Fitzgerald (1-AA) that are much larger than them. The Indians beat Bradwell Institute 12-0 and Brantley County 20-0 last season.
The "Swamp War" between Charlton County and Clinch County still remains the biggest rivalry for both schools, and dates back almost 50 years. Similarities in each school's size and their location across the swamp from one another creates one of the best rivalries in the state.
Returning for Charlton County is quarterback Trae Harrington, wide receiver and defensive back Julian Roberts and junior linebacker T.J. Wilson. Charlton County's top college prospects for the 2013 season are Harrington and defensive lineman Will Gowen. Juniors Curtis Nixon and Levi Cribb will likely see offers build during the season.
Telfair County just missed the playoffs last year with a 6-4 overall record and came in somewhere in the 17 or 18 seed. Head Coach Matt Burleson will have senior quarterback and defensive back Kevin Clark. Junior Gage Harrelson stands 6-foot-1, 200-pound and will see lots of action at tight end and linebacker.
Clinch County has the most hardware in the region with four state titles, three since 2002 (2004, 2010). Wide receiver Kenny Lashore is 6-foot-2, 175-pounds and the three-star wideout will have a chance to have a big season. Clinch County has a roster full of athletes that play multiple positions. More than 10 two-way starters this season will be able to play upwards of four different positions, including Quarterback James Core who will also man both safety positions if needed. Chancey Manac will be a sophomore and played wide receiver, tight end and defensive end last season. Manac stands 6-foot-2, 220-pounds.
Turner County was another playoff team out of 2-A, and head coach Eric Soliday will have some solid players returning. Kendall Kicklighter and Yusif Muhammed will lead the linebacking corps. Last year Turner County tied with Wilcox County as the best defensive in the region allowing 18.0 points per game.
Lanier County just hired a new head coach after David Ward announced his retirement. Ward's team had a roster that featured just seven seniors, six juniors and 22 underclassmen this past season and finished 2-8. The team is still inexperienced, but there will be a solid senior class in the next couple seasons. Phillip Johnson steps in as the Bulldogs new leaders, and Lindsey is confident that Lanier County will quickly turn around under the new direction. "With a brand new head coach this year I'm sure Phillip [Johnson] is going to be changing things up and grinding a little harder to find ways to win."
Irwin County has athlete Ryan Peterson who is being looked at by schools such Missouri. Antuane Merritt is another leader and college recruit, and will play on both sides of the ball this year. DJ Peterson is the leader on the defensive line and has James Curtis at outside linebacker plugging the holes. Austin Phillips joins Curtis as a solid starter at linebacker.
In Class 2-A expect the best players to be on the field in the key moments. A Class-A roster has half the players and a Class AAAAAA school, so playing guys both ways is more common. Playmakers battle the season long schedule, while playing in the biggest games on both sides of the ball. The result is a region of tough ballplayers and a season of competitive games.