With the coming high school football season kicking off in just nine short weeks, Gwinnett County looks to be once again poised to assert its position as the premier high school football county in the state. Whether you follow the sport religiously or if you are just a casual observer, here are the five Gwinnett County teams you need to pay attention to come August.
In just their 5th year, the talented Archer High School football team ran the table on a highly accomplished Region 8-AAAAAA, a respectable achievement by any means. They followed up their perfect regular season with a playoff performance far better than their 2nd round exit suggests. Archer lost a heartbreaker in the last few minutes to runner-up North Gwinnett after letting the game slip away from them late. If Archer had held on, they may very well have reached the championship game instead of the Bulldogs. With a remarkable 15 returning starters from last year’s 10-0 team, expect Archer to have another impressive showing this season.
Norcross might be the most obvious team to make this list; you don’t just win back-to-back championships in the highest classification and go unnoticed. Not only has this team won the last two State Championships, they are 28-2 over the past two seasons. It’s safe to say expectations are high. This season (like any other) is not going to be handed to the Blue Devils. They play in arguably the best region in all of Georgia (7-AAAAAA) and graduated all but two starters (DE Jean-Baptiste Kouassi and DT Dorian Kithcart) from last year’s team. That being said, Norcross has a slew of young talent ready to rise to the occasion, so look for yet another deep playoff run from the defending AAAAAA State Champs.
After making it to the quarterfinals in 2012 Mill Creek missed the playoffs last year, finishing 5th in Region 7-AAAAAA despite being ranked 13th in the state after the regular season by Maxpreps. In their four losses, the Hawks were only outscored by a combined 29 points, including losses of 30-31 against Peachtree Ridge and 50-47 to North Gwinnett, and outscored all of their opponents by an impressive combined 414-197. Mill Creek has playoff experience, size in the trenches and speed in the backfield, a dangerous mix that makes the Hawks a serious contender in Region 7-AAAAAA. Look for the Hawks to make some noise in 2014.
The Bulldogs might be the most-successful-program-that-hasn’t-won-a-State-Championship at the highest classification left in the state. North has made a deep playoff run seemingly every year in recent memory, losing to eventual Runner-Up Lovejoy in 2012 and was itself the Runner-Up last season, losing 31-14 to rival Norcross at the Georgia Dome. They will be coming off a 2013 campaign that was defined in many ways by suspense and near-losses: they beat Mill Creek 50-47, a win which in the end allowed North Gwinnett the Region Co-Championship with Norcross and Collins Hill; they pulled out a nail-bitter against Archer in the 2nd round thanks to two onside kick recoveries late in the 4th quarter; beat an impressive Hillgrove team 35-31 in the quarterfinals; and won again in the semis against a dangerous McEachern team 27-21. The Bulldogs did graduate star running back C.J Leggett (now at Georgia Tech) as well as quarterback Hayden Sphire (who is now at Murray State), however with prospect Mitch Hyatt anchoring the offensive line and 7 defensive starters (including the entire secondary) returning, look for the Bulldogs to make another run in search for the ever-elusive Championship ring.
Brookwood has one of, if not the, biggest claim to ‘been there, done that’ in all of Gwinnett County. The have made the playoffs each of the past 12 seasons, winning the State Championship in 2010 but exiting in the 2nd round at the hands of Mill Creek in 2012 and State Champions Norcross last year. Any team who has made the playoffs as consistently as Brookwood always has the potential to make a deep and very serious run, especially after being eliminated in only the 2nd round in the three consecutive years following a State Championship. The Broncos have got to be eager to get back, and expectations continue to be high. They have just three defensive starters returning and graduated seven starters on offense, returning two offensive lineman and running back Joshua Collins, so expect a young, hungry Brookwood team come August.
For those of you who may not have yet realized, the good thing about this list is you will be able to watch all five in the Corky Kell Classic on August 22-23 at McEachern High School, as they will be (coincidentally) the five teams representing Gwinnett County. For a complete schedule of the Classic, click here. For the season schedules for both regions 7-AAAAAA and 8-AAAAAA, as well as the rest of the state, click here.