CLASS AAAAAA Overview
The state’s second-biggest classification is no minor league. It features some of the best teams, best talent and deepest regions in Georgia.
Here is Part 2 of Recruit Georgia’s 2016 Class 6A region rankings. The leagues were ranked using a combination of top-to-bottom team depth and overall talent, taking into account differing region sizes. (View Part 1, and Part 3 will be posted on Sunday night)
REGION 8-AAAAAA (No. 5)
This six-team region covers the usual Region 8 territory, with two Gwinnett teams (Lanier, Dacula), two from Barrow (Apalachee, Winder-Barrow) and one each from Hall (Gainesville) and Habersham. The region is a fairly tight cluster with one program, Habersham Central, much farther north, about 60 miles away from southernmost Apalachee. Every team but Dacula—which was in 6A—was in 5A last year.
The top of the league features Gainesville and Lanier, two talented teams with aspirations of deep playoff runs. Lanier was one of the big stories of the regular season, going 10-0 but falling to Northgate in the 5A second round; Gainesville also reached the second weekend of the playoffs, falling narrowly to Stockbridge. Right with them is Dacula, which has some major talent of its own and will certainly improve on last year’s 5-5 mark.
Beyond those three, Winder-Barrow, which is in the midst of perhaps its most successful run in program history with back-to-back playoff appearances, looks like the most likely candidate to snag the fourth playoff spot. Apalachee and Habersham Central aim to continue developing depth.
What stands out in this region is defense. Among the top three of Gainesville, Lanier and Dacula, there are a bunch of high-level prospects such as Longhorns LB Tyler Taylor, perhaps the top ‘backer in the state. Joining him on Lanier—which should still sport one of the classification’s best units despite losing DT Derrick Brown to Auburn—are fellow LB Juwuan Jones, DE Michael Allen and SS CJ Burress. Dacula features DB Jaylon Jones as well as D-linemen Brandon Jones and Allen Daniels, and Gainesville’s defense is led by DB Kamden Young. Keep an eye out for impact linebackers Keith Harris (Gainesville), Nathan Millwood (Winder-Barrow) and Ty Harris (Dacula) to have excellent years this fall.
Offensively, the region will be light on quarterback experience (all of the likely top three teams are replacing QBs) aside from Winder-Barrow’s promising junior signal-caller Brock Landis, but Lanier’s Marcko Baity and Habersham’s Michael Babers are RB prospects who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season. Gainesville’s skill players are inexperienced but full of potential, including junior QB Demarcus Irons, a 6’2” move-in from Central Gwinnett with a big arm.
The top three squads will step out in a big way during non-region play. Lanier has games vs. Northview, at Northside-Warner Robins, vs. Lambert and at St. Pius. Dacula hosts Central Gwinnett and West Forsyth and travels to Mill Creek and Walton. Gainesville hosts Alpharetta and Marist.
Predicted Order of Finish
6. Habersham Central
Player to Watch
LB Tyler Taylor, Lanier
QB Demarcus Irons, Gainesville
REGION 6-AAAAAA (No. 4)
This nine-team league features a defending state champ, a senior-laden contender and several teams on the come-up. It’s a notch below the top three regions (1, 4, 5) as far as depth and talent, but it should put forth a strong playoff contingent capable of making noise.
Allatoona, a varsity program only since 2009, had been outstanding since the get-go under Gary Varner and reached the Class 5A semifinals in 2014. After dropping their first game last season to East Paulding, the Buccaneers ripped off 14 straight wins to nab a 5A title. The Bucs’ offseason was marred by allegations of address fraud for some of last year’s stars and a major exodus of talent, but they’re still the team to beat in region. RB Charles Anderson will run behind an offensive line led by Devin Miller. LB Michael Robinson is a preseason All-State selection, and DT Brooks Walper will be key to the Bucs’ success on defense.
The playoff race should be tight, with most of the region’s teams returning the bulk of their starters. Dalton has big-armed QB JP Tighe passing to WR tandem Kyric McGowan and Zeke Cobb, as well as a big class of seniors from a 9-3 team. Sprayberry gets back RB Trey Sermon, an Oklahoma commit, from a broken back that cost him most of the season. (How’s this for toughness? Sermon finished the game and played in another one after suffering the injury before doctors knew the extent of it.) The Yellow Jackets still went 5-5 without him. Abay Holmes and Jarius Jackson are two long-body skill players who will help on both sides of the ball.
Harrison features dual-threat QB Justin Fields, who has huge potential, and a bruising O-line featuring Trey Iorillo and Eric Allen. Creekview returns good depth from a playoff team but will have to scrap for a berth this year after losing QB Kyle Wilkie to graduation. Sequoyah also returns the bulk of its starters and is capable of pulling some upsets but will also be breaking in a new QB.
South Cobb and River Ridge are rebuilding with potential down the road, and Osborne will again play a non-region slate to build depth.
The region isn’t geographically perfect. Dalton (near the Tennessee line) ends up as one of the biggest travel losers in reclassification; the school sits well away from the cluster of Cobb and Cherokee programs and 82 miles up I-75 from its farthest opponent, South Cobb.
There are some good non-region games to look for. Allatoona wastes no time testing itself at defending Class 4A state champ Cartersville (with the country’s top junior recruit, QB Trevor Lawrence), at Region 5-AAAAAA Alexander and home versus 5A powerhouse Sandy Creek. Dalton hosts 3A power Calhoun, and Harrison hosts 7A North Cobb.
Predicted Order of Finish
7. South Cobb
8. River Ridge
Osborne is non-region
Player to Watch
RB Trey Sermon, Sprayberry
RB Charles Anderson, Allatoona
REGION 4-AAAAAA (No. 3)
Region 4-AAAAAA draws entirely from Clayton and DeKalb counties. It will feature a few defensive powerhouses and several schools that are looking to keep momentum after record-breaking seasons. The league features a good mix of state title contenders, teams with playoff potential and programs building up young talent.
The top of the region should feature Tucker and Stephenson, two DeKalb powers who have surprisingly only played twice in their history. And the big story late in this offseason has been the massive exodus of talent from one region rival to another.
Tucker picked up transfers from Stephenson in the form of DE Aaron Sterling, an Alabama commit, S Eugene Brown, a West Virginia commit, and OT Dylan Wonnum, a highly coveted O-lineman. Those three stars, in addition to transfers from Stephenson QB prospect Xavier Shepherd and Stone Mountain S Cameron Peterson, swing the balance in Tucker’s favor in the region race. The Tigers are now a legitimate threat to hoist their third state title trophy since 2008, also sporting LB Brian Strozier and RB Chris Broadwater, DeKalb’s leading returning rusher with 1,304 yards. Stephenson will still have a formidable team with S Carlito Gonzalez (Auburn), OG/OT Jalil Irvin (Michigan) and a bevvy of lightning-fast skill-position players headlined by RB Jaylin Marson-Knight. One thing is for certain, though: Both Tucker and Stephenson benefit as much as anybody from dropping down to Class 6A.
After enjoying their best seasons ever last year, Drew (5A quarterfinalist) and Jonesboro (4A quarterfinalist) have work to do with heavy personnel losses and the graduation of stars like Drew’s Quarderman Sloan (2,265 rushing yards). There is young talent ready to step up, but matching those playoff runs will be a tall task for these emerging programs. DE Calder Marria (Appalachian State commit) of Jonesboro is another of the league’s top defenders. Lovejoy was hit hard by transfers in the offseason, but junior RB Zion Custis nearly cracked 1,000 yards rushing last season as a sophomore and is poised for a breakout junior year. The Wildcats also feature top WR/DB Marquese Taylor and big, 6’2” CB Meshael Custis.
M.L. King and Mundy’s Mill could make life difficult for the region’s top teams, and with a few upsets, one or both could challenge for playoff spots. Mt. Zion shows promise with some top-notch speed on the roster. Forest Park will play a non-region schedule while it builds its numbers back up.
Tucker will represent the region in this year’s Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome, taking on Cobb power and tournament namesake Kell, and will rumble with 7A superpower Colquitt County in September. Other notable non-region matchups include Mill Creek (Stephenson), Newton (Drew), McEachern (Jonesboro), East Coweta (Lovejoy) and Langston Hughes (Mundy’s Mill).
Predicted Order of Finish
6. M.L. King
7. Mundy’s Mill
8. Mt. Zion
Forest Park is non-region
Player to Watch
DL Aaron Sterling, Tucker
RB Cedric Davenport, Drew
Preseason All State Teams