Due to reclassification, the 2016 Georgia high school football season will feature both old region rivalries and new opponents that are sure to grab the attention of football fans across the Peach State. There are now seven classifications in the GHSA, each with eight regions, increasing the number of regions to 56 regions, as opposed to last season’s 48. Below are site contributor Markus Golden’s picks for the top 50 region games to watch in Georgia this fall. (This is Part 3, Nos. 30-21) – Read Part 1 & Part 2
30. Southwest DeKalb Vs Columbia 11/4
– SWD leads the series 23-8
– SWD won last year’s matchup 12-6
Columbia and Southwest DeKalb are located just three miles apart in south DeKalb County and have been playing since 1968. Southwest DeKalb has the most prominent football tradition of any school in south DeKalb County. Most of Southwest’s glory years came while the legendary coach Buck Godfrey was at the helm. SWD experienced tragedy this summer when their head coach Michael Tanks passed away unexpectedly. SWD has hired Fletcher Salter as interim coach, who was the former head football coach at McNair, another DeKalb County school, where he had a 38-28 record in six seasons. Salter was also an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at SWD. SWD will feature a junior QB (who wears No. 17 just like SWD legend Quincy Carter) in Justin Tomlin, who passed for 1,900 yards last year. Tomlin will have two good targets to play catch with in WR Javeon Cody and WR Devaughn Brown. SWD has decent size up front with T Angelo Miller (6’3, 270 lbs), Demante Lampkin (6’3, 270 lbs), G Armani Felder (6″, 330 lbs) and G Jachon Mills (5’11”, 270 lbs). On defense, SWD is led by CB John Green, FS Mitchell Edwards and MLB Eris Walker. Columbia has been a model of consistency lately and hopes to keep its winning ways but eventually take the next step. Columbia features some young unproven talent like junior QB Tramaine Callaway; 6’5″ senior WR Quentin Palmer; 6’3″ senior Danial Harris; 6’3″, 235-pound junior DE Tevin Godfrey; and 6’1″, 170-pound senior CB Dante Hobbs, who will all become college targets by the year’s end.
29. Vidalia @ Benedictine 9/23
– Series tied 2-2
– Benedictine won last year’s matchup 27-3
This Region 2-AA matchup features Benedictine, a private school from Savannah, and Vidalia a small public school in rural Southeast Georgia known for football and world-famous onions. Benedictine finished 12-1 in 2015 and has only lost a total of four games over the last three years. Benedictine is a true contender to win AA this year and will feature QB Nick Iannone, RB Wesley Kennedy, RB Tyleek Collins, OL Gage Blackston and OL Matthew Nyce. On defense, LB Nick Harris, CB Bobby Baker III, and DT Bailey Clark will hold things down. Vidalia only lost four games in three years prior to last year, when the Indians posted an 8-4 record, matching three years’ worth of losses in one. Vidalia will lean on preseason All-State MLB/RB Nate McBride, RB Lakia Henry and big 6’3″, 290-pound OT Sam Collins to bring them back to contender status.
28. Jonesboro @ Lovejoy 10/28
– Lovejoy leads series 12-2
– Lovejoy won the last matchup in 2011 9-0
Lovejoy brought some statewide recognition to Clayton County by making back-to-back title appearances in 2011 and 2012. Jonesboro has been creeping onto the state radar as of late, and last year, Jonesboro made a quarterfinals appearance. The emergence of Clayton County football should be no surprise because raw talent has always been plentiful. Clayton County has one of the most organized youth and middle school leagues in the state, and that has helped build community pride—and rivalries. Lovejoy vs. Jonesboro should be an intense battle as both of these programs are jockeying for Clayton County supremacy. Lovejoy has had some star players through the years. The Custis family has sent multiple players to the next level, and this year, they will feature two more in junior RB Zion Custis and senior CB Meshael Custis. Also, Lovejoy should feature WR Jayden Thomas, prolific WR Marquese Taylor, WR Dayton Wade, LB Michael Harris, LB Benney Chukwu and LB Brandon Blake. Jonesboro will have to replace a handful of blue-chip players from last season’s squad, especially QB Zerrick Cooper (now at Clemson). This year’s Jonesboro squad will feature young skilled players like QB Jaalia Brown, RB Matavion Brooks, RB Jamari Adderley, OL Shawn Larson and OL Destin McMillan. Experienced defensive end Calder Marria (App State commit) should provide veteran leadership and a tough pass rush. There is a ton of optimism in the program about freshman FS Walter Forte, who is 6’2, 170 pounds.
27. Brooks County @ Fitzgerald 10/21
– Fitzgerald leads series 12-6
– Brooks County won last year’s matchup 21-17
Fitzgerald vs. Brooks County will probably be South Georgia’s most important regular-season game in Class AA. These two small-school powerhouses will play anyone anywhere. Fitzgerald finished 13-2 last year and was the state runner-up. Meanwhile Brooks County finished 10-3 and made the quarterfinals. According to most experts, Fitzgerald is the favorite to win AA this year and is returning a ton of starters. Brooks County may disagree with that assessment—the Trojans won last season’s matchup 21-7. Maurice Freeman is in his ninth season during his second stint at Brooks County, where he graduated from. Freeman has built a powerhouse, blue-collar program that’s known to “bring the hammer” and will showcase RB Jonathan White in their power-run scheme. Fitzgerald will have studs on both sides of the ball. On offense, Fitzgerald features All-State talents RB JD King, QB/ATH James Graham, OL Jason Poe and TE Lecitus Smith. On defense, Fitzgerald has ball hawks SS Josh Reliford and CB Willie Ross, while NT Anthony Ransey will stuff the running game.
26. Woodland-Stockbridge @ Stockbridge 10/7
– Stockbridge leads series 4-0
– Stockbridge won last year’s matchup 42-28
Henry County is a growing, affluent county in Metro Atlanta’s Southern Crescent region. The reclassification allowed for Henry County to have its own region for the first time. These Henry County schools can play one another and develop rivalries and traditions and build up community excitement within the county. One rivalry that has developed is the Stockbridge/Woodland game. Along with the growth of the population came the growth of talent in the area, and Woodland head coach Steve Davenport has plenty at his disposal. Woodland will feature a senior-laden defense with players like CB Yusef Coker, CB Shakur Brown, MLB Tre Allen and DT Jayquan Coles. On offense, Woodland features perhaps the best Class of ’18 offensive lineman in the state in James Ohonba, and he looks to open up holes for RB Chris Charles. Woodland features a big receiving corps with 6’4″ Wallace Corker, 6’5″ Xavier Jones and 6’4″ Terrence Jones. Woodland has watched Stockbridge make runs for state titles the last couple of years and is motivated to make a run of its own. Kevin Whitley has had Stockbridge on a roll as of late and the Tigers have had four straight quarterfinals appearances. For Stockbridge to win a Region 4-AAAAA title, they will depend on RB Jalen Holston, who had 1,300 yards and 13 TDs, and WR Marquez Ezzard, along with a bounty of skill players. On defense, they will be loaded and preseason All-State pick Brenton Cox could be one of the top sack leaders in the state. Stockbridge and Woodland are only three miles apart, so this rivalry is sure to garner the community’s interest.
25. Clarke Central @ Cedar Shoals 9/23
– Clarke Central leads series 34-15
– Clarke Central won last year’s matchup 29-0
“The Classic City Classic” between Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central is one of the state’s best rivalries. Both of these programs are thirsty for success. Clarke Central has not made the playoffs since 2013 but is returning a core group, while Cedar Shoals hasn’t won more than five games since 2008. Both schools hired new coaches to turn things around. Clarke Central hired David Perno, who was the former baseball coach at UGA and is a graduate of Clarke Central. Cedar Shoals hired Leroy Ryals, who had a 60-22 record at Clarke Central back during 2006-12. Perno hopes Clarke Central’s resurrection will be led by quarterback Jack Mangel throwing to talented WRs Rico Arnold, Reggie Smother and Jacorie Jordan. Rising sophomores Jonathan Sewell and Jalen Huff are players to watch, as well. Cedar Shoals is a rebuilding project and will be led by OL Maverick Curtis, CB Jaivanni McDavid, S Ryan Huff, RB Joseph Walker and DE Stavion Stevenson.
24. Roswell @ Etowah 10/21
– Roswell leads series 12-6
– Roswell won last year’s matchup 24-7
Region 4-AAAAAAA is an underrated region with tough, competitive play. Region 4 features teams from North Fulton, East Cobb and Cherokee County. All six teams from this region can make the playoffs, so that means every region game will be tough. Each school in this region has tremendous support from its community, so home field will be an absolute advantage. Roswell and Etowah have had solid programs for years now, especially as of late. Roswell was the state runner-up last year, falling to Colquitt County, and Etowah made the semifinals two seasons ago. Roswell is loaded and nationally ranked—the Hornets are a true contender to win state. Roswell will feature close to 20 college prospects: FS Xavier McKinney, OT Jordan Tucker, CB LeAnthony Williams, WR Corey Reed, RB Sheldon Evens, QB Malik Willis, WR Jayden Comma, CB Justus Harris, DE Koby Cumberlander and LB Justin Ellis are all players you will watch on Saturdays. Etowah could be a sleeper to sneak up on teams. They will be led by preseason All-State selections FS Stuart Head and RB Tyray Devezin. OLB Alan Michael Harris, QB Patrick Ferris and WR Blake Jones will also be players to keep an eye out for.
23. Westside-Macon @ Peach County 9/23
– Peach County leads the series 4-2
– Peach county won last year’s matchup 22-17
Peach County and Westside-Macon are both Central Georgia heavyweights. Westside-Macon has been the flagship high school for the inner-city schools from Macon and has inspired other Bibb County schools to improve their programs. Peach County has won three state championships and is a sleeper to win the state title this year, ranking No. 6 in our preseason polls. Once these two teams meet again this season, you can expect another close game. Peach County will feature speedy WR Kearis Jackson, OLB Kevin Nixon, MLB Fletcher Hooks, RB Trevon Woolfolk and 6’5″ WR Kendrick Johnson. Westside-Macon will be led by QB Savion Knowlton, RB Donta Pate and FS Dieuseul Stcyr. Westside has superior linemen and will look to control the lines of scrimmage with talents like DE Omar Jones, DT Jajuan Zellner, DE Shon Adams, T Kevin Reeves, T Jayshawn Booker and G Emanuel Boone.
22. Carver-Atlanta @ Grady 10/1
– Grady leads the series 20-16
– Carver won last year’s matchup 24-6
These two teams will meet while battling beneath the Atlanta skyline at Grady stadium. This will be 2016’s best matchup featuring teams from the Atlanta Public Schools. Both schools are looking to gain some statewide recognition this year. Both of these schools should benefit from reclassification and improve on their seven-win seasons from last year. Grady features QB Caylin Newton, who is the brother of Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. Grady also will benefit from a rare transfer from Grayson, Jaylin Rivers, who has the makings of an elite receiver at the next level. Grady will also feature offensive weapons 6’7″ TE Kemari Averett and RB Jacquez Sloan. Carver hired Darren Myles in 2005, and he has built a program and instilled discipline at a school that was a perennial cellar-dweller before he arrived. Carver is a favorite to win Region 6-AAAAA and will be led by QB Octavious Battle, RB Quentin Gates, WR/S Quindarious Hale and MLB Trevion Baker.
21. Camden County @ Colquitt County 10/14
– Colquitt leads series 7-5
– Camden won last year’s matchup 33-14
South Georgia’s brawl for it all could have a monumental impact on who wins Region 1-AAAAAAA. Sorry, Fitzgerald and Brooks County, but I’ve had a change of heart. Look at me, changing my mind, just like all these kids with all their hat-swapping on signing day! But Camden County vs. Colquitt County will be South Georgia’s most important football game. This game will showcase what big-time “Friday Night Lights” is all about in South Georgia. Camden finished 10-2 last year and only lost to Colquitt County and Roswell, who both ended their seasons last year at the Georgia Dome. Camden has three state titles, and if the Wildcats want to win one this year, they will have to lean on S Cole Loden, RB Mikey Packard, DE Andre Bissanthe, S Jordan McCormick, QB John Jones and LB Jamie Hill. Colquitt finished nationally ranked last year and has won two straight state championships and is currently riding a 30-game winning streak. Colquitt will feature two elite talented players in JJ Peterson and Quan Stokes but still has unproven players like QB Jay Saunders, WR Shawn Shamburger, WR Torry Ponder and TE John Samuel Shenker. Rest assured, head coach Rush Propst will have his offense humming by the time this game takes place.
Preseason All State Teams