Region 7-AAA at a Glance
• Team on the rise: If the progression from 0, 1 and 5 wins continues for the program's first full cycle of players, this could be Heritage's season. The Generals return 18 starters and elite kicker Dustin Lewis. In a region full of questions, Heritage has very few.
• Nightmare schedule: Since they will not play a real home game this season, it has to be Ringgold. The Tigers, displaced to Finley Stadium while their stadium is repaired from April's tornado damage, also travel to Murphy, N.C., play 7-AAA (B) contender Cartersville and have to travel to three-time region champion Ridgeland.
• Dream schedule: Heritage's first four opponents -- North Murray, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe, Murray County and Pickens County -- combined for six wins a year ago. The Generals do, however, have to visit region heavyweights Dalton and Ridgeland.
• Best game: Considering league balance, it could be nearly any game, but on paper Ridgeland's Sept. 30 game at Dalton should be huge. Ridgeland's Panthers defeated the Catamounts for the first time in school history last year -- and Dalton players, coaches and fans won't forget that.
• Biggest shoes to fill: Ridgeland's Mason Harris was the most disruptive force in the region a year ago, terrorizing offenses from his defensive end/linebacker position and also playing offensive tackle.
• Playoff bound: Allatoona and Cartersville from the B sub-region; Dalton and Ridgeland from the A side.
This is the time of year when football coaches at all levels choose their words carefully in predictions. The art of "poor-mouthing" one's own team for motivational purposes has been around since since the days of leather helmets.
In Georgia's Region 7-AAA, however, there is nothing to be gained this season by downplaying anyone's potential because, as every coach in sub-region A will attest, there are too many unknowns for even the most skilled prognosticator to get a real read.
• Three-time region champion Ridgeland returns only five starters and is the only team from the A sub-region to make the playoffs a year ago.
• Perennial power Dalton welcomes new offensive coordinator Bill Napier to Big Red country and has the league's most dangerous player in running back Tre Beck, but a defense that was leaky at the end of last year has little experience in its front seven.
• Ringgold and LaFayette each starts a new quarterback in a system that will be different from last season, and both team's defenses were weak against the run a year ago.
• The two teams with the most returning starters, Heritage and Southeast Whitfield, were the bottom two in the standings a year ago with one and zero league wins.
"Since I've been in this league, our half of the sub-region is as even as I've ever seen," Ridgeland coach Mariakis said, echoing the sentiments of every league coach. "Everyone has question marks, but each team also has a lot going for it. Just look at Southeast Whitfield. They were 1-9 a year ago but they scored the most points against us (38) than anybody else did."
Though the sub-region may lack a state power this year, its overall balance should make for a heated race to secure one of the three region play-in games.
"It's going to be interesting because there are a lot of good teams," LaFayette coach Tab Gable said. "Somebody has to beat Ridgeland, and until they do they are the favorites. Heritage has a lot of kids back, Dalton is Dalton and offensively they are going to be good.
"Ringgold, with the adversity they've been in with the tornado and with them sticking together, that will make them better, I guarantee you that. Southeast offensively does a great job. I don't think anybody will go undefeated in our half of the region, so that makes it interesting. If you lose one [sub-region game] early, it will get you behind."
Individually, the sub-region returns only two starting quarterbacks, Dalton's Cole Calfee and Southeast's Levi Sams, but four 1,000-yard rushers are back: Dalton's Beck, Southeast's Coty Burch, LaFayette's Devarus Porter and Ringgold's Mark Fairbanks. Heritage's Ethan Thompson returns after a 900-yard junior season.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...