Team on the rise: This is one of the most anticipated seasons in Ringgold history, and with 10 offensive starters returning the rest of the region has taken notice. Coach Robert Akins has worked on making sure his team takes better care of the ball and improving a defense that often was susceptible to the run last season.
Team on the decline: Gordon Central was a playoff team in 2012 but graduated an impressive list of seniors, including all-star quarterback M.J. Reynolds, receiver Tyshaun Clemmons and tight end/defensive end D.J. Prather and lost coach Chad Fisher to LaFayette. New coach David Humphreys must get a very young group of starters up to speed quickly.
Toughest schedule: Ringgold will be tested right off the bat in week one at Dalton before traveling again to rejuvenated Catoosa County rival Heritage. Of the Tigers’ toughest region games, they have to travel to North Murray and end the season at Cartersville.
Dream Schedule: Coahulla Creek begins its second season of varsity play with a favorable early schedule that has its first four games against teams that won a combined nine games and three of those are at home. Winning at least three of those four would be a great start for the Colts.
Players to watch: A pair of quarterbacks top this list. Ringgold’s Slade Dale and Cartersville’s Brooks Barden are able to beat you with their arms or legs and could be fighting each other for all-state honors. North Murray’s playoff hopes rest on the development of new quarterback Hinton McConkey and a revamped defense led by John Chastain. Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe quarterback Sky Rogers and senior running back Jacob Gilbert will lead the Warriors. Coahulla Creek will count on quarterback Hunter Williams offensively and cornerback Erick Dominguez defensively. State 100-meter dash and 110 hurdles champion Andrew Slaton is a big-time threat at running back for Sonoraville, while two-way lineman Jacob Mitchell is getting college looks at Gordon Central.
Coaches predicted order of finish: Cartersville, Ringgold, Adairsville, North Murray, Coahulla Creek, Gordon Central, Sonoraville.
There is arguably not a football region in the state of Georgia that will look more different in 2013 than 5-AAA, where the prolific offenses of a year ago may find the going more difficult.
While league favorites Cartersville and Ringgold return most of their key skill players, the other playoff contenders must replace thousands of yards and bundles of points. The league’s top six teams a year ago — Cartersville, Adairsville, Gordon Central, Ringgold, North Murray and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe — combined to average nearly 35 points a game.
“We lost a lot of offense,” North Murray coach David Gann said, “but the good news is that we’re not alone. This region, outside of Cartersville and Ringgold, will look a lot different this year.”
Gann must replace the prolific production of graduated quarterback Brady Swilling, who rushed and passed for more than 1,500 years each and had a hand in 28 touchdowns, and versatile Jacob Mays, who had 1,400 total yards. In their place is a combination of athletes Hinton McConkey, Payton Swilling and Jordan Adams.
“It wasn’t just those guys,” Gann added. “We lost 23 seniors that had played for three and four years, but our program had success on all levels last year, which gives us hope. It’s impossible to replace someone like Brady Swilling with one person, but we think overall we will be a more balanced offense this year.”
If Gann lost a lot, new Gordon Central coach David Humphreys may have lost even more. The Warriors averaged 38 points per game last year as quarterback M.J. Reynolds passed for 2,249 yards and 31 touchdowns and added 600 more yards rushing and 10 touchdowns. He and top receiver Tyshaun Clemmons are now at Georgia State, while tight end D.J. Prather is at UTC and second-leading receiver Chandler Curtis has transferred to Calhoun.
Though the numbers weren’t as prolific at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe last year, the Warriors also find themselves with major holes to fill. Three-year starting quarterback Trey Silmon and his 1,500 total yards and 14 touchdowns and tailback Pooh Harden and his 1,400 yards and 13 touchdowns are gone.
LFO coach Todd Windham does have some experience in senior quarterback Sky Rogers and senior running back Jacob Gilbert, while athlete Keyvon Rivers will look to provide the kind of playmaking ability the graduated Jackson Wallin gave the team a year ago.
“There are a few of us in the same boat, but as far as we’re concerned, I like the guys we have back,” Windham said. “We lack the depth we had last year, but our frontline guys should be up to the challenge.”
Needless to say, the team that best finds a way to replace the lost offense will join the playoff hunt. The others may find the going tough as last year’s bottom teams, Coahulla Creek and Sonoraville expect to improve.
“The kids stepping up for us have great attitudes and have done everything asked of them this offseason,” Gann said. “But, those guys are moving from producing on Thursday nights to having to do it on Friday nights. That’s a big difference.”
<em>Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.</em>