• <strong>Team on the rise:</strong> Murray County. The Indians have nowhere to go but up after a winless season, a coaching change and an influx of new players.
• <strong>Team on the decline:</strong> Coosa went 4-7 overall and 4-3 in the region. How the Eagles adapt to the system installed by former assistant coach Todd Wheeler will determine how far they fall, or if indeed they rise.
• <strong>Toughest schedule:</strong> Coosa did itself no favors in scheduling opponents for this season. The Eagles open the season against three Class AAA opponents: Gordon Central, then Rockmart and Haralson County. The good news is that they’re all at home.
• <strong>Dream schedule:</strong> Model made life a little easier this season. The Blue Devils open the season against two Class A schools, as they visit Christian Heritage and then Mount Pisgah Christian. Their other nonregion game is at Sonoraville.
• <strong>Players to watch:</strong> Calhoun running back Alex Urbano is a three-year starter who is coming off a 1,000-yard season and will be the focus of Calhoun’s offense. He will be helped by quarterback Fields Chapman, junior receiver Tydus Curtis and senior receiver Chandler Curtis. Dade County senior Luke Riddle may never leave the field, except maybe on kickoffs. Chattooga quarterback Nigel Dickerson is a threat on every play. Murray County is counting on senior lineman Kevin Chavez and junior Kevin Chavez, who also both wrestle.
• <strong> Coaches’ predicted order of finish:</strong> Calhoun, Pepperell, Model, Dade County, Chattooga, Coosa, Armuchee, Murray County.
The difference in talent between Calhoun and Murray County — aside from the experience of the teams — is staggering.
Calhoun is a traditional powerhouse with coach Hal Lamb operating the program as if he were coaching a Top 25 college team. The Yellow Jackets haven’t lost a game in their region since 2001.
Murray’s Indians haven’t won a region game since 2010.
One program figures to continue rolling, and the other is looking to stop rolling downhill.
Between the top and bottom of Georgia Region 7-AA this football season is a conglomerate of schools, including Dade County and Chattooga, that likely will feed on the weak and be consumed by the best. Those two, Coosa, Model, Pepperell and Armuchee will battle for the league’s playoff spots besides Calhoun’s.
“Once again, it’s Calhoun and then everybody else,” Dade County coach Bradley Warren said. “I think we’re in that mix.”
Coosa has a new coach in former assistant Todd Wheeler. Armuchee had young players on the field last season. Model earned the fourth-place spot last year and should contend for it again next year. And Pepperell seems to find a way in contention for an extra game or two.
“I think this region has improved overall, and that’s a good thing for us because it will help us prepare for the playoffs,” Lamb said. “We’ve got a lot of new starters, but we really like the guys stepping in.”
Murray County’s Chad Brewer wants every player to step into a new role — winner. But that will take time after the team he inherited was winless last season.
“I have a lot of respect for the guys and coaches who were battling through the mess,” said Brewer, who has eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. “There’s a lot of room for us as coaches and players.”
Dade County had a disappointing 3-7 mark last year. Warren identified team chemistry as a problem that has been fixed during the offseason and preseason.
“There’s not a lot of bickering or jealousy,” Warren said. “There is a lot of pulling for each other.”
Chattooga played with seven seniors last year, and only four of them had significant playing time before the 2012 year. Injuries also hurt the team, resulting in just two wins.
“The positive is that we have a core group that stuck through it,” coach Clay Livingston said. “I think they’re pretty hungry after everything they’ve been through.”
<em>Contact David Uchiyama at timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484.</em>