DULUTH, GEORGIA – Given the level of success the Grayson football program has been accustomed to for more than a decade, last year's four-loss campaign might seem, on the surface, to have been a down season.
Of course, the fact the Rams still won 10 games and made the Class AAAAAAA state semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Collins Hill, despite their youth and injuries, belies that thought somewhat.
However, head coach Adam Carter and the Rams are looking for all the pitfalls and obstacles they had to go through and overcome in 2021 to make them an even stronger state contender this fall, even as loaded as Class AAAAAAA appears to be statewide.
“I think last year was the culmination of a lot of stuff,” Carter said. “The 2020 (senior) class of 38 (players) and a senior class of 14 (last year). When you play a lot of young kids and don't have a big senior class to take control at times, we struggled at times.
“I'll be honest, if we win the opener last year, I don't think anybody says that it was a down year. I mean, it was still a down year in our mind because you don't finish in the last game of the season. But if we're sitting at 11-3, and I don't know what the conversation is.
“I am excited about this group. I do think that we have our own struggles ahead of us with this group. We're still from an academic standpoint and a year standpoint a bunch of sophomores and juniors. We've got five starters on defense that are seniors and I think we've got five on offense that are seniors. We'll be relatively young, but still experienced, I guess. … These kids did play a bunch of football and we are excited about it.”
While Carter's optimism is still somewhat cautious, observers from around the state are a little bit more bullish on Grayson for 2022.
That includes SBLive Sports, which ranked the Rams atop it's 2022 preseason Power 25 for Georgia, even ahead of other state, and Gwinnett County, powers like Buford, Mill Creek and Collins Hill.
A big reason for those high expectations is that so many of the players responsible for last year's state semifinal run, including all those youngsters who were thrown into the fire, are back with an extra year's worth of physical and emotional maturity.
That includes one player who was less heralded, but who arguably had the biggest impact on Grayson's run a year ago – at least, on the offensive side.
After assuming the starting quarterback job about midway through last year, senior Rayne Fry slowly, but surely began to find his comfort level and confidence under center.
That development allowed four-star prospect JoJo Stone Jr., who posted a team-best 1,229 yards of total offense and nine combined touchdowns and is already committed to LSU as a junior, to move back to his natural position at running back.
“I feel like it helped a lot with my coaches and teammates giving me confidence,” Rayne said during Gwinnett County's Media Day event last month at Duluth High School. “It's paid off helping me get ready to play… My teammates and coaches helped out a lot with that.”