Georgia kicks off its 2021-22 football season this week, giving fans the chance to see teams fighting to get over the hump, going for back-to-back and even back-to-back-to-back state titles.
With more than 450 high school football teams in Georgia, the number of tantalizing storylines multiplies exponentially from there.
But as a condensed season preview, we'll whittle our focus down to 10 storylines to follow heading into the 2021-22 season of Georgia high school football.
(Featured photo above by Covey Jones)
Can Grayson complete another perfect campaign?
In the 2020-21 football season, Grayson High School was far and above the competition. The Rams went 14-0, scoring 536 points while giving up only 112. Coming into this year as the No. 7-ranked team in the nation and first in Class 7A Region 4 via MaxPreps, there are high expectations, and many believe the Rams' perfect season can be duplicated. Jacob Garcia, Grayson's leading passer last year, is gone, leaving the responsibilities under center to De’yon Cannon, who played nine games and came up eight yards short of 1,000 passing yards last season. The Rams will also need upgraded efforts from Joseph Taylor Jr. and Sean Downer, who both eclipsed 600 yards rushing last season.
Will ELCA get back on track?
ELCA finished third in Georgia Division A Private with a 9-4 record, their worst since the 2014-15 season. If you add up ELCA’s last four seasons, it stacks up to an impressive 53-2, including four state titles. Last year’s season left a sour taste in the Chargers' mouth, especially since it ended with a 38-0 loss to Prince Avenue Christian. Many expected the Chargers to take a step back after losing key seniors like quarterback Gabe Wright, receiver Justin Robinson, and arguably ELCA’s most talented offensive player Keaton Mitchell, who in his senior year ran for 2,000 yards and 43 touchdowns. Coach Jonathan Gess will have to rely on new, up-and coming talent to get the Chargers back on track.
Can Fitzgerald get over the hump and beat Callaway?
The Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes are a team whose stock has significantly risen over the past five years. With two of their past four seasons going 4-7 and 8-5, last year's 14-1 season with a trip to the AA state playoffs was a surprise. History aside, the Purple Hurricanes are now a formidable team and on everyone's radar in AA Region 1. The only team that appears to stand in the way of Fitzgerald holding up a state trophy at the end of the season is Callaway. The last two seasons, Fitzgerald’s last losses came at the hands of Callaway, most notably ending the Purple Hurricanes' opportunity at perfection in the state playoffs last year.
Which end of the spectrum will Mays be on this year?
Mays, once a perennial powerhouse, has more recently been knows for inconsistency. In the 2017-18 season, the Raiders had a spectacular season, going 11-2 and losing in the third round to eventual state champ Lee County. In 2018-19 the Raiders went a disappointing 6-5, losing in the first round. But in 2019-20 they bounced back, going 10-2. Which brings us to last season, when Mays dropped to a mind-boggling 3-7. Coach Niketa Battle's squad has a good chance of being on the opposite side of 3-7, as there was a lot of youth on the field last year that got to grow and learn together, so experience may on the Raiders' side this season.
Can Warner Robins defend what it worked so hard to claim?
Warner Robins finally won a state title after three trips and three misses, and now the Demons will try to defend their claim as the best team in AAAAA. Four out of the last four years, the Demons have been to the state championship game, and three of them ended in disappointment. Freshmen who started with Warner Robins in the 2017 season and finished as seniors last year had to have been overjoyed with overcoming the previous three final games by winning it all as seniors. Now Warner Robins will focus on trying to go back-to-back.
Will Marist maintain its dominance?
Last season Marist exemplified dominance, going 5-0 in AAAA Region 6 and 13-0 overall on its way to a state title. The War Eagles’ skill level was far beyond their opponents last year, with their closest game coming in the state championship, which they won by 16 points. Other than that, no game they played was close. They shut out their opponents eight times and held them to single digits three times. Over their 13 games, they allowed 48 points while scoring 478. Coach Alan Chadwick acknowledged last year’s senior class but said this year's team is still talented. “This year we have some truly outstanding players as well ... just not as many of them," Chadwick said. He highlighted FB/LB Andrew Mannelly, WR/FS Chandler Heath, OL/DL Steven Nahmias, OL/DL Ryan Phelan, K/P Dawson Jones and QB Champ Davis QB as players who will be called on heavily this season. "Our success will depend on how well those players play who are replacing those we have lost from the championship team,” Chadwick said.
Can Sandy Creek shake off last year's COVID woes and get back on track?
Two years ago, the Patriots went 12-2 and went to the fourth round of the 4A state playoffs. Last year things took a turn for the worst. Aside from departures from their leading passer, rusher, receiver, second-leading receiver and sack leader, the Patriots fell victim to a COVID outbreak. They ended their season playing only six games and going a disappointing 2-4. Coach Brett Garvin has his sights set on a comeback and hopefully a COVID-free season.