An A-to-Z look at the upcoming high school football season:
Air show — Balls will be flying all over the place in Rochelle this season as all-state quarterback Nick Marshall tries to lead the Wilcox County Patriots to a state championship.
Brave New World — The Baldwin defense will have to replace some talented leaders in Corico Hawkins, Marcus Robinson and Courtney Ingram. But despite some uncertainty, the Braves defense will.
Committed — Several Middle Georgia prospects have already made college commitments: Jackson defensive end Neiron Ball (Florida), Upson-Lee linebacker Logan Winkles (N.C. State), Westside safety DeAnthony Green (N.C. State), Westside receiver Ronald Carswell (Alabama), Northside safety Brison Williams (South Carolina), Fitzgerald athlete Trenton Pruitt (Vanderbilt) and Crisp County linebacker Tommy Sanders (Central Florida).
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Dual threat — Northeast senior quarterback Michael Palmer has a legitimate chance to rush and throw for 1,000 yards this season. With Adrian Alexander and A.J. Cornelius graduated, Palmer might be the most dangerous ballcarrier in GHSA Region 4-AA.
Expectations — A year after a surprise run to the state semifinals, Griffin is poised to make a run at the GHSA Class AAAA championship with the return of seven starters on offense and defense.
Farewell — After participating in the GISA since its inception, FPD begins its final season in the private-school league before moving to the GHSA.
Getting defensive — Wilkinson County came within a win of playing for a state championship in part because of a punishing defense. The Warriors have nine starters returning on defense, led by all-state linebacker Quayshon Simmons.
Homecoming — Charles Winslette has returned to lead the Greene County program. He led the Tigers to the 1993 state championship and went 47-18-1 in Greensboro.
I’ll catch it — The area’s top two receivers in terms of statistics are back. Twiggs County’s Darqueze Dennard (61 catches, 923 yards, 17 touchdowns) and Dooly County’s Keith Mumphrey (49 catches, 970 yards, 14 touchdowns) return to terrorize defensive backs.
Jump ball — Not many cornerbacks are going to out-jump Wilcox County wide receiver Lonnie Outlaw. The 6-foot-5 senior took 10 of his 22 receptions for touchdowns.
Key — Winning a championship without DeAndre Smelter won’t be impossible for Tattnall Square. But the two-time all-state standout would help the Trojans’ chances immensely. He will decide later this month whether to play football or bypass it to concentrate on baseball, where he is expected to be drafted next June.
Lemonade — Stratford opponents will get tired quickly of hearing the name Marquez Lemon announced this season. The Eagles’ workhorse can handle 30 carries per game and routinely puts up 200-yard outings.
Man-child — Warner Robins defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker is often the biggest player on the field at 6-4, 310 pounds. But the senior is also one of the area’s biggest recruits, netting offers from most of the ACC and SEC programs.
New digs — West Laurens will break in its new stadium when the Raiders host Haralson County on Sept. 11.
Open field — The last place teams want to encounter Terrance Gore is in the open field. Jones County’s lightning quick running back is a dangerous rusher, receiver and kick returner.
Playoff push — Howard is only in its second season, but the Huskies are already shooting for the playoffs. Crawford County is also looking to make to the playoffs. The Eagles haven’t been since 1998.
Questions — Both Northeast and Southwest are searching for suitable replacements for all-state running backs. Northeast must replace Cornelius, who rushed for 1,879 yards and 29 touchdowns, while Southwest is looking for a replacement for Alexander, who rushed for 2,165 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Rebuilding? — The last time Dublin faced a rebuilding season, the Irish won the region championship and advanced to the Georgia Dome. That 2007 team had to replace 21 starters. This Dublin team returns four starters but will face stiff competition from Jefferson County and Swainsboro with its streak of four straight region titles on the line.
Spoon — Replacing a legend is never easy, but that is the task facing Westside head coach Sheddrick Ripser, who takes over for his mentor Robert Davis.
Turf — Lamar County becomes a trend setter this year when it becomes the first area school to go to synthetic turf. After a 1-9 season, the Trojans might be able to gather some momentum from the new field at Lamar County Stadium.
Useful — Both Northside and Peach County have a little extra offensive weapon in kickers Devon Pike and Rustin Evatt. Pike was 9-for-11 on field goals, and Evatt didn’t miss inside of 40 yards.
Versatility — Fitzgerald senior Trenton Pruitt will drive opponents nuts with his ability to make an impact on offense. The Vanderbilt commit could rush for 10 touchdowns and catch 10 touchdown passes this season.
Who’s Next — After a year without a state champion, it will be interesting to see which team steps up this year to chase down a title and earn its spot in history.
X-factor — Quarterback D.J. Rozier had the most eye-popping numbers last year for Johnson County, but it was Zack Walker who gave most opponents problems on both sides of the ball. Walker caught nine touchdown passes and was a lockdown cornerback.
Year two — Both Covenant Academy and Howard step into the second year of varsity football. Covenant went 3-7 in its inaugural season but will have a new head coach this year. Howard went 1-9 in its first year.
Zero — That is the number of Washington County’s starting offensive linemen who didn’t get at least two starts last year. Four players got 11 starts up front, including all-state honorable mention Chartavious Danzy.