Ron Seibel

Let’s go: Here’s who will lead in 2016

Houston County head coach Von Lassiter talks to his team at the end of practice Aug. 3 in Warner Robins.
Houston County head coach Von Lassiter talks to his team at the end of practice Aug. 3 in Warner Robins.

Happy new year, football fans.

Thursday night marked the start of the high school football season, with Trinity Christian-Dublin opening at Thomas Jefferson in GISA action. A few more GISA games (Heritage at Windsor, Pinewood Christian at John Milledge, Piedmont at Bethlehem Christian) take place Friday, with the first of 12 weeks of GHSA regular-season action taking place next week.

So what are Middle Georgia’s teams going to do this year?

Every Friday throughout the season, Michael A. Lough and myself will publish our top-10 rankings for Middle Georgia teams. I take the “king of the hill” approach: A team is on top until it’s defeated.

With that, here’s a look at my preseason Middle Georgia rankings:

1. Houston County (11-2 last year): Go against Jake “From State” Fromm? No, ma’am. The following Fromm is getting is reminiscent of the attention Danny Wuerffel received during his senior year in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, more than two decades ago. Wuerffel answered by delivering a state championship to the Panhandle and wound up winning the Heisman Trophy with Florida. Fromm has every chance to mirror those accomplishments, first with the Bears and later on with Georgia.

2. Mary Persons (11-1): Going undefeated during the regular season with a team that had just two starters returning on each side of the ball? That’s an indication of how strong of an operation head coach Brian Nelson and his staff have going in Forsyth. The Bulldogs are looking for a quarterback and have to plug some holes on the offensive line, but the defensive line, anchored by top prospect Malik Herring, can match up with anyone in the state. There’s a solid group of players returning at offensive skill positions, as well.

3. Westside (9-4): The Seminoles made it past the first round of the playoffs since 2009 last year, and quarterback Savion Knowlton has added some definition to his frame. He has some solid running backs to work with, but all of his passing targets will be new. Add a decent secondary and a defensive front seven that seems to produce strong players every year, and Westside is ready to take on its strong early season schedule that includes contests with Howard, Southwest, Northside, B.E.S.T. Academy, Peach County and Jackson, all before the end of September.

4. West Laurens (8-4): Darius Bradford, who turned in some good yardage as a freshman, was limited to seven games last year because of a knee injury. Still, he had 914 yards and 11 yards, and he’s healthy now. Isaiah Morman, who carried the load in Bradford’s absence, is a 215-pound senior who gives the Raiders a second option in the run game. There’s a couple of position battles going on, but West Laurens’ run game will be difficult to stop.

5. Peach County (9-3): A young-ish team last year, the Trojans started slow with a 10-point loss to Warner Robins and a seven-point win over struggling Perry. But the Trojans matured, with their only loss in Region 2-3A being a 3-2 defeat at eventual region champion Jackson. Peach County returns a bunch of starters, and the Trojans should be right in the mix of things in Region 4-3A this fall.

6. Northside (9-2): Perhaps this season’s biggest question mark. This team set scoring records last year in its win over Warner Robins, but the Eagles couldn’t make it out of the opening round of the playoffs. Yes, there are plenty of returning starters, especially on offense, but those starters might not necessarily be back in their same positions. Throw in a new region (1-6A) that includes Houston County, Coffee, Lee County and Valdosta, and nothing is guaranteed.

7. Jones County (9-2): The Greyhounds lost some to graduation on defense, but a good chunk of their offense is back, led by third-year starter Bradley Hunnicutt. After getting paired up with the Houston County School District the past two cycles, Jones County is back in a region with teams from the southern suburbs of Atlanta, meaning this team might fly a bit underneath the radar in terms of the Middle Georgia picture. The good news for Jones County? Only one team in the Greyhounds’ new region, Stockbridge, made it past the first round of the playoffs last season.

8. Macon County (10-3): The Bulldogs gave Class 2A champion Pace Academy its closest game of the playoffs last season. Shifting to Class 1A this fall and returning a number of quality starters, Macon County should be among the favorites to win the public school bracket. Bonus points for having Fitzgerald and Northside on the non-region schedule.

9. Upson-Lee (8-3): Defensive end David Marshall is off at Georgia, but there’s still plenty of talent in Thomaston.

10. Stratford (9-4): No Quintez Cephus, no O’Showen Williams. But a pair of returning running backs should help the Eagles contend for at least a sub-region title. Lincoln County’s the favorite on the other side of Region 7-1A, with Aquinas losing a bunch of players through graduation and transfers.