Georgia's best high school football teams, players of the year and games to watch.
Georgia Preseason Top 10
1. Norcross Blue Devils
The Blue Devils return 16 of 22 starters from an undefeated state championship team. They have four players with major college offers, led by defensive end Lorenzo Carter, one of the top prospects in America. Versatile threat Myles Autry can play in the backfield or at receiver and accounted for 20 touchdowns last year. The big questions come at quarterback and running back.
2. Sandy Creek Patriots (Tyrone)
Sandy Creek is almost a sure thing to win the Class AAAA crown. The Patriots are 56-2 with three state titles over the past four years, and they should be the biggest favorite in any classification. Quarterback Cole Garvin, receiver Demarre Kitt, defensive lineman Chris Williams, tailback Eric Swinney and linebacker Khari Lain all have FBS offers.
3. Gainesville Red Elephants
The best player in the state resides in Gainesville: quarterback DeShaun Watson. The electric Clemson commit holds most of the state passing records after leading the Red Elephants to their first state title.
4. North Gwinnett Bulldogs (Suwanee)
The Bulldogs have won 10 games or more each year since coach Bob Sphire arrived in 2006. They can announce themselves as a prime contender if they thrive against an opening stretch against Camden County, Grayson and Norcross.
5. Colquitt County Packers (Moultrie)
The Packers return nine starters on defense and 15 overall, and they’ll need the experience to navigate a brutal schedule that includes Grayson, Lovejoy, Carver-Columbus, Lowndes and Camden County. They have advanced to the state semifinals in each of the past four years.
6. Camden County Wildcats (Kingsland)
Camden County never enters a season without a goal of winning a state title. The Wildcats have won three titles over the past 10 years. But the architect of the program, Jeff Herron, left for Prince Avenue Christian. His offensive coordinator, Welton Coffey, takes over.
7. North Cobb Warriors (Acworth)
The Warriors should be able to score on just about anybody with the return of junior quarterback Tyler Queen. He passed for 2,607 yards and 23 touchdowns and rushed for 925 yards and 20 touchdowns. They must replace 15 starters off last year’s semifinalist team.
8. Lovejoy Wildcats
The Wildcats did the improbable, replacing several key starters and navigating a move up in classification to play for a second straight state title. They replace 14 starters, but the program is one of the best in the state.
9. St. Pius X Golden Lions (Atlanta)
St. Pius played in its first state championship game since 1968 last year, losing to Buford in the title game. The Golden Lions will need to replace their quarterback and fullback — the two most important players in their offense. Daniel Crochet and Nick Ruffin return after All-State junior seasons on defense.
10. Tucker Tigers
Top recruits Detric Dukes (linebacker) and Elisha Shaw (defensive tackle) could make Tucker the top contender to dethrone Gainesville in Class AAAAA.
Five Can't Miss Matchups
8.24 – Camden County vs. North Gwinnett
There are plenty of great games in the season-opening Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome, but this game may have the most intrigue with the debut of new Camden County head coach Welton Coffey, who takes over for Jeff Herron. North Gwinnett begins a brutal stretch with games at Grayson and Norcross following this one.
8.24 – Booker T. Washington (Fla.) at Norcross
Apologies to Colquitt County coach Rush Propst’s return to play his old team at Hoover (Ala.), but this matchup is the best one for a Georgia team taking on an out-of-state opponent. The Blue Devils will try to win their 16th straight against Florida’s defending Class 4A champion.
9.6 – Colquitt County at Lovejoy
Lovejoy won 12 straight games last year following its 14-7 early season loss to Colquitt County. Both teams advanced to the semifinals — Lovejoy lost to Norcross in the title game — and this game could provide a similar boost to the winner.
9.6 – Buford at Gainesville
Two of the state’s champions meet in a rematch of Gainesville’s 19-15 win over the Wolves in 2012. Both teams will be among the favorites to repeat, with Buford seeking a sixth state title in seven years. Gainesville quarterback DeShaun Watson and Buford linebacker Korie Rogers are both committed to Clemson.
10.11 – Stephenson at Tucker
These two powers — separated by less than 10 miles — had never played before Stephenson’s 13-6 win last season. Both teams figure to be in the Class AAAAA title chase again this year.
2013 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year
Deshaun Watson, QB, Gainesville
Senior, 6-3, 195
What didn’t Watson do in 2012? The Clemson commit led the Red Elephants to their first-ever state championship, and he did so by rewriting the state’s record books. He already holds the state’s career records for passing yards (9,360) and passing touchdowns (108), giving him a chance to create some near-untouchable career marks as a senior. In leading Gainesville to the championship, Watson passed for 4,021 yards and rushed for 1,430 yards and became only the second player in state history to toss 50 touchdown passes. He added 24 touchdowns on the ground. The Red Elephants averaged 49 points per game in the playoffs, including a game of 61 points against a Kell secondary that featured two FBS defensive backs. Watson welcomes back one of his top two wide receivers in Rodney Lackey.
2013 Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Lorenzo Carter, DL, Norcross
Senior, 6-6, 220
The Blue Devils didn’t enter last season with the same hype as other powers, but they quickly became one of the top contenders for a championship during a five-game stretch in which the defense didn’t allow more than a touchdown. Much of the progress during that stretch could be credited to the playmaking ability of Carter. The hulking defensive lineman finished the season with 136 tackles, 50 tackles for a loss and 17 sacks. He played huge in the big games, including making 12 tackles, five tackles for a loss and forcing a fumble in the championship game win over Lovejoy. Carter, who also helped Norcross win a basketball state title, has even bigger expectations placed on him as a senior. He’s the top prospect in the state, and many of the national recruiting services list Carter among the top-10 prospects in the nation, regardless of position.