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Posted: August 24, 2009 12:07 p.m.

Prep Football 2009

Here we are, in late August, school is back in session -- the days are getting shorter and the sounds of marching bands can be heard off in the distance. Pretty soon the days will become shorter still, the leaves will turn color and before you know it, the heat will give way to cool evenings. Most importantly though, football season is less than a week away.

This time every year, high schools throughout the country are bustling with excitement. It’s the renewed optimism each school shares whether it went 0-10 last year or won the state title with a perfect 15-0 season. Everyone is tied for first right now.

Come Friday, helmets will crash. Here in Newton County, three teams embark on what each hopes to be a glorious ride to the Georgia Dome. It won’t be easy. Winning never is. Rather it will be a new journey for each to student athlete won’t ever forget. That’s what high school football does to people. It’s intoxicating. It burns into the souls of communities. It brings out the best in young men and sometimes the worst in others. Through it all, I’ll be there to tell the stories. Now let’s take a look at what we can expect.

Newton

(3-7, 2-6 Region 2-AAAAA)

A lot of things will have to change for Newton to make the playoffs this year. Special teams for one cannot give up big plays, let alone two touchdowns in a single game. The kicking game will have to score points too. But that’s just part of the equation.

Offensively, the Rams have several questions but not a whole lot of answers. Front and center is at quarterback. What is Newton going to get out of Tyree Williams? Based on what we saw last year, not much. But he’s a year older and hopefully more confident. We may not know the answer here for a couple of games. Let’s just hope it goes better than last year’s Alcovy game.

Then there is the defense. Who is going to replace Brian Forde and Demetrius McCray? Those are big shoes to fill. The Rams have some capable youngsters but again, they are unproven.

M.L. King will again be the team to beat. Stephenson is a top-10 team while Union Grove also has Division 1 prospects. Newton comes in toward the middle where the log jam exists. The Rams will have to knock off a top team while taking care of the lower tier teams in order to call 2009 a success.

Alcovy

(5-5, 4-4 Region 4-AAAA)

This is the year Alcovy makes the playoffs. Why? Simple math…and a hunch. The Tigers have improved each year, winning a school-record five games in 2008. But for the first time, the Tigers have a dynamic weapon at quarterback and legitimate speed at the running back position.

Last year’s workhorse Malachi Outlaw finished his Alcovy career with style, setting the school rushing mark for everyone who follows to shoot for. And while Outlaw pounded guys between the tackles, he wasn’t a great speed threat. Enter Tre Sorrells and DeVon Edwards. Sorrells and Edwards, both sophomores, will split time at running back. Both saw action last year and both showed glimpse of brilliance. Sorrells has blazing speed and can run inside and out while Edwards has good speed and is tough inside. Quarterback is where the Tigers are much improved.

Rod Tolen emerged last year as a speedy runner with a nose for finding the hole. What he didn’t do is light up the stat sheet in passing categories. He returns this year as what coaches’ hope will be a more rounded quarterback. He’s passed the ball well in summer workouts and has had a full offseason to work at his craft. Tolen will be the catalyst to Alcovy’s hopeful playoff push.

Expect Griffin and North Clayton to be tough but Alcovy could be the sleeper nobody is expecting to do much. The Tigers will sneak up on people. They’ve looked good in preseason. Defensive stalwart Bryan Daniel is back and even though the Tigers lost DE Matt Gunnells, Alcovy should be stout.

Eastside

(11-2, 6-1 Region 8-AAA)

What can Eastside possible do for an encore to its 2008 season? How about win it all. Sound crazy? It shouldn’t -- because that’s just how coaches approach things over there these days. They believe in their system and athletes. Even though the eagles lose Justin Wray, Karl Williams, Broderick Alexander and about 50 other guys, whose to say they can’t reload? Isn’t that what good programs are supposed to do?

This year’s cast of characters includes returning running back Git Aiken and hard-hitting safety Zach Johnston. Johnston has also emerged as the Eagles best wide receiver. So whose going to throw him the ball you ask? Calif Carnes, Wray’s backup, has been given the offense and he has shown signs of hope for the Eagle nation. Carnes may actually throw the ball better than Wray did at the same age (juniors) and unlike last year’s Region 8-AAA Player of the Year, Carnes pulls the ball down to move around in the pocket or extend the play while still looking to throw the ball down field. That’s always a dangerous proposition for opposing defensive coordinators as pass coverage in the secondary almost always breaks down once the quarterback shows any signs of running with the ball.

Defensively, expect the Eagles to be solid up front and in the secondary. The corners could be a weak point as Antarius Terrell left his spot vacated when he graduated and Greg Griffieth was picked on deep a couple of times a year ago. The defensive line may not be as fast either. After all, how often are you going to have a defensive lineman with 4.4 40-yard dash speed like Williams?

The Eagles backhanded the competition in their first year back in Region 8-AAA and they should be a tough opponent yet again in 2009. Sure, teams are gunning for them and I’m sure Stephens County can’t wait for Eastside’s visit. But the teams still all have to play. That’s why in the end, the Eagles should be just fine.

Social Circle

(5-6, 3-3 Region 8-A)

What a season the Redskins had in 2008. Things started out great as they went 5-3 in their first eight games. Then Chase Lackey went down and with him went Social Circle’s season. The Redskins still made the playoffs by virtue of what they did during the first part of the schedule. But Social Circle scored just 10 points over its final two games and was shut out against Lincoln County in the first round of the playoffs.

Well Lackey is back. But he might not even be the quarterback. Devaris Pitts, who replaced Lackey a year ago, has been competing for the job and has impressed coaches. But no decision has been made as of yet. Do we have a quarterback controversy? Nah. Just some good old fashioned competition.

The stats show the Redskins offense went in the tank when Lackey went down but to be fair, those two final region games were against Commerce and Athens Academy -- both playoff teams. Still, the redskins will need to find consistent offense this year and do it early.

Tytus Baynes and Nick Carter anchored the defensive and offensive lines a year ago and now they’re gone. That means the Redskins will have to find someone else to fill those rather large shoes. If it happens, the Redskins could make it back to the state playoffs. Region 8-A is one of the toughest regions in Class A. After all, state champion Wesleyan (13-2) calls it home. But the Redskins are a tough group. With the recent loss of athletic director and friend Crystal Wood who lost her battle with cancer earlier this summer, Social Circle will play inspired football. That’s never good if you’re lining up on the opposite side.

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