Finally, it’s that time again! The Class A football blog is back again for another season!
As was the case last year, we’ll post blogs here on ajc.com every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning during the football season. Tuesday’s blogs will be online only, while portions of the Thursday and Saturday posts will be published in The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Friday and Sunday.
On Tuesday’s we’ll take an expanded look back at the events of the previous Friday night, with a few other features here and there such as quick conversations with coaches from around the state (“Coach Speak”), along with other news and notes. After Week 3 of the season, we’ll post our wildly popular “Divided Top 5” poll along with the MaxPreps/Georgia High School Association Power Ratings (more on that shortly) for public and private schools.
Thursday’s blog will feature mini profiles of the top games in Class A for that weekend, while Saturday’s post will be a look at what went on in the previous night’s games.
As always, please join the conversation and let’s continue our track record of maintaining a certain level of civility and decorum during our debates. Also, feel free to lambaste your humble blogger at every turn, here on the blog or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, let’s get to it!
Power Rating is back
This season starts Year 3 of the public-private split in Class A, and the subsequent power rating system to determine the 16 playoff teams on both sides. GHSA associate director Tommy Whittle said no tweaks or changes to the power rating formula were made and MaxPreps will once again coordinate the ratings.
Once again, teams will get 10 points for a win. If the victory is over a team from a higher classification, a point is added for every classification higher — one point for a win over a team from Class AA, 2 extra points for a win over a team from Class AAA, and so on. No points are awarded for a loss to another team from Class A, however, if the loss was at the hands of a team from a higher classification, a half point is added for every classification higher. When the number for the win or loss has been determined, add that number to the total amount of the opponents’ wins divided by the number of games the opponent has played, multiplied by 10.
“We usually begin the power [rating] about the third week,” said Whittle, who joined the GHSA in April after 16 years as a vice president with the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA). “That means we are shooting for the Monday or Tuesday the week after Labor Day – Sept. 8 or 9.”
Three from GISA join the GHSA
Speaking of the GISA, three of its most storied programs jumped ship and are now competing in the GHSA – Mount de Sales, Stratford Academy and Tattnall Square. All three are in the Macon area and competed against each other last season in Region 2 of the GISA’s highest classification, AAA. This season, all three will be in Region 7 with defending state champ Aquinas.
Tattnall Square finished 8-3, and lost in the first round of the state playoffs (29-26 to Southfield Academy of Americus), but the Trojans were the only team to defeat eventual champion Westfield School of Perry (21-0 in the season opener for Westfield). Mount de Sales struggled to a 3-8 finish, which included a loss in the first round of the state playoffs (42-7 to Deerfield-Windsor of Albany).
Stratford had the best season of the three with a 10-3 finish and a trip to the state finals, a 34-31 loss to the Westfield School. In fact, the Eagles are ranked No. 9 in the AJC pre-season top 10. But head coach Mark Farriba, who led Prince Avenue Christian to the 2012 GHSA state finals, begs to differ.
“We appreciate the attention, but that’s way too high,” Farriba said of his team, which lost 15 seniors to graduation. “We’ve got a lot of young guys. We’ve got some potential, but we’re just not ready yet.”
Farriba said his club was rudely “introduced” to the GHSA last weekend during a scrimmage with Chattahoochee County, a Class AA team which finished 2-8 last season.
“They introduced us to the woodshed,” Farriba said. “They had some good athletes on the perimeter who hurt us, but it was good for us because it exposed some things we needed to see.”
Farriba said seniors Connor Collins (OL, 6-5, 285), Alex Coplin (C, 6-0, 295), Sean Grossnickle (S/WB/WR, 6-0, 180) and Austin Devenney (WB/LB, 6-0, 175) will lead a unit that wants to make a big impression in its first season in the GHSA. While he obviously wants to do well, Farriba said he does not want to put too much emphasis on Stratford’s first season in the GHSA.
“We’ve talked about it in camp,” Farriba said. “But you can’t just pull out a certain year for any team and say ‘That’s what that program is about.’ It’s a process.”
Stratford will open their inaugural season in the GHSA on Aug. 29, at home against Savannah Country Day. Tattnall Square will host Georgia Military on Aug. 29 to open the season, while Mount de Sales will travel to Columbus to face St. Anne-Pacelli.
Both of last season’s champions, Marion County on the public side and Aquinas on the private, were first time title winners. Both look like solid favorites to repeat and are ranked No. 1 (Aquinas) and No. 2 (Marion County) in the preseason poll.
Marion County returns nine starters from an offense that averaged more than 30 points per game last season. The unit is led by all-region athlete DB/RB/KR Lorenzo Smothers, who averaged 14 yards every time he touched the ball last season, along with senior RB Johnny Royals (1,400 yards last season) and sophomore RB Mykile Kelly.
But Eagle head coach Mike Swaney said his team’s young defense and special teams will tell the tale of this season. Marion lost five starters on that side of the ball, along with all-state kicker A.J. Wells, who is now at Appalachian State. If first-year starters at linebacker Hayden Gray, a junior, and Bryson Murray, a senior, and safety Derrick Lawrence can all step up, Marion County may find itself back in the Georgia Dome the second week of December.
“We won’t get any points for what we did last year,” Swaney said. “We want to try to win our region, which is going to be tough. But if we can stay healthy and keep working hard, we have the potential to be really good again.”
Aquinas is in a similar situation. The Fighting Irish return one of the state’s most explosive offensive units with RB Ruben Garnett, WR Daniel Lindsey and QB Liam Welch. But defensively, Aquinas may start two freshmen linebackers. Still, he sees a team that is poised to make another championship run.
“We’ve been very pleased with how they’ve handled everything,” Leonard said. “They’ve put their [championship] rings away and no one hardly looks at them. It’s like they’re even more focused this year because they know how hard it’s going to be to repeat.”