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Transfers, realignment are 2016 season’s legacies

FootballThe high school football season will end Saturday much the way it began – with folks talking about Grayson.

It was January when the first of several blue-chip recruits transferred to the Gwinnett County school, many from rival teams, to augment what already was a state contender.

Now in December, the No. 1-ranked Rams will play No. 2 Roswell on Saturday night for the Class AAAAAAA title in the last of eight state-championship games at the Georgia Dome.

Win or lose, Grayson has become a story that will transcend this season.

“From a prospect perspective, Grayson is definitely the most talented Georgia team I’ve seen in my nine years here,” said Colquitt County coach Rush Propst, whose two-time defending champions lost to Grayson 49-21 in the quarterfinals. “We had three SEC guys [or major Division I recruits] last year, and Grayson has several more than that. They’ve got more than they had in ’11.”

Propst has coached or played every state champion in the highest classification for the past eight seasons. That includes Grayson in 2011, Norcross in 2012 and 2013, Brookwood in 2010, Camden County in 2009 and Grayson or Roswell in 2016.

With just days left in the 2016 season, here’s a look at 10 themes and stories that have helped define the year in high school football.

*The Grayson migration: Grayson has seven of Georgia’s top 100 senior prospects – five that moved into the district this year – and will go down as one of the best teams in state history. That’s if the Rams finish the drill against an almost equally talented Roswell team, which has six top-100 senior prospects of its own.

*Transfers: It’s not just Grayson. Roswell’s quarterback transferred from Westlake, the team that Roswell beat in the semifinals. Three all-region players at Class AAAAAA finalist Tucker came from Stephenson. Class AAA finalist Cedar Grove’s leading rusher left Decatur. Class AAAA finalist Cartersville’s best all-around player came from St. Francis. Some 40 head coaches have gone on record this fall as saying that the transfer trend is their No. 1 concern with Georgia football, and the GHSA is forming a committee to re-examine its rules. “I wish we could go back to developing players and coming up through a program,” said North Cobb coach Shane Queen, echoing many. “We’ve gotten away from what’s made high school sports so special.”

*The reign is gone: Grayson’s rise meant the end of the Colquitt dynasty. The Packers had won 30 consecutive games and reached the semifinals a high-class record seven straight times. They started 0-4, rallied to win a third straight region championship, then gave way to Grayson, which ended Colquitt’s  24-game home playoff winning streak dating to 1992.

*Eight is enough, for now: The GHSA added a seventh classification and an eighth state championship. There were only five classes and five champions five years ago. Expansion led to smaller regions, which led to some great non-region matchups as schools needed to fill open schedule slots. But it also brought watered-down playoffs as now 240 of 420 football-playing schools (57 percent) were advancing. Forty-three playoff teams finished with losing records. Each classification’s four highest-ranked teams reached the quarterfinals unscathed – 56-0 – for the first time.

*Valdosta is back: Valdosta is in a championship game for the first time since 2003. The glorious return was assisted by the GHSA’s decision to shrink the highest classification to the biggest 48 schools, three-fourths its previous size. That allowed Valdosta to drop into the second-highest class. Not coincidentally, Valdosta’s Friday opponent, Tucker, moved down too.

*Hotbed of quarterbacks: Georgia had an unprecedented group of nationally known quarterbacks this season. Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian is the No. 1 senior pro-style quarterback in the country, according to 247Sports. Trevor Lawrence of Cartersville is the No. 1 junior quarterback. The state is filled with major-college prospects at the position from Houston County’s Jake Fromm (committed to Georgia) to Grayson’s Chase Brice (Clemson). An unprecedented 10 Georgia senior quarterbacks have committed to Power Five conferences.

*Records under siege: Fromm made a run at Hutson Mason’s record for passing yards in a season (4,560), but fell short at 4,073 as Houston County (7-3) missed the playoffs. Fromm is the first to average 400 yards passing per game. In his wake came Griffin’s Tylan Morton, a 6-foot-4 first-year starter without no major college offers. Morton threw for 4,741 yards. Now, Mason’s season record of 54 touchdown passes, set in 2009, is endangered. Macon County’s K’hari Lane has 52 entering Saturday’s Class A public-school final against McIntosh County Academy.

*92-61: Offenses have been getting the better of defenses the past few years, but what happened on Nov. 11 at Martin Stadium in Valdosta beat all. In a first-round game, Lowndes defeated Hillgrove 92-61 in the highest-scoring game in state history. Hillgrove quarterback Hunter Arters attempted 71 passes. Nine went for touchdowns, seven for his team, two for Lowndes. In all, there were 1,152 yards of total offense and 22 touchdowns.

*Not so good: St. Pius averaged 10 wins over the previous 10 seasons, then lost nearly 10 this fall – finishing 2-9 against a harsh schedule. Charlton County missed the playoffs for the first time since 1990, or since Rich McWhorter was hired as head coach, despite Class A’s expansion to 48 total playoff teams. Camden County, ranked No. 6 in preseason on tradition, suffered its first losing season (not counting forfeits) since 1977 at 2-7. LaGrange, at 2-8, matched its worst season since 1974. And Central of Carrollton was 0-10 after going 30-6 over the previous three years.

*Not so bad: Fellowship Christian, after 10 consecutive non-winning seasons, is playing for a state championship Friday. Jenkins won its first region title since 1966 and first playoff game ever. Hapeville Charter, which started football in 2011 and had never made the playoffs, soared to the Class AA semifinals. Lambert, Johns Creek, Arabia Mountain and Liberty County won their first region titles.

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