Two new coaches will lead their teams onto the field when Union Grove and Woodland meet in the season opener on Friday.
Union Grove is coming off a 1-8-1 season and is 2-17-1 over the last two years. New coach Chad Frazier, who has made stops at Villa Rica and Heritage, was tapped as the new man. He has spent the spring and summer assembling a new staff and trying to get players to make a commitment to the weight room.
Frazier was 17-24 in four seasons at Villa Rica, which competes in Region 7, the toughest league in Class AAAAA. Trying to build a program in Region 4 is more appealing that butting heads with defending champion Rome and perennial powers Carrollton and Kell.
Union Grove hasn’t had a winning season since 2013 and enjoyed its best season in 2012 when coach Paul Burgdorf’s team went 10-2.
Woodland has a different situation. The Wolfpack went 10-3 in 2016 and won the school’s first playoff game. But Steve Davenport (24-9 in three seasons at Woodland) opted to pull up stakes and take the job at South Gwinnett.
The new coach is Bryan Love, who was 6-5 in his only season at Lamar County. Love took Westlake from a winless season in 2012 to 10-3 in just three seasons. He brings an impressive resume as a defensive coordinator at some successful programs.
Union Grove leads the series 4-3, but Woodland has won the last three meetings. Woodland won 55-6 last year, the most one-sided result in the series.
Southwest DeKalb vs. Redan (Godfrey Stadium): Southwest has a new coach in Damien Wimes, an alumni of the Panthers’ proud program. Wimes had been an assistant coach at Starr’s Mill when he was hired to replace Fletcher Salter, who stepped in as the interim coach last year when coach Michael Tanks died prior to the first game.
SWD rallied together under the terrible circumstances to go 6-5 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, Buck Godfrey’s last season at the school. The Panthers are led by quarterback Justin Tomlin, a preseason all-state pick, defensive end Bryan Powell, linebacker Eris Walker and linebacker/running back Jamel Starks.
The two rivals have been playing regularly since 1980 and Southwest has dominated, leading the series 32-2. Redan’s last win was in 2004.
Central Carroll at Villa Rica: In a rather odd setting, former Central coach Rico Zackery will make his Villa Rica debut against his former team. Zackery coached Central for three seasons and went 30-6, leaving there to take a recruiting position at Georgia Southern, his alma mater.
Central is coming off a winless season and will try to regroup under first-year coach Darius Smiley, formerly an assistant coach at Newnan.
Villa Rica leads the series 27-20 and the Wildcats have won the last nine meetings.
Columbia vs. King (Hallford Stadium): Brian Montgomery takes over the Columbia program, where David Edwards had been for the previous five seasons. The Eagles are coming off a 2-8 campaign, the school’s worse since 2004.
The Eagles are led by defensive tackle Telvin Godrey, an all-region pick a year ago. King, which plays in Class AAAAAA, is coming off a 2-8 season and has a new coach in Deante Lamar, who was given his first shot as a head coach.
King leads the series 5-1. Columbia’s only win came in 2002, the first meeting. King won 14-3 in 2016.
Lithona vs. Carver (Lakewood Stadium): Lithonia’s new coach is David Edwards, who was 29-43 in two terms and seven seasons at Columbia. The Bulldogs were 5-6 a year ago under Marcus Jelks and won four of their last five games to get into the postseason. Lithonia’s strength may be on the line where tackle Broderick Jones and guard Cameron Wilson were both all-region picks last year. The defense has a promising end in Chad Martin.
Carver went 8-3 last year under coach Darren Myles, who returns for his 13th season at the school. The Panthers finished second in Region 6 a year ago and have won at least seven games in each of the last five seasons. The team’s top player is safety Quindarious Monday (6-4, 180), who was a first-team all-state pick last year. Monday has committed to Auburn. The Panthers also return quarterback Octavious Battle, defensive lineman Jatavius Ponder and linebacker Isaiah Mitchell, each an all-region selection.
Carver won last year’s meeting 41-7. Lithonia had won the two previous meetings and lead the series 2-1.