The 2016 football season was a strange one for the Houston County Bears.
Led by star quarterback Jake Fromm, the Bears averaged 46 points per game during a 6-0 start and rose to No. 1 in the Class AAAAAA rankings.
Then came region play in rugged 1-AAAAAA. Houston County was beaten soundly by Lee County 55-29 and dropped a 42-35 decision the following week against Coffee. The Bears kept their playoff hopes alive with a 45-35 victory over Northside-Warner Robins in the next game, but a 28-24 loss to eventual state champion Valdosta in the finale ended their season. Yes, the Bears were 7-3 and missed the playoffs.
Fromm, who passed for 3,910 yards and 41 touchdowns in the 10 games, is gone now. He graduated early and enrolled at Georgia in January to begin his college career.
But Fromm wasn’t the only departure from Houston County. Coach Von Lassiter, who was 35-12 in four seasons with the Bears, took the job at his alma mater, Bleckley County. Defensive coordinator Ryan Crawford was promoted to replace him. Crawford was on the staff at Northside from 2005 to 2012, including the 2006 and 2007 championship teams that went 15-0.
The Bears also lost quarterback Dylan Fromm and wide receiver Tyler Fromm, Jake’s twin brothers. They transferred to Warner Robins, along with running back Jaeven West, who rushed for a team-leading 637 yards last season.
How the Bears respond to all the changes will be one of the big questions in Class AAAAA this season.
Crawford will have two returning starters on offense, including Trey Hill, a 6-foot-4, 346-pound senior who is the No. 2 offensive guard prospect nationally in the 247Sports Composite ratings. Look for sophomore quarterback Max Rigby to get the first shot at running the offense.
“You don’t replace a guy like Jake Fromm,” Crawford told Alex Ewalt of Score Atlanta. “Those guys are once-in-a-lifetime players.”
Houston County gave up 31 points per game last season but looks to be improved with a defense that returns six starters.
The Bears hope to start finding some answers when they face Jones County at 8:15 Thursday night in the Corky Kell Classic at Mercer University.
Some of the biggest games this week involving Class AAAAAA teams include Northside at Warner Robins, Valdosta at Lowndes and Tucker vs. Kell. For previews of those games, click here.
Elsewhere, there are a few other teams that will be looking for answers (or at least better starts) in Week 1. Here are some of those games:
*Benedictine at Glynn Academy: Glynn Academy’s only loss during the 2016 regular season was a somewhat surprising 24-7 setback against Class AA Benedictine in the opener, a loss it will seek to avenge on Friday. Glynn Academy went on to reach the state quarterfinals, losing 42-20 to Northside, and Benedictine proved its worth by rolling to a 15-0 record and a state championship.
*Cartersville at Allatoona: Both teams were defending state champions when Allatoona went to Cartersville last season and came home with a 30-14 loss. It was part of on 0-3 start for the Buccaneers, who eventually reached the second round of the playoffs before finishing 6-6. Evening the score won’t be easy, however. Cartersville won another state title and has won 30 consecutive games.
*Jonesboro at Mount Zion-Jonesboro (Tara): Jonesboro, which had gone to the quarterfinals the year before, dug itself a hole with an 0-6 start in 2016 that included a stunning 9-7 region loss to Mount Zion in the opener. That loss eventually was overturned by forfeit, and the Cardinals reached the playoffs, but the 4-7 record was among the worst in coach Tim Floyd’s eight seasons.
*Stephenson at Cedar Grove (Hallford): Stephenson had won 10 consecutive season-opening games until a 34-23 loss last year against Cedar Grove, which went on to win the Class AAA title. The Jaguars also lost the following week against Mill Creek before righting the ship, winning six of the last eight in the regular season and reaching the state quarterfinals before losing to Valdosta.