It’s going to be a different sort of season at Griffin this fall.
A year ago the Bears relied on their offense to go 11-2 and become one of the state’s most explosive teams. They put up 50 points in five games. They scored 49 in a loss and scored 34 against mighty Stockbridge in the state quarterfinals.
That’s going to change.
Griffin lost three all-state players from that offense: record-setting quarterback Tylan Morton, wide receiver Malik Route and running back Santo Dunn. They did return receiver Roddy Willis, but he injured a knee in the summer and will miss the entire season.
“Were a young football team this year,” second-year coach Antonio Andrews said. “Our offense lost a lot of guys and we’re replacing them with some young guys. It’ll take some time but I think we’ll be fine.”
Senior Avious Nelson will start at quarterback this week when the Bears open against rival Spalding at Memorial Stadium in Griffin. Andrews called him “athletic and mobile.”
So the Bears are starting the season with hopes that its defense can carry the day and help them return to the playoffs.
“Our defense is going to be our strong point this year without a doubt,” Andrews said.
The secondary will be a strength with veterans Antonio Bankston, Ja’Luntray Hatcher and Malik Taylor. The linebackers are led by Kim Alford, who is back from a broken hand, and the line features Damarjhe Lewis, a sophomore, and Michael Webb, a junior who will miss the opener with a broken hand.
The Bears will have their hands full with Spalding wide receiver Ian Puckett, who has a dozen major college offers.
In 2016, Griffin and Spalding played one of the most entertaining games of the season, with Griffin winning 53-50 on a late field goal. Griffin leads the series 8-1, with Spalding’s only win coming in 2015.
Other intriguing games in Class AAAAA this week:
Arabia Mountain vs. King at Avondale: Arabia Mountain will try to continue to build on its ground-breaking 2016 season, when the Rams won their first region title. Arabia Mountain went 9-3 and opened the season with a 56-0 win over Stone Mountain. It was the most points the team has scored since it began playing football in 2009.
King, which plays in Class AAAAAA, lost its season opener to Columbia last week. The Rams hold a 2-1 lead in the series with Arabia Mountain.
Decatur vs. Chamblee at North DeKalb: The two teams played for the first time 17 seasons a year ago, with Decatur winning 19-6. But the series, which Decatur leads 6-5, dates all the way back to 1956.
The most compelling thing about this game is that former Chamblee great Roddy Jones will be honored. Jones, who went on to enjoy a great career at Georgia Tech, is DeKalb County’s all-time leader in rushing and touchdowns.
Burke County at Statesboro: Jeff Kaiser makes his debut as the head coach at Statesboro, where he attended school and served as an assistant on the staff. Kaiser was hired from Tattnall County, where his teams went 62-33 in 11 seasons. Kaiser will be trying to resurrect a proud program that did not win a game in 2016.
Burke County, which competes in Class AAAA, begins its 11th season under Eric Parker. The Bears went 9-3 a year ago and have made the playoffs 17 straight years. Burke opened the season with a 41-7 win over Grovetown.
Statesboro has lost the last three and five of the last six against Burke County. Statesboro leads the series 7-6.
Ola at Dutchtown: Ola got its first win against Dutchdown a year ago after losing the initial six meetings and went on to make the playoffs for the first time. The Mustangs (1-0) opened the season with a 34-19 win over Pike County. Tailback Chris Rodriguez, a two-time all-region selection, ran for 224 yards and five touchdowns in the win.
Dutchtown will be playing its first game under new coach Clifford Fedd, who took over after Mark Myers went 15-15 in three seasons. Myers took the head coaching position at Riverwood and Fedd was the offensive coordinator at Brooks County.
Monroe Area at Loganville: A lot of pride will be at stake when these two old Walton County rivals meet for the 36th time on Friday. Before the county began its growth spurt, these were the only two schools and their annual game was quite an affair.
Monroe Area will be making its debut under first-year coach Joey Kevin Reach, who succeeded Joe Sulkowski after three seasons. Reach spent the last seven seasons as head coach at Collins Hill.
Loganville won last year’s game 30-7 and went on to go 9-3 and finish second in Region 8. Monroe went 3-8 and lost in the first round of the Class AAA playoffs.