by: Todd Holcomb Updated:ATLANTA —
Five of seven 2012 state champions start the new season ranked No. 1 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s preseason rankings.
The season begins this week with 56 games, six that match Top 10 teams.
Defending their titles and starting No. 1 are Norcross (Class AAAAAA), Gainesville (AAAAA), Sandy Creek (AAAA), Buford (AAA) and Eagle’s Landing Christian (A).
Emanuel County Institute, the Class A public champion, is No. 2 behind ELCA. Class A rankings include public and private schools, although they compete in separate state playoffs.
The only other 2012 champion not ranked No. 1 is Jefferson, which returns seven starters on both offense and defense but must replace all-state quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, now at N.C. State. Also gone is retired coach T. McFerrin, a 300-game winner who was succeeded by offensive coordinator Ben Hall
Calhoun, which is 57-3 over the past four seasons, got the No. 1 spot in AA.
The other reigning state champions return most major ingredients.
Norcross, which is ranked as high as No. 2 in national rankings, brings back 16 starters, including defensive end Lorenzo Carter, an AJC Super 11 pick who is rated the No. 1 college prospect in the state. Norcross will open Saturday at home against Booker T. Washington of Miami in an ESPN-televised game between consensus top-five nationally ranked teams.
Gainesville, coming off its first-ever state title, is led by Super 11 quarterback Deshaun Watson, who holds the state record for career passing yards.
Sandy Creek returns a 2,000-yard passer (Cole Garvin), two 1,000-yard rushers (Eric Swinney, Delvin Weems) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Super 11 pick Demarre Kitt). Sandy Creek is ranked No. 5 in one national ranking.
Buford has a Super 11 pick in linebacker Korie Rogers, one of more than 10 major college prospects suiting up for the Wolves.
ELCA returns its starting quarterback in Dalton Etheridge and a D-1 prospect in defensive end Andrew Williams.
Games between ranked teams Friday are Blessed Trinity at Westminster, Burke County at Thomson, Eagle’s Landing Christian at Washington County and Woodward Academy at Lovett.
On Saturday, the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome pits No. 4 North Gwinnett against No. 5 Camden County and No. 2 Colquitt County against No. 10 Grayson in AAAAAA games.
Only about one in three preseason No. 1 teams win state titles. Sandy Creek was the only one to start and finish No. 1 in 2012.
2. Colquitt County
4. North Gwinnett
5. Camden County
7. North Cobb
4. Northside-Warner Robins
5. M.L. King
6. Ware County
9. Thomas County Central
10. Flowery Branch
1. Sandy Creek
3. Burke County
7. Monroe Area
2. St. Pius
5. North Hall
6. Washington County
7. Blessed Trinity
8. Peach County
10. Woodward Academy
2. Lamar County
4. Greater Atlanta Christian
5. Brooks County
9. Heard County
1. Eagle’s Landing Christian
2. Emanuel County Institute
3. Prince Avenue Christian
4. Dooly County
5. Lincoln County
6. George Walton Academy
7. Wilcox County
8. Savannah Christian
9. Wilkinson County
10. Athens Academy