By Derrick Mahone
There wasn't a formal vote, but the majority of the coaches at Friday's Region 4-AAAA football media day were not shy in saying who they thought were the favorites to win the league this fall.
Most had fun expressing their pick of North Clayton and Mount Zion as the two leading candidates for the region title.
"If I had a vote, it would be North Clayton, Mount Zion, Tri-Cities and Creekside as my favorites for the top four," Riverdale coach Nick Davis said.
But that wasn't a consensus.
"Nah, not really," Tri-Cities coach Kenneth Miller said. "I won't just label them favorites."
As the debate begins, you won't get North Clayton coach Rodney Hackney drawn into making any predictions.
"We don't look at predictions," said Hackney, who has taken North Clayton to the playoffs in the first two years of his tenure. "You do what we are supposed to do. We don't focus on other people."
Last season, North Clayton was 10-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the playoffs. The Eagles graduated six offensive starters, including all-state running back Clarence Jackson, who led the state in rushing last season.
The defense also graduated five starters, but return Div. I-A prospects Amarlo Herrera and Jack Ndem.
North Clayton players realize that the bull's eye may be on their back this season.
"I would rather be the underdog," North Clayton linebacker Amarlo Herrera said. "We just have to take care of business this season. I know everyone will be gunning for us."
Mount Zion also made the first round of the playoffs in addition to Banneker. Creekside, Riverdale, Lovejoy and Mundy's Mill move down from Class AAAAA, although neither of them made the playoffs.
"I'm real excited about this season," said Lovejoy defensive lineman David Washington, a highly recruited senior. "We are shooting to be the first in the region, of course."
All Clayton County schools are happy to be in the same region, which should boost attendance and restore some rivalries.
"Every game is a natural rival," Banneker coach Ed Gosa said. "All the teams are so similar when it comes to talent and the mindset of the kids."
Lovejoy coach Al Hughes agreed.
"There will be bragging rights on the line each week," he said. "No body wants to be on the short end when it comes to bragging rights. These kids grew up together and know each other. Each game you have to have the competitive juices flowing."