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High School football season full of highlights

Nothing beats the excitement of a high school football game on a Friday night in the fall, and the script is pretty much the same every year.

Teams start out practicing under the hot, scorching Georgia sun with a couple dreams in mind--making it to the playoffs and maybe bringing home a state title.

The Southern Crescent hasn't celebrated a state crown in years--1987 when Morrow beat Effiningham County to be exact.

Yes, that was a long time ago, and the 24-year drought continued again this season, but there was still plenty of gridirion excitment to go around as we were reminded teams in the Southern Crescennt can still strap on the chin straps and tangle with the best of them, despite the long state title drought.

When the dust settled, six teams from Clayton and Henry Counties advanced to the playoffs as Eagle's Landing Christian (12-1), Dutchtown (11-2), North Clayton (9-2), Lovejoy (10-1), Stockbridge (6-5) and Henry County (6-5) took part in the postseason party thanks to their own unique storylines.

There was little doubt ELCA was going to be a good football team, but when Avery Walls transferred in, whatever missing pieces the team had fell into place for head coach Jonathan Gess' squad.

When Walls arrived, he joined Virginia Tech-bound Christian Reeves and Air Force Academy commitment Matt Rochell as Division I players, and ELCA became a great football team.

But they may not even be the Chargers' best football player. That honor might just go to sophomore running back Kenyate Green, who also played a mean brand of defense when the other team has the ball.

Green rushed for 1,280 yards and scored 24 touchdowns en route to the teams best season ever at 12-1, becoming the first sophomore in recent memory to ever land the Daily's Offensive Player of the Year honors.

On the defensive side, the University of Georgia is getting a great player in linebacker Amarlo Herrera , the paper's Southern Crescent Defensive Player of the Year. Herrera long ago said he wanted to be a Bulldog and it looks like he will stick with his non-binding verbal comittment.

Herrera helped head coach Rodney Hackney's team advance to the state playoffs for the third year in a row after posting a 9-2 record. Despite the team's first-round playoff loss, Herrera was that special breed of player.

The Athens-bound linebacker was a coach's dream, and it showed as he had 300 tackles the past two seasons.

Herrera is still getting some interest from recruiters around the country, but is sold on being a Georgia Bulldog, the school he committed to last winter once head coach Mark Richt extended the offer.

Picking the top coaches in the area wasn't easy. The two counties are blessed to have great men patrolling the sidelines.

A number of candidates could have walked away with the honor, but in the end Dutchtown coach Jason Galt won the Henry County Coach of the Year award and Clayton County Coach of the Year Al Hughes earned the recognition with a solid effort in preparing his team for a playoff run.

Galt said long before the season started that his Bulldogs had a chance to be really good and he was right.

Led by Mychael Brown and his 1,029 yards, Dutchtown's ground game pretty much clicked on all cylinders, wearing down most of the opponents who tried to get in their way as it ground out its way to an 11-2 record, getting knocked out of the playoffs in the quarterfinals by eventual Class AAAA state champion Chattahoochee.

Special teams can make or break a game for a team and Dutchtown was fortunate to have one of the best, if not the best, kickers in the state in Ryan Kay.

Kay tied a state record during the playoffs with five field goals in one game. He booted 15 for the season and kicked three through the uprights of 50 yards are longer.

For Clayton County coach of the year Al Hughes, this was not his first rodeo. He has had good teams before.

But this was special because the Lovejoy coach got his squad back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Led by a sophomore running back in Travis Curtis and offensive linemen Lamont Hardy and Jamal Covington, the Wildcats went undefeated in a season that included an exciting overtime win against North Clayton in the regular season, losing its only game of the year 7-6 to Glynn Academy in the first round of the playoffs.

Hughes has had a college pipeline leading straight from Lovejoy for years and there is no reason to think that won't continue this seasn.

Head coach Mike Rozier's Henry County (6-5) Warhawks worked their way back to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. Stockbridge (6-5) looks like it caught on to Kevin Whitley's triple-opition making the state playoffs for the first time ever.

This year's All Southern Crescent football team is filled with 1,000-yard rushers, quarterbacks who were just as efficient running the ball as passing, wide receivers who caught anything thrown in their direction, lineman who often fly under the radar, and young men on the defensive side who chased down the quarterbacks, running backs and intercepted passes en route to helping their teams to victory.

Along the way there were solid special teams efforts that were the difference between a win or a loss.

The great thing about covering high school football for a living is we get to do it all over again.

It is what has kept me in the business for 23 years, 13 here in the Southern Crescent. I can't want until we get to do it all over again next year.

Doug Gorman is the sports editor for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He has covered high school football for the last 24 years, 13 here in the Southern Crescent. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com