Photo by Derrick Mahone
Mount Zion coach Jamie Aull says that it is hard to “gauge yourself” playing a 10-game Region 4-AAAA schedule.
Most teams have the luxury of playing one or two tune-up games before they jump into their region schedule.
In Region 4-AAAA, that is not an option.
Every game counts.
The teams play a 10-game region schedule in determining the four teams that will make the 32-field playoffs in Class AAAA.
“There is no wiggle room,” Creekside coach Johnny White said.
“You feel pressure with every game, because they all count,” Lovejoy defensive back Rico McWilliams said. “Every game is like a playoff game. I love it.”
Last season, Lovejoy was on top of its game as it went 10-0 during the regular season.
However, a black-eye for the region came in the playoffs when all four teams were swept by teams from Region 2-AAAA in the first round.
“That made us and the region look like (it’s) nothing,” said McWilliams, one of the top defensive back prospects in the state. “We were supposed to be one of the top teams in the state. It just made the region look bad. We definitely have a point to prove this season.”
And so does the region.
Coaches agree that the region is much improved, but with no games against any teams outside its region, that will not be determined until the playoffs. The region is comprised of eight teams from Clayton County and three from Fulton County.
Mount Zion is the last team from the region to make a long playoff run when it lost in the quarterfinals to Marist in the 2008 playoffs.
“We have a lot of teams that have made some improvements from last season,” White said. “The teams that have been good in the past are still contending, and others will make this an interesting region race.”
One of those teams is Jonesboro, which is off to a 2-0 start. This is the first time since 1996, that the Cardinals have started the season with two wins.
“All games in this region are big,” Jonesboro offensive lineman T.J. Bridges said. “It is tough that all your games count in the region. You can’t overlook anybody in this region because one game can determine your playoff chances.”
Mount Zion coach Jamie Aull doesn’t see many advantages to playing an all region schedule.
“There is really no way you can gauge yourself,” Aull said. “It week you are fighting for your life.”
Early season injuries are a big concern since there are no non-region games to start the season.
Creekside started the season with two of its best players - Elliott and Evan Berry - out with injuries. The Seminoles, who were deemed one of the favorites to win the region, are 1-1 heading into this week game.
“We beat up on each other every week,” White said. “You have some guys that are not at 100 percent who are playing because its a big game each week.”
Said Aull: “By midseason, we usually back off from contact in practice. You have to find ways to keep the kids healthy.”