Photo by Derrick Mahone
Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Jonathan Guess has to prepare his team to dominate as the War Eagles enter the season ranked No. 1 in Class A, according to the Associated Press poll.
For the first time in school history, Eagle’s Landing Christian will start the season as the top-ranked team in the state in its classification.
The Chargers received four first-place votes to take the top spot in the Associated Press preseason rankings for Class A. The poll, which was voted on by sportswriters throughout the state, was released on Tuesday afternoon.
Last season, ELCA lost in the semifinals to region rival Landmark Christian. Long-time powerhouse Lincoln County was No. 2 in the AP poll.
ELCA will open the season at home on Friday against No. 5 Washington County of Class AAA.
“There is always some pressure that comes with being ranked No. 1,” ELCA quarterback Dalton Etheridge said. “You would much rather be the underdog coming into the season.”
Stockbridge was the only other team in the Southern Crescent to crack the poll. The Tigers are No. 9 in Class AAAA. This is the first season since 1968 that the Tigers entered the season in a Top 10 poll. During the 1968 season, the Tigers started the season at No. 6 and remained ranked for six weeks until dropping out.
“It is good anytime you are in the preseason rankings,” Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley said. “Most of the rankings are based on last year, but we are a different team with a different identity. We don’t have a big football history, but we certainly appreciate the ranking, because it is an honor.”
After going 9-3 and winning its first ever state playoff game, the Tigers finished ranked at No. 10 in the final AP rankings. It was a first for the school, which begin playing football in 1964.
Stockbridge returns five offensive and seven defensive starters this season.
“Some of our success has been based on teams overlooking us because we haven’t been that good in the past,” Whitley said. “People used to underestimate us. Thanks AP for messing that up. People will now be ready for us.”
Lovejoy, which reached the Class AAAA title game last season, didn’t receive enough votes to enter the top 10. The Wildcats fell three points shy of Valdosta, which enters the season at No. 10 in AAAAAA.
“Oh, I don't worry about that stuff,” Lovejoy coach Al Hughes said. “I just worry about what we can do and how we play and that will all take care of itself.”
The players say this will add to the motivation this season.
“It just shows we have to beat these top-rated teams and these teams ranked higher than us in order to get that respect,” Wildcats quarterback Alejandro Bennifield said.
In AAAA, North Clayton and Jonesboro each received votes in the poll. Jonesboro had seven votes while North Clayton amassed five votes. Both teams reached the first round of the state playoffs last season.
Henry County, under first-year coach Joe Dupree, received one vote in Class AAA.
The Warhawks will play in Region 2-AAA this season, which includes top-ranked Peach County and No. 3-ranked Carver-Columbus.
— Staff writer Gabriel Stovall contributed to this story.