Sports writer Brian Paglia
When the Associated Press’s preseason high school football rankings were released Tuesday, the Southern Crescent had just two teams ranked — one expected and one a surprise.
Eagle’s Landing Christian is ranked No. 1 in Class A for the first time in school history. They were going to be ranked. Being the top choice may have surprised some (defending state champion Savannah Christian is ranked No. 4) but there’s plenty of reasons the Chargers started the season on top — Keyante Green, Isaac Rochell, Josh Shockley, Keyante Green. Oh, and did I mention Keyante Green?
Stockbridge starts the season at No. 9 in Class AAAA. That was probably a product of the Tigers’ historic 9-3 season a year ago. Having Kevin Whitley as coach doesn’t hurt either. If Whitley can win at North Springs, he can be trusted to win anywhere.
But the rankings seemed to speak louder about the teams missing than those included.
No Dutchtown, which returns 30 players with varsity experience, a game-changer at quarterback and is just two years removed from the quarterfinals. The Bulldogs didn’t even get a vote.
No Jonesboro, which won nine games and returns two SEC commitments in Taurean Ferguson (Vanderbilt) and Cameron Sutton (Tennessee). The Cardinals got seven votes, which was five away from No. 10 Perry and Stephens County.
And no Lovejoy, which finished runner-up in Class AAAA last season and returns 16 starters, a few which you might have heard of. Travis Custis ring a bell? How about Arshad Jackson? The Wildcats were three votes shy of cracking the top 10.
Let’s not forget Henry County and North Clayton, either. The Warhawks received one vote in Class AAA, while the Eagles had five in Class AAAA.
But don’t worry Dutchtown.
Stay calm Jonesboro.
Please, please, please Lovejoy, this is not the time to panic.
In fact, voters had legitimate reasons to question each team.
Why not Dutchtown?
The Bulldogs went just 5-5 last season. They allowed 20.8 points per game a year after allowing just 7.4 points on their run to the quarterfinals. In a class with Sandy Creek, Burke County, Cairo, Carrollton, Baldwin, Marist and more, Dutchtown had a tough time finding room in the top 10.
Why not Jonesboro?
Yes, the Cardinals went 9-2 last season, hosting a first round playoff game for the first time since 1949, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Yes, they return Ferguson and Sutton. But they also have big question marks on the offensive line and a quarterback to replace.
And why not Lovejoy?
Despite all the preseason hype for the Wildcats — much of it well-deserved — they had the misfortune of moving up two classifications to AAAAAA. Lovejoy may have four players already committed to FBS schools, but so does Grayson, Walton, Colquitt County, etc., etc.
But if recent history is any indication, the Southern Crescent won’t end the season with just two teams ranked.
ELCA was the only team ranked going into last season. By the end, Stockbridge and Lovejoy were, too.
The Chargers were the only ones ranked going into 2010. By the end of the season, Dutchtown joined them.
No one from the Southern Crescent was ranked going into 2008. Mount Zion finished the season No. 8 in Class AAAA.
The Southern Crescent’s high school football reputation is one in transition. It’s maturing in Henry County, where population growth is increasing the talent and number of schools. It’s recovering in Clayton County, where coaches feel like the red-headed step child of metro Atlanta after the tumult of the school system losing its accreditation in 2008.
That means it needs to take advantage of opportunities to make progress.
Dutchtown can do that by beating Griffin for the first time ever next Friday.
Jonesboro can do that by beating Griffin two weeks later.
Lovejoy can do that by upsetting No. 3-ranked Colquitt County or beating highly-regarded Alpharetta.
Do that and you’re ranked.
Do that and the state will take notice.
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him at @BrianPaglia.