Last year’s Class AAA runner-up Gainesville Red Elephants enter the 2010 season with a slew of new players and slightly lower expectations according to a preseason poll released Tuesday by the Georgia Associated Press.
The Red Elephants, who lost 16 starters from the team that reached last year’s finals, enter the season ranked No. 7, three spots ahead of North Hall and trailing teams like No. 1 Sandy Creek, No. 2 Peach County (last year’s champ) and No. 3 Cairo.
Washington County and St. Pius X begin the season tied for fourth, while Westside-Macon, Baldwin and Eastside round out the top 10.
It’s likely Gainesville would have entered the season ranked this low even if it would have won the 2009 title. The Red Elephants, who finished 14-1 last year, lost stars like quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Tai-ler Jones and a wealth of talented seniors who contributed on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Sims, Jones and safety Daunte Carr are all currently playing Division-I football.
The absence of those three, plus running backs Teryan Rucker and Tyson Smith and five experienced offensive linemen, will impact the Red Elephants right out of the gate when they play host to three-time defending Class AA champion Buford on Aug. 27. The Wolves enter the season ranked No. 1 in Class AA.
North Hall’s preseason ranking comes as no surprise to anyone following the program. The Trojans have won their subregion four consecutive years and reached at least the second round in each of those years. North Hall will be tested early in the season with games against two ranked opponents and another that reached the second round of the playoffs last year. The Trojans, who will play host to all three of the games, open Sept. 3 against Class AA Jefferson, which went 11-1 in 2009, and follow that with a game against No. 4 St. Pius and No. 7 Gainesville, the school’s biggest rival.
The schedule gets easier after that with a crossover game against Walnut Grove before opening the subregion schedule against Chestatee. North Hall currently has a 22-game subregion winning streak.
Gainesville’s start to the season is also difficult with games against Buford, at White County and at North Hall. Both ranked teams could meet again to conclude the season if each wins their subregion and plays in the region title game Nov. 5.
Two-time defending Class AAAAA champ Camden County enters the season as that classification’s top team. The Wildcats are followed by Lowndes, North Gwinnett, Colquitt County and Newnan. Peachtree Ridge, McEachern, Stephenson, Grayson and Valdosta.
In Class AAAA, Northside-Warner Robins, which finished second in Class AAAAA last year, enters the season ranked No. 1. Griffin, Clarke Central, Tucker and Thomas County Central follow the Eagles in the top 5. Marist enters the year at No. 6, while Warner Robins, Rockdale County, Kell and Southwest DeKalb complete the top 10.
Trailing Buford in Class AA, and receiving two first-place votes, is Carver-Columbus, which reached the Class AAA quarterfinals a year ago. Last year’s Class AA runner-up Calhoun is ranked third and is followed by Fitzgerald, Lovett, Dublin, Westminster, Thomasville, Hart County and Jefferson County.
Wilcox County, last year’s Class A champ, opens the 2010 season ranked No. 1 but received just one more first-place vote than second-ranked Charlton County. Former Class A champ Wesleyan is No. 3, with Lincoln County and Clinch County taking the other two top-five spots. Savannah Christian Prep, Emanuel County Institute, Eagle’s Landing, Twiggs County and Bowdon round out the Class A top 10.