Real quick: My wife, my family, the presence and health of the aforementioned, football in the middle of the week, sweet potato concoctions, dressing, smoked turkey, howtodothings.com and my father-in-law for helping me not ruin said turkey, and early deadlines so I won’t be wiping sleep from my eyes during dinner today.
That, succintly, is my list of things to be thankful for today.
As you’ve surely noticed by now, it’s Thanksgiving, the unofficial kickoff to the holidays. That is, unless you gauge the season by department store decorations, in which case we’re six weeks deep into the Christmas Quarter.
It’s also the beginning of the end of high school football season in Georgia. As a general rule, if you’re still playing this in late November, it’s been a good year. Only four of the teams we cover meet that criteria, but fans, players and coaches for 18 area teams have some to be thankful for. Here’s proof:
North Hall: Worth County. The Trojans surely appreciate the fact that Worth’s win over Burke County eliminated the only other No. 1 seed in North Hall’s quadrant of the Class AAA bracket. That doesn’t mean that the road to the Dome will be an easy one, but it does mean it runs through The Brickyard.
Buford: Umm, how about being loaded? Seriously, is there anybody in the state that can stay on the field with the Wolves? In their closest game of the year (a 21-0 win over Lovett two weeks ago) they overcame 200 yards in penalties and yielded negative rushing yards. Then, in the first round of the playoffs with their starting D-I bound tailback on the bench, they score 56 points in the first half.
Habersham Central: Another game in Mount Airy. Due to 8-AAAA’s absurd subregion system, the Raiders got the No. 2 seed despite being unbeaten in region play. Luckily for them, Cherokee knocked off Region 7-AAAA champ Dalton last week, giving the Raiders at least one more game in front of a home crowd.
Jefferson: The class of 2008. This year’s senior class has already broken the losing streak to rival Commerce and helped the Dragons get to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003. One more win would put Jefferson in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1977.
Banks County: Beasley and Blair. In the first year under coach Blair Armstrong, the Leopards were one win away from busting their decade-long playoff drought. And next year they’ll have Justin Beasley, one of the area’s most explosive backs, returning for his senior season.
Chestatee: Experience. The War Eagles will have plenty of it next year, including a three-year starter at quarterback (Ethan Souther), two-thirds of its offensive backfield returning, five starters back on the offensive line and one of the county’s most dynamic defensive players (Chase Vasser).
Commerce: Tradition. Despite losing nearly its entire defense from 2006’s semifinalists, the Tigers were within an eyelash of moving on to the second round of the playoffs. Next year they’re losing offensive production, but in Commerce they always seem to find replacements.
Dawson County: History. The Tigers had their second consecutive losing season this year, but historically speaking, the odds are in their favor that 2008 will be better — Dawson County hasn’t had three straight losing seasons since the mid 1990s.
East Hall: One to grow on. It wasn’t an easy season, but when the Viking seniors took off the pads for the last time, the sweet taste of victory was still on their lips. Now those freshmen and sophomores that were on the field so much this season will know what they’re working toward.
Flowery Branch: A new era. They’ve learned to depend on Jaybo Shaw for the past four years, but the Falcons cupboard is far from bear now that he’s played his last high school game. Connor Shaw, Darius Kimbrough, Izaan Cross and others will lead Flowery Branch’s chase for a fourth straight playoff bid in 2008.
Gainesville: Another playoff experience. The 2007 season fell short of what the Red Elephants hoped for, but no Hall County team has reached the postseason with more consistency than Gainesville. This year’s trip marked its eighth in a row.
Jackson County: Continuity. After playing last season for their third coach in three years, the Panthers can be happy to have a coach in Billy Kirk that seems committed to building a winner.
Johnson: Underclassmen. Three of the Knights standouts still have at least two more years in a Johnson uniform: freshman running back Mantevius Rucker, sophomore quarterback/wide receiver Anthony Prophet, and sophomore linebacker Gilberto Espinoza.
Lakeview: A chance to prove itself. After a 7-0 mark this season, the Lions step up to a region schedule in 2008 and will welcome the opportunity to play for the postseason.
Lumpkin County: Tommy Jones. After two seasons under Jones the Indians have successfully transitioned into Class AAA and have become a factor in the 7-AAA playoff hunt.
Riverside: Understanding. In former cadet Chris Lancaster, the Eagles have a coach that understands the special commitment required to play football at Riverside. And with a resume that includes multiple stops at the college level, he knows a thing or two about winning football games, too.
West Hall: Skill positions. With 1,000-yard rusher Marquise Stephens, his younger brother Shunquez (1,000 passing yards as a freshman), and brusing fullback Daniel Drummond, the Spartans will have the pieces in place for dangerous offense in 2008.
White County: Turnovers. The Warriors made them a habit — in a good way — during their run to the playoffs this season. They picked off 20 passes and recovered 14 fumbles in 2007, and eight of those defensive starters will be back next year.