Of all the changes in the area this year, no other region experienced the dramatic turnover seen in Region 8-AA.
Three of the region’s four playoff teams from last season are gone, replaced by one Class A team, a GISA team and two schools that played nonregion or junior varsity schedules in 2007. They’re also scrapping the subdivided system, opting for a straight region schedule this year.
No wonder then, that the region’s coaches couldn’t reach a consensus about who the team to beat will be.
Among this year’s unknowns:
Can Jefferson translate its Class A success last season into wins in a bigger classification?
After an extended absence, which included a GISA state championship, is Riverside Military Academy ready for a return to a GHSA region schedule?
North Oconee rolled through a nonregion schedule last year. Can the Titans do the same against a tougher schedule?
In just its second year of existence, what kind of program is coach Frank Caputo building at East Jackson?
Is Fannin County becoming a perennial playoff contender?
With one of the best backs in the region — Justin Beasley — is this the year Banks County breaks its decade-long playoff drought?
Answers to those questions should begin to reveal themselves by the middle of September. The region schedule begins in Week 2. It shouldn’t be long after that before the cream begins to rise.
In their first year in the region, the Dragons are picked to edge Fannin County for the 8-AA title, which seems curious considering Jefferson has been competing in Class A recently, and hasn’t won a region championship since 1977.
Then again, when you’re squaring off against Commerce and Athens Academy — perennial Class A contenders — region titles aren’t easy to come by. The Dragons made big strides in 2007, knocking off rival Commerce for the first time since 1995 and advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
This year they’ve got experience and talent on the line and at the skill positions, but will be breaking in a new quarterback, and must find a replacement for last year’s leading rusher, Tyler Hill.
Defending champ: Fannin County
The Rebels are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the mid 1990s, and last year claimed their first region title since the same era — when Joby Scroggs led Fannin County to a 12-1 record in 1995.
With a load of experience returning on the offensive line, and last year’s leading rusher Josh Gaddy back for his senior year, look for the Rebels to stick with their run-based, mulitple-look offense.
Quarterback Nick Dean also returns after sharing time at the position in 2007.
Bryant Meeks, an all-state selection last season, returns to lead the defense from his end position.
Darkhorse: Riverside Military Academy
Considering they’re picked seventh in the region, the Eagles would have to be thought of as a longshot to win the title in their first year back in GHSA.
But they could have the talent in place to surprise.
Senior Colton Keig leads an experienced front seven on defense, including a linebacking corps with a pair of 215 pounders (Diego Osegueda-Weiner and Aaron Gambrah). And new quarterback Julian Suber could add an explosiveness to the offense that will be tough to match.
With as many question marks as Region 8-AA has in 2008, that’s enough to make a playoff run a possiblity for the Eagles.
Colors: Silver and navy blue
Coach: Frank Caputo
2007 results: 1-5 (non-region schedule — new program)
Offensive scheme: Wing-T
Defensive scheme: 3-5-3
Key players: QB Evan Williamson (5-11, 175, Jr.); RB Robbie King (5-11, 195, Sr.); OL Zach Cornell (6-8, 326, Sr.); DE Willie Sanders (5-9, 210, Sr.); LB Tim Franklin (6-1, 188, Jr.); CB Standrick Stephens (5-10, 170, Sr.)
Colors: Royal blue, red and white
Coach: Bill Navas
2007 results: 8-4, lost second round of playoffs (Region 8-A)
Offensive scheme: Spread
Defensive scheme: 4-4
Key players: WR/DB Zach Crosby (5-9, 175, Sr.); OL Sasser Conner (6-0, 300, Sr.); OL/DL Kyle Roberds (5-10, 190, Sr.); WR Sky Porter (6-0, 150, Jr.); DE Zack Allen (6-1, 200, So.)
Colors: Scarlet, gold and royal blue
Coach: Terry Tuley
2007 results: 9-1 (non-region schedule)
Offensive scheme: Multiple I
Defensive scheme: 4-4
Key players: DB Lane Thompson (5-8, 160, So.); LB Taylor Maxey (5-10, 190, Jr.); QB Jamie Fullington (6-3, 185, Sr.); RB Seve Uhde (5-11, 180, Sr.)
Riverside Military Academy
Colors: Blue and white
Coach: Chris Lancaster
2007 results: 6-5, lost first round of playoffs (GISA Class AAA)
Offensive scheme: Multiple
Defensive scheme: 3-4
Key players: DL Colton Keig (6-4, 250, Sr.); LB Diego Osegueda-Weiner (6-1, 215, Sr.); QB Julian Suber (5-9, 170, Jr.); TE Brandon McKinney (6-5, 220, Jr.)
Moved to: Region 8-AAA
2007 results: 8-3, lost first round of the playoffs
Moved to: Region 4-AA
2007 results: 7-4, lost first round of the playoffs
Moved to: Region 7-A
2007 results: 5-6, lost first round of the playoffs
Moved to: Region 4-AA
2007 results: 2-7-1