Most of the region’s coaches had hoped to avoid this — another two seasons of subdivided football.
They were all set to dissolve 7-AAA’s subregion system before the Georgia High School Association stepped in and declared that all regions with 12 or more teams must be split into subregions. And with the addition of Creekview and West Forsyth, 7-AAA is home to 13 teams this year.
Both newcomers were successful last season playing outside of traditional region schedules. Creekview, which is entering its third football season, was 9-1 last year, and topped 40 points six times. In its inaugural season, West Forsyth played a combination junior varsity/non-region schedule and finished 9-1.
But as newcomers in 7-AAA, both teams will have to prove their worth.
2007 semifinalist North Hall is the back-to-back defending champion of the region, and no team other than the Trojans or Gainesville has won the 7-AAA title since North Hall joined the region in 2002. Both teams are picked second in their respective subregions by the league’s coaches in 2008.
If the Trojans and Red Elephants are to be knocked off the top of the hill, Flowery Branch and Chestatee are the popular picks to do it. Both schools opened their doors in 2002 and immediately jumped into the 7-AAA fray. Those early years weren’t pretty ones, but both programs have risen quickly to area prominence. The Falcons have enjoyed three straight playoff appearances under coach Lee Shaw, while Chestatee has reached the postseason two of the last three seasons. Despite narrowly missing out on a playoff berth last season, the War Eagles are 14-7 under third-year coach Stan Luttrell.
White County and Johnson are picked third in their subregions, and a postseason appearance by either wouldn’t be considered a surprise.
Colors: Hunter green and navy blue
Coach: Frank Hepler
2007 results: JV schedule (new program)
Offensive scheme: Multiple wing-T
Defensive scheme: Multiple 40
Key players: RB/LB Ben Emert (6-1, 215); OL/DL Dane Magnussen (6-3, 265); QB Lance Baker (6-1, 185); CB Rusty Juneau (6-0, 185); SS Chance Morris (5-11, 190); FS Trey Rood (6-4, 180); DL Andrew Razzo (6-0, 220)
Colors: Navy blue and hunter green
Coach: Al Morrell
2007 results: 9-1 (non-region schedule)
Offensive scheme: Wing-T
Defensive scheme: 4-4
Key players: QB Colin Wold (5-8, 170); RB/DB Josh Reyes (5-10, 160); RB Hunter Livingston (5-8, 184); LB Mark Wise (5-11, 203); DE Seth Holmes (6-1, 187)
*Pickens moves from subregion B to subregion A, trading places with East Hall
The rest of the region appears to be playing catch-up, but as White County proved last year, when it went from 3-7 in 2006 to within an eyelash of a first-round upset in the state playoffs, nothing is etched in stone at this point in the season.
Favorite: Flowery Branch
Just six years after a winless inaugural season, the Falcons are poised to make a run at their first region championship in 2008.
Coach Lee Shaw has been there for the duration, and under his watch the Falcons have become a perennial playoff contender, advancing to the postseason in each of the last three seasons. This year Shaw will watch as his son, Connor, takes over at quarterback for his older brother Jaybo.
But the focus could be on the defensive line, which features a pair of major college prospects. Izaan Cross and Daniel Drummond form a pair of big, athletic defensive ends that could terrorize opposing offenses this season.
And Izaan’s younger brother, freshman running back Imani, is already creating a buzz that has spread beyond South Hall. Joining him in the backfield will be Drummond, who’s committed to Georgia Tech, and junior Darius Kimbrough, who topped 600 yards rushing last season.
Defending champ: North Hall
The Trojans bullied their way to another region title and the school’s first appearance in the state semifinals in 2007. Their well-tuned offensive line and veteran-heavy backfield was a big reason why, and with many of those pieces now gone, some have pegged 2008 as a rebuilding year for the Trojans.
But the region’s coaches don’t believe that hype — they’ve picked the Trojans to be back in the state playoffs for the third straight season.
The team’s four leading rushers have graduated, taking with them more than 5,000 yards of total offense. It remains to be seen who will fill their shoes in coach Bob Christmas’ wing-T offense, but the Trojans haven’t had a losing season since 2002, so it’s a safe bet that somebody will.
It won’t be easy for the Knights. Flowery Branch and Gainesville were picked by the coaches as the overwhelming favorites to repeat as subregion B’s playoff teams, but Johnson is a popular pick to surprise people in coach Paul Friel’s third year at the helm.
Anthony Prophet showed potential in limited playing time at quarterback last season, and big things are expected from running back Mantevius Rucker in his sophomore season after he rushed for 465 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
A pair of three-year starters (Justin Hadden and Major Borders) lead the way on the offensive line, while linebackers Gilberto Espinoza and Josh Owens are playmakers on defense. The duo combined for 144 tackles, 13 sacks and six forced fumbles last season.