South Gwinnett quarterback Kent Rollins drops back to pass during a game last season. The Comets face Lowndes tonight in their season opener.
Brookwood and North Gwinnett have lost state championship games down there, while Peachtree Ridge opened the last two seasons with losses at the same place.
Now South Gwinnett will try to do something few Gwinnett County teams have been able to do -- beat the mighty Lowndes Vikings.
"We don't go into any game thinking we're going to lose," South Gwinnett coach John Small said. "We don't get caught up in who we are playing. It's about going down there and playing a good football team."
Grayson was the last team to beat Lowndes in the 2008 quarterfinals, but Gwinnett County hasn't had much success against the Valdosta school.
Gwinnett County is 4-9 against Lowndes and has lost nine of the last 11 meetings. Collins Hill in the 2001 quarterfinals and Central Gwinnett in 2006 are the only Gwinnett teams to beat Lowndes on its home turf, a place where the powerhouse has won 24 in a row since its 2007 season-opening loss.
"They have a lot of tradition and success there," Small said. "What a great experience for our kids to play in that environment."
Lowndes has won three of the last six Class AAAAA state championships. It lost in the second round of the playoffs last season to eventual state champ Camden County.
The Vikings had 13 players who signed scholarships off that team, including five to Division I programs, but still feature a lot of talent.
Free safety Tyler Hunter, a Florida State commitment, leads a secondary that returns all four starters. Strong safety Geraldo Orta originally committed to Clemson, but has opened up the recruiting process again, and cornerback Kenneth Durden has several Big East offers.
That group will be a challenge for South's spread offense.
"No doubt," Small said. "I think their strength is their whole team, but they are pretty salty in the secondary. We have some young receivers that will need to step up."
South quarterback Kent Rollins returns after leading the county in passing last season with 2,212 yards. Rollins has big-play weapons in Aaron Wimberly at running back and Trevon Walker at receiver and running back returning, but will break in an inexperienced receiving group.
Lowndes is one of the best in the state at running the wing-T, but has improved its passing game with quarterback Cole Parker. The senior with a 4.1 GPA and an offer from Cornell threw for 821 yards and 12 TDs and one interception last season.
He has two big targets in Kenneth Durden, the state triple jump champion, and Josh Clemson, the starting center on the basketball team.
But the Vikings' bread-and-butter is still the running game. Troy Braswell, a Division I prospect, averaged 10.4 yards a carry last season, led the team in receiving and also returned punts.
"They don't run a ton of plays," Small said. "They do what they do and are very good at it."
South won its season opener last year on the way to a 10-2 record and a trip to the second round of the state playoffs. A win Friday could help propel the Comets to another postseason berth.
"It means we would be 1-0 and that's our goal every week," Small said. "Obviously, it would be a big step for our program. But one game doesn't make or break you."