Editor’s Note: Brandon Brigman, a sports writer for the Daily Post, writes a blog every Monday called “The Blitz.” It is available online at www.gwinnettdailypost.com.
I’m gonna go ahead and warn you, this blog goes from here to the end of the Internet. There’s a lot to cover as the high school football season gets into full swing this Friday.
Gwinnett had eight teams play early season games last week and it wasn’t a good start for the county. South Gwinnett got blown out by South Georgia power Lowndes, while Cobb County took three out of four games in the Corky Kell Classic.
The good news is they were just non-region games. It would have been nice to win for bragging rights, but I’ll take wins in November than August any day.
Buford won easily in its opener with a 42-0 win over Blessed Trinity. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing a lot of scores like that from the Wolves this season. I’ll be there this Friday to check them out in person against Gainesville.
The rest of the county and state start the season this Friday. I love this time of year. There’s nothing like that feeling of the first game. Everyone’s optimistic about the year, no matter what happened last season. It will be hot, the band will be playing, the stadium will be full and the excitement of breaking through that banner before kickoff gives players, coaches and parents chills.
We’ve waited eight months and football season is finally here.
Corky Kell recap
Robert Nkemdiche was the most popular player after Grayson’s 7-0 win over Kell on Saturday. Maybe it was because he scored the game’s only points or because he is one of the state’s top high school players. Either way, Nkemdiche was surrounded by media and recruiting services for more than 15 minutes after the game. I was the first one to catch up with him coming off the field. Here’s what he said about all of the attention he’s garnered since last season.
“my goal is to do better and I feel like I have to keep working hard,” Nkemdiche said. “My coaches don’t let me do what I want, they treat my like everybody else. It’s making me work harder, keeping me humble. I think that will help me have a better season this year than last year.”
A better season than last year? I can’t wait to see how he tops last year’s 18-sack performance. Nkemdiche has already drawn comparisons to Shiloh’s Davey Pollack and Peachtree Ridge’s Cameron Heyward. That’s not a bad group to be associated with.
It was a little surprising to see Grayson pitch a shutout against Kell. I know it was only a pre-season game, but the Rams gave up 20-something points to North Gwinnett last week. Even more surprising is Nkemdiche is the only returning starter. There are 10 new faces on that unit. But they have the same stout look that defensive coordinator Robert Andrews has had over the last four years.
“I wasn’t surprised at all. We have a lot people saying we’re small and we’re not that good because we lost a bunch of players, but I’m happy,” Nkemdiche said. “Those new faces worked hard in practice and they worked hard in the weight room. So the leadership and hard work paid off.”
Like I mentioned before, Nkemdiche scored the game’s only points on a short touchdown run. It was pretty fun to watch the big guy barrel through the left side of the defense. It seemed like every defender that came close to him just bounced off. It’s not unusual for Grayson to put a defender in short yardage situations. Big LB Terry Williams used to do it a couple of years ago. I hope to see Nkemdice get a few more nice runs this year.
“It’s fun. Coach puts me in and says run,” Nkemdiche said. “I get the ball and I run and I do my very best at it. I just do what I can do.”
Brookwood lost its two best players on defense in Daily Post Defensive Player of the Year Cameron Lynch and playmaking safety Nick Moore. I thought the defense would be a concern this year, but they looked like the strength in Brookwood’s 14-6 loss to Lassiter.
It’s the offense that’s the biggest concern right now. Yes, running backs Nick Tompkins and Jamaal Cole are back, but there were missed assignments, penalties, bobbled snaps, missed blocks and lot of other errors by the unit. It’s the kind of stuff you typically see at the beginning of the season, but I wasn’t expecting as much from the defending state champs.
Head coach Mark Crews would like to see a little better effort out of the team as well.
“This is something I hate to say, but I think we need to play harder,” Crews said. “I don’t think we played as hard as we need to. Maybe it’s because they are sort of resting on their laurels a little bit and all they had to do was roll their hat out there. I wasn’t really impressed with the total effort.”
The Broncos are off this Friday and will play Collins Hill in two weeks. I have a feeling we’ll see a better Brookwood team when they step on the field again.
North Gwinnett was 10 seconds away from winning its season opener when McEachern scored the go-ahead touchdown and added another score on the final play in a 26-17 game.
North isn’t the heavily experienced team of recent years. I wouldn’t be surprised if they started the year 0-3, but to have a lead slip away like that will only help this team grow up.
Scotty Hosch threw two picks, but I bet he doesn’t throw many more the rest of the year. The fact that the offense, with so many new starters, was able to put up 17 points is a good sign.
McEachern is a very talented team. This was a tough loss for North, but maybe a good experience to start the year.
Peachtree Ridge gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns in its 26-14 loss to Walton. The Lions allowed an 80-yard TD run and an 88-yard punt return. The Lions will be fine if they can eliminate those kinds of big plays. They have personnel on offense to be very good, it’s just a matter of keeping the big plays to a minimum.
PRESEASON ALL-COUNTY TEAM
Here’s my preseason all-county team. Let me know what you think. Is it on point or did I leave someone off?
QB Anfernee Stewart, Duluth, Sr.
RB Nick Tompkins, Brookwood, Sr.
RB George Morris, Central Gwinnett, Sr.
WR Jason Croom, Norcross, Sr.
WR Nick England, Collins Hill, Sr.
TE Kurt Freitag, Buford, Sr.
OL Vadal Alexander, Buford, Sr.
OL Chase Roberts, GAC, Sr.
OL Jackson Bounamia, Brookwood, Sr.
OL Fred Zerblis, Grayson, Sr.
OL A.J. Ruechel, Mill Creek, Sr.
K David Petroni, Buford, Jr.
KR Myles Campbell, Duluth, Jr.
DL Robert Nkemdiche, Grayson, Jr.
DL Kelsey Griffin, Mill Creek, Jr.
DL Jordan Washington, North Gwinnett, Sr.
DL Francis Kallon, Central Gwinnett, Sr.
LB Dillon Lee, Buford, Sr.
LB Trey Johnson, Central Gwinnett, Jr.
LB Nathan Staub, Buford, Sr.
DB Paris Head, Buford, Sr.
DB Zach Jackson, Brookwood, Sr.
DB C.J. Moore, Buford, Sr.
DB Ray Buchanan, Peachtree Ridge, Sr.
P Mitchell Blanchard, Collins Hill, Jr.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
The following players are my newcomers to watch this season. These are players that didn’t play in Gwinnett County last year or saw very little playing time.
• WR Chris Bolden, North Gwinnett, Sr.
Bolden transferred to North from Norcross over the summer and recently committed to the Georgia Tech basketball program. The 6-foot-3 Bolden has a nice skill set and is a little rough around the edges in terms of the nuances of the game. He has a huge upside with his size and hands.
• LB Reginald Carter, South Gwinnett, Jr.
Carter transferred from Stephenson and already has college scholarship offers from several major Division I programs.
• LB Stephen Weatherly, Shiloh, Sr.
A transfer from North Atlanta, Weatherly committed to Vanderbilt in the spring.
• DE Francis Kallon, Central Gwinnett, Sr.
Kallon moved to the U.S. last year and joined the football team in the spring where he got the attention of several college coaches. Despite never playing in a game, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Kallon has accepted a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech.
• RB Carter Governale, Mill Creek, Soph.
A Gwinnett Football League legend, Governale will see plenty of carries this season.
• QB Joseph Wilber, Norcross, Jr.
A pitcher on the baseball team last season, Wilber has a very strong arm.
• RB Alvin Kamara, Norcross, Jr.
Saw limited carries as a back-up last season. When he did get the ball, he was very explosive with great speed.
• RB/LB Wayne Gallman, Grayson, Jr.
Primarily a back-up last season, Gallman has the potential to be a game changer with his speed and quickness. Also is a stout defensive player.
• QB Bradley Johnson, Collins Hill, Jr.
Was a back-up to record setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke last season. Won the starting quarterback job in the summer and has the potential to put up big numbers.
• WR Joe Horn, Peachtree Ridge, Jr.
Horn saw limited playing time last year. A state qualifier in track, Horn has very good speed.
Who did I miss that should be on the lookout this season?
Here are my predictions for how all of Gwinnett County’s teams will finish this season. For what it’s worth, I picked six of the eight playoff teams in Class AAAAA last year.
Let me know what you think about the rankings and who will make the playoffs.
I’ve flip flopped on who I thought would be the top team in the region all summer. With Brookwood and Grayson, you could go 1A and 1B. The Broncos get the nod after winning the region last year.
1. Brookwood (9-1)
The Broncos are the defending state champs. With RBs Nick Tompkins and Jamaal Cole back, Brookwood will once again be one of the top teams in the state.
2. Grayson (8-2)
The Rams have a lot of weapons on offense and return one of the state’s best defensive players in Robert Nkemdiche. With 10 new starters on defense, will the group look like previous Grayson defenses?
3. Parkview (6-4)
The Panthers needed the final game of the season last year to get in the playoffs. With a good mix of returners and some key newcomers, the Panthers will be back in the postseason.
4. Central Gwinnett (7-3)
The Black Knights haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006, but with some of the county’s top players like RB/WR George Morris and LB Tray Johnson, Central will make it to the postseason.
5. South Gwinnett (5-5)
The Comets lost their leading passer, rusher and receiver. That’s a lot of offense to make up. The defense should be better this season, but how will the Comets replace all of that offense?
6. Dacula (5-5)
The Falcons have a new head coach and a new offense. There’s plenty of talent in the 30-plus senior class, but the Falcons will have to pull some upsets to make the playoffs.
7. Shiloh (3-7)
The Generals have a new head coach and should be a lot more competitive that last year. However, Shiloh is still a few years away from a postseason berth.
8. Archer (2-8)
The third-year program picked up its first region win last year and won’t be a pushover in the region anymore.
9. Berkmar (2-8)
The Patriots showed they can score points last year, but they have to learn to play defense if they want to be successful.
North has won the region the last two years, but will have a tougher road to a third region crown.
1. North Gwinnett (7-3)
The Bulldogs haven’t lost a region game since 2008 and will have a tough non-region schedule to get them ready for another region crown.
2. Norcross (9-1)
The Blue Devils have one the county’s most talented teams and will give North a run for the region title.
3. Mill Creek (8-2)
The Hawks made a deep playoff run last year and that experience should help Mill Creek go for back-to-back playoff runs for the first time in school history.
4. Collins Hill (5-5)
The Eagles had the region’s deepest playoff run last year, but graduated record-setting QB Taylor Heinicke. The Eagles need a new leader on offense to get them to the playoffs again.
5. Peachtree Ridge (5-5)
The Lions have a new head coach and enough talent to make the playoffs, but do they have the leadership to get them to the postseason?
6. Duluth (6-4)
The Wildcats will post their first winning season since 1995, but it won’t be enough to make the playoffs.
7. Mountain View (2-8)
The third-year program will be better, but is still a work in progress.
8. Meadowcreek (0-10)
The Mustangs have lost 28 in a row dating back to 2008. If Meadowcreek can find a way to score some points, it has a shot to pick up a much-needed win.
The four-time defending state champs could have the best team to ever come through Buford, especially on defense. It will be another dominating season for the Wolves.
Second-year coach Tim Cokely played a lot of young players last season and made the playoffs. The Spartans should be even better this year.
The Wolves graduated the school’s most accomplished senior class. However, Wesleyan features a group of talented players that have waited their turn to see the field.
The second-year program will play a non-region schedule again and is still a year or two away from being very competitive.
The Lions break in their third coach in the program’s fifth year. Hebron will play a non-region schedule again, but will be strong against some of the area’s top Class A teams.
Buford game moved
Buford’s game against Yulee (Fla.) on Sept. 10 has been moved from Westminster to Buford. The game is expected to be aired on a national television station, but has not been officially announced.
Football preview is out
The Daily Post’s high school football preview came out in Sunday’s paper. We’ll have it online this week. I never realized how popular the football preview was until this summer when I had a coach tell how coaches from across the state will drive to Gwinnett to get a copy. It’s not that they love the fabulous stories, but they use it get info on Gwinnett teams for non-region games. Pretty cool that it has become that popular.
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