Photo: David McGregor Grayson's Devin Gillespie (14) outruns Dacula's Sam Hurst (60) for a touchdown during the first half of the Rams' game last week.
It was just five years ago that Grayson was looking for a signature win in Class AAAAA football.
The Rams were just a seven-year old school in 2006 and had modest success in a lower classification, but had not yet arrived as the mighty program they are today.
That all changed when Grayson beat perennial Region 8 power Parkview that season.
"That was a big win for us and our program," said Grayson's only head coach Mickey Conn. "Parkview has got an incredible pedigree. They have a good coach, good players and a good program."
Grayson reached the Class AAAAA playoffs that year for the first time and has steadily climbed to become one of the state's premier programs.
Grayson (6-0, 4-0 region) is ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 6 in the nation by USA Today. Meanwhile, Parkview has had marginal success and hasn't won a playoff game since 2005.
But the Panthers appear to be back to their winning ways. After an 0-2 start, Parkview (4-2, 4-0 region) has won four straight and is tied for first in the Region 8-AAAAA standings with Grayson. The Panthers will find out what kind of team they have over the next four weeks with Grayson, defending state champion Brookwood, up-and-coming program Archer, and Dacula on the schedule.
"It's something if you want to be one of the players, you have to compete with them," Parkview head coach Cecil Flowe said. "These are the kind of games you have to play. It's a big-game atmosphere."
Parkview's success in the early 2000s when it won three straight state titles was with a strong running game and good defense.
The Panthers have shown signs of that again this year. Chris Carson has rushed for 698 yards and 12 TDs this year, including 184 yards and three scores last week.
"He's an extremely fast and physical kid," Conn said. "We're going to have to be really prepared to tackle that guy."
The Panthers' defense is allowing less than 10 points a game during its four-game winning streak.
"They've got a great football team. They are 4-0 in the region, that's the biggest thing that stands out," Conn said. "They are playing some good football across the board."
Carson and the Parkview running game will face its biggest challenge of the season. Grayson has allowed just 156 yards rushing all season.
"We have to execute in every phase and not let them pulverize us," Flowe said. "You look at them on paper and say 'Golly, they are loaded.' You play the game and see what happens."
Grayson's most recognizable player is Division I recruit Robert Nkemdiche. The junior defensive lineman leads the team in sacks with five and has nine tackles for losses. Nkemdiche has also made his presence felt on offense, rushing for three touchdowns in last week's win.
"They utilize their talent," Flowe said. "He's a tough hombre. A real tough hombre."
Shattle Fenteng and Sebastian Rice, a former basketball player who has committed to Georgia State's football team, are Grayson's only seniors on defense. The rest of the unit is made up of juniors like Nkemdiche and leading tacklers Kasey Gaines and Jordan Germany.
Junior defensive end Jack Banda also has come on strong in recent weeks and is third on the team in tackles (32) and tied for second in sacks (four).
"They all are playing really good defense," Conn said. "It's a different player each week making plays."
Grayson's win over Parkview five years ago was the Rams' arrival to the big stage. The Rams have been the more successful program in recent years, but Conn is quick to point out his program hasn't reached Parkview status.
"These guys have won four state championships and we haven't won one," Conn said. "We're trying to get where they've been."
For more stories on these schools, visit www.gwinnettprepsports.com/grayson and www.gwinnettprepsports.com/parkview.