Photo: Craig Cappy GAC's Kyle Scales (17) breaks a tackle for a big run against Blessed Trinity earlier this season.
Tim Cokely has Greater Atlanta Christian back as one of the contenders for the Class AA state championship.
The second-year Spartans head coach has GAC 7-0 for the first time since 2005 and ranked No. 3 in the state.
But Cokely will find out if his team has officially arrived Friday when it travels to play four-time defending state champion Buford.
"I don't think about it that way," Cokely said. "I just want to win the next game. Our trajectory is good, but it's not the end all. I don't have a benchmark on an individual game."
Buford has been one of the state's premier programs for the past decade. The Wolves have produced dozens college players and have won seven state championships since 2001.
The Gwinnett County small school rivalry has been lopsided in Buford's favor. GAC won in 1997-98, but since then the Wolves have reeled off 11 straight victories. The closest margin of victory was 13 points in 2006 when GAC had the state's top running back in Caleb King and still lost 20-7.
"I'm not sure revenge is a Christian word," Cokely said. "It's not about that. Either team that loses can still get in the playoffs."
Prior to Cokely's arrival, GAC posted back-to-back losing records and was 1-9 in 2009.
Cokely started mostly underclassmen in his first season last year. That's paying dividends with this year's team.
"After playing them last year and seeing what he did in his first year, you could tell he had a good football team," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "They played us tough and with everyone coming back, you knew they were going to be good."
GAC is off to a 7-0 start thanks to an experienced offensive line led by Georgia Tech commitment Chase Roberts, a talented quarterback in Delano Spencer and running back Lavondre Nelson is one of the county's top rushers.
"They have a good offensive line and playmakers at every skill position. I really like their running backs," Simpson said. "Defensively, the front seven dominates folks. When you look at what they are doing, they are doing what it takes to win. They have the recipe for it."
No. 1 ranked Buford has found its success behind a dominant defense. The unit has allowed just 35 points all season. Only seven of those points came against the first-team defense in the third quarter against Lovett.
"They are really good on defense," Cokely said. "You can try to beat them silly plays or trick plays, but that doesn't work. You have to do what works well for you."
Teams haven't found much success moving the ball against the Wolves. The defense is stockpiled with future college players like linebacker Dillon Lee (Alabama), defensive lineman Vadal Alexander (LSU) and defensive backs C.J. Moore (Virginia) and Paris Head (Vanderbilt). The group is allowing just 43 yards rushing a game.
"What doesn't stand out about them? They are a very good team," Cokely said. "Obviously, they are very outstanding. They are a good team with great coaches. They don't have a weakness. I think they are solid in every area."
For more stories on these schools, visit www.gwinnettprepsports.com/buford and www.gwinnettprepsports.com/gac.