Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Norcross defensive coordinator Pat Standard gives the Blue Devils a pep talk in the weight room prior to the first round of Class AAAAAA high school football playoffs against Chattahoochee last year.
As the GHSA's state football playoffs reaches the Final Four for all seven classifications and subclassifications this Friday, Gwinnett County, as has become customary, is still well represented.
While reaching the semifinals has become an annual event for Buford (10-3 and ranked No. 3), which will be making its 16th all-time Final Four appearance and 11th in the last 13 years, when it travels to Cartersville for a Class AAA matchup, it is a somewhat new experience for Gwinnett's other two representatives.
Both Norcross and Greater Atlanta Christian will be making rare appearances when they play in the semifinals in Class AAAAAA and AA respectively this Friday.
In fact, it is totally uncharted territory for Norcross (13-0), which earned its first semifinal berth with last week's 34-20 win over Camden County in a Class AAAAAA quarterfinal last Friday in Kingsland.
The No. 2 state-ranked Blue Devils will hardly be intimidated at what lies ahead -- a home date with No. 10 Colquitt County this Friday -- especially after knocking off the fourth-ranked and three-time state champion Wildcats on the road.
Still, the enormity of the accomplishment was not lost on head coach Keith Maloof.
"It's a big deal for the community, it's big for the kids and the program," Maloof minutes after Friday's win. "We've got a great Colquitt County team coming in to play us. We'll play our hearts out and hopefully get to a state championship game."
For GAC (10-3, ranked No. 10), reaching the semifinals is not unprecedented, but it's been a while.
The Spartans, who will make their third trip to the semis since starting the program in 1991, last made it this far 10 years ago.
While none of the current players on the roster were around then, there is one very important person around the program who was.
Running backs coach Jimmy Chupp was GAC's head coach for the Spartans' state runner-up finish in 2002, as well as the defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the their other semifinal appearance under then coach Jim Lofton in 1998.
And first-year coach Tim Hardy, who will also be coaching in his first state semifinal game, is happy to have Chupp's experience to draw upon in preparing for Friday night's game at No. 7 Jefferson, which is coached by someone with plenty of playoff experience, and one very familiar with Gwinnett County fans, in T. McFerrin.
"Coach Chupp is a tremendous asset to our program in many ways," Hardy said. "His experience in the playoffs only adds to that value at this time of year. It's neat having a guy who's been there with you. And the thing that' s neat about going against Jefferson is Coach McFerrin. The legacy's he's left around here and all over Georgia is unbelievable. Half the coaches in Gwinnett have probably worked with him at some point.
"But we're just executing and focusing on the short term right now. The great thing about the playoffs is it gives you new life each week."
While the playoffs are more familiar to Buford, the Wolves will face some new situations when they travel to Cartersville on Friday.
Though both programs have been in operation a long time, they've rarely met, with Friday's game being just the third all-time meeting between the Wolves and fifth-ranked Purple Hurricanes (13-0). Buford won the previous two games in 2006 and 2007.
Friday's game will also be Buford's first semifinal appearance in Class AAA after moving up to that classification for the first time this fall.