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Norcross returns nearly its entire offense that racked up 6,000 yards of total offense and averaged 37 points a game.
A big part of the unit’s success was quarterback Joseph Wilber, who graduated.
A.J. Bush, who transferred from Milton, has taken over the spot but has not been tested in the new system.
“It will take him a little bit. He has all the ability in the world,” Norcross head coach Keith Maloof said.
Bush will have a talented cast of players around, most notably Myles Autry (pictured). The all-purpose player is coming off knee surgery, but will once again be used at running back, receiver and kick returner.
He’ll share carries with Josh Boyd, who transferred from South Gwinnett, where he rushed for 760 yards and nine TDs, and K.D. Garrett.
Clinton Lynch and Chris Herndon, a Miami commitment, return at receiver along with Maaseiah Francis, Darien Dennis and Jared Pinkney.
The line could be the offense’s biggest strength with five starters back. Caleb Crum has moved to center, Blake Wood and Ryan Northrup are the guards and Horatio Walker and Trenton Jenkins are the tackles. D’Andre Plantin will also rotate on the line.
“The offensive line (is a strength). We have all five of those guys back,” Maloof said. “You’ve got to go in thinking, the offensive line has the most experience coming back. That’s what makes an easy transition for quarterback.”
Norcross returns six on defense, including all three starting linebackers. The group is led by middle backer Kevin Mouhon, a Tennessee commitment and the team’s top returning tackler. He’s joined by Warren McWilliams and JaQuan Frazier on the outside, while Miles Hunter will also see action.
Jordan Noil, who led the county in interceptions last year with six, returns at safety along with Brandon Gardner.
“The strenghth is obviously your linebackers and your two safeties,” Maloof said.
Ridwan Issahaku was moved from quarterback to corner and Malcolm Galloway is at the other corner.
“These guys are as good or better than the two corners we had,” Maloof said.
The defensive line is highlighted by Lorenzo Carter, the state’s No. 1 college prospect. Carter led the county in sacks with 17 last year. J.B. Kouassi, Aka, Dorian Kithcart, Daquan Avery and Plantin will share time at the other defensive line spots.
“They are big bodies. They are good, they can move, they are strong and athletic,” Maloof said. “We feel good (about our defense). We’re strong, athletic and run to the ball. We just have to continue to get better.”
When you’re the defending state champions, you’re going to attract a lot of media attention. Norcoss has gotten its fair share, if not more, during the offseason. But Maloof has been pleased with the way the team has handled it so far this year.
“They’ve handled it about as good as any high school kid can handle it,” Maloof said. “What we keep telling them is you have to manage success like you manage failure. If you don’t handle it, it’s going to turn into failure.”
The Blue Devils feature the state’s No. 1 college recruit in Carter. They have about 16-20 players that are being recruited by colleges and half will sign with Division I BCS schools.
The Blue Devils have been ranked as high as No. 3 in preseason national polls and will open the season against nationally ranked and Florida state champion Booker T. Washington on ESPN.
“We just have to go out and play. Obviously, your first goal is to win your region. I don’t know what that holds for us,” Maloof said. “Obviously, the goal is to win the region, go into the playoffs and have a shot at it to win it all.
“Whatever happens nationally happens. That to me is just gravy on top of what we need to do locally. It adds to a little more fan fare.”
Norcross made no significant varsity coaching changes during the offseason, which Maloof credits to the success of the program. “We haven’t really had any change in eight years. I think a lot of that has to do with our success and the consistency in our coaching staff and how much they care for the kids,” Maloof said. … Norcross went to four 7-on-7 tournaments this summer and won three of them — Central Gwinnett, St. Pius and UGA. The Blue Devils competed in a fifth at Georgia Tech and went undefeated. … Norcross has 220 players in the program from 9th grade through 12th. That includes a 62-member senior class the largest ever for the program. The Blue Devils usually average 25-35 seniors a season. … Norcross has five players that are committed to Division I schools and will have anywhere from 16-20 sign on National Signing Day. The group is led by Carter, who will play in the Under Armour All-American game. Autry and Mouhon are on ESPN’s 300 and will play in the U.S. Army All-American game.