Game: South Gwinnett at Walton, 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: South Gwinnett 17, Walton 10 (Nov. 22, 2002)
All-time series: South Gwinnett leads 1-0
Prediction: Walton 14, South Gwinnett 7
Walton may be heading in a different direction in 2014 under first-year coach Mo Dixon.
Instead of relying greatly on their running backs to get 25 to 30 touches a game, the Raiders are looking to spread the ball and get other players involved.
After spending an entire offseason making adjustments to Dixon’s new system, the Raiders are about to find out a little about themselves tonight when they host South Gwinnett at Raider Valley.
“We want to try to spread the ball around in different ways,” Dixon said. “We want to get the ball to the perimeter and get the ball out quick and we’ll also grind it when we need to. You will see a dose of running the ball too. We will rotate guys around, depending on how much we have to play guys on both sides.”
Walton is known to have standout running backs over the last 10 seasons that included Tyren Jones, Michael Boydston, Justin Forte, among others. Returning running back K.K. Brooks appears to be just as solid as his predecessors, finishing with 1,263 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
Brooks will still be involved, but Walton isn’t relying solely on him to get the job done. Newcomer Sam Letton, who can play tight end and receiver, is expected to contribute immediately, as is Taquar Stewart.
Quarterback Josh White is replacing Price Wilson at quarterback. At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he’s got the size needed to be an effective signal-caller, but he has yet to take a varsity snap.
While Dixon said the Raiders have made progress, Walton’s outcome against South Gwinnett will let the players and the coaching staff know where they stand offensively.
“Ready or not, this is what we’re going to do,” Dixon said. “Once the games settle in, we’re going to do what we have to do to win ball games. I’ve been real impressed with the offensive staff for breaking stuff down.”
— By Adam Carrington
Game: Wheeler at Duluth, 7:30 p.m.
Last year: First meeting
All-time series: First meeting
Prediction: Wheeler 28, Duluth 21
Wheeler snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 30-20 victory over Cherokee in its regular-season finale last season.
Just as noteworthy were the four previous losses — all by a touchdown or less — leading up to that win. Heading into its 2014 season-opening contest at Duluth, Wheeler wishes it could regain some of that momentum it picked up at the end of the last season, but coach Mike Collins knows that’s just not going to happen.
“It would be awesome if we could take the momentum from those games and build on that for this season, but at the end of the day, this is a brand-new season,” he said. “Everybody’s 0-0. The momentum we’re trying to build on is our offseason workouts, our offseason conditioning, the things that we did in the winter months and the summer months and our exercises. Those are the things that we’re trying to lean on more than anything.
“You can’t bring a win in from last year, and you can’t bring a loss in from last year. We’re trying to put that stuff in the past and really try to focus on reminding the guys of how hard they worked this offseason and hope that will manifest in some wins for us.”
Wheeler knows a thing or two about season-opening victories. The Wildcats have won the first two games of the season the past two years.
“We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years to get out of the gate strong,” Collins said. “I’m hoping we can repeat that performance. I think it’s a huge confidence-booster when you can come out and get that first victory out of the gate and move it forward. Although we all know the games that really count don’t start until the region starts, but it’s always good to have some positive experiences early in the season to help you carry things over.”
— By Carlton D. White
Game: Pope at Harrison, 7:30 p.m.
Last year: First meeting
All-time series: First meeting
Prediction: Harrison 21, Pope 17
Harrison and Pope will meet on the gridiron for the first time tonight as the Hoyas host the Greyhounds at Bruce Cobleigh Stadium.
It will be the first step of what promises to be a challenging season for Harrison (5-5 last year) as it looks to start off the season with a win before starting a tough Region 4AAAAAA schedule that includes perennial powerhouses McEachern, Hillgrove, North Cobb and Marietta.
“It’s always important, because you want to start the season off on the right foot,” Harrison coach Matt Dickmann said. “Plus, it helps you get confidence. It’s very important. But more than anything, we’ve got to continue to improve and if we continue to improve, we’ll have success. I think we’re ahead of where we were last year offensively and defensively, and we would love to continue that improvement.”
Pope (3-7) is also looking to get the season started on a winning note in its first season back in Class AAAAAA after playing in AAAAA for the previous four. The Greyhounds also face a rugged road in Region 5AAAAAA against the likes of Walton and Lassiter.
“It’s a very tough schedule and you have to win any way you can,” Pope coach Matt Kemper said. “It’s very, very important. We have two non-region games in Harrison and South Cobb. Both are very strong teams and we would like to get at least one win in those two games.”
Pope faces a big challenge in trying to contain Harrison standout quarterback Lorenzo Nunez, who has committed to South Carolina.
“The first thing that jumps out at you is Lorenzo Nunez,” Kemper said. “He’s a real special player. He does some things on film that are Johnny Manziel-like. He’s a very, very talented young man.”
The Greyhounds counter with a strong veteran group on both offense and defense.
“Pope is a senior-laden team,” Dickmann said. “Their offensive line is big. They’ve got a couple of skill guys. (Carson Day) at wide receiver has got a lot of speed. They probably have more experience on offense and defense than we do.”
— By Greg Oshust
MDJ Sports Writer