The 2019 season was another strong one for the north Fulton high school football teams, with Blessed Trinity taking home its third straight Class 4A state crown and nine of the 14 other schools advancing to the playoffs.
Wesleyan was a win away from a championship of its own, falling to Eagle’s Landing Christian 33-13 in the Class A Private title game.
With Fulton County Schools deciding in mid-August to delay the start of the season by two more weeks (on top of the Georgia High School Association already postponing it by two weeks) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most local schools won’t start the season until Sept. 18, but the private schools begin Sept. 4.
Blessed Trinity (14-1 last year) opens by visiting Forsyth Central. The Titans lost six college signees from the 2019 team – TE/FS James Bryant (310 yards receiving and 5 TDs; Air Force), defensive ends Grayson Gilder (57 tackles, 6.5 sacks; Army) and Jackson Filipowicz (20 tackles; Army), WR/DB Quinton Reese (55 tackles and 3 INTs; Liberty), LS Michael Wright (Penn State) and RB Elijah Green (1,646 yards rushing and 21 TDs; North Carolina).
The school returns six starters each on offense and defense. Blessed Trinity is led by seven seniors – FB/LB Ryan Dupont (team-high 115 tackles; committed to Air Force), LB Jackson Hamilton (66 tackles; Louisville), WR/CB Carson Harof (364 yards receiving; 52 tackles), WR/SS David Coltrane (64 tackles; Wofford), FS/WR Duncan Reavis (started at QB last year; 1,033 yards passing and 6 TDs), OL/DL Ty Furnish (3 sacks; Virginia) and TE/LB Michael Mitchler (56 tackles and 5.5 sacks) – and sophomore RB/CB Justice Haynes (205 rushes for 1,754 yards and 18 TDs).
The Titans will also get a boost from junior QB J.C. French, a Wesleyan transfer who attended Blessed Trinity through seventh grade and recently moved back to the area. But Blessed Trinity head coach Tim McFarlin said he’s unsure how strong the team will be this year.
“We’re moving up to 5A, which is really strong, and moving to a region with (perennial playoff teams) Calhoun and Cartersville,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s hard to predict. It all comes down to staying injury-free and how well players moving into new position perform early. We’ll see. I do think every team in Georgia at this time feels a little behind because of (the pandemic). It will probably level the playing field for everybody.”
Wesleyan, which went 12-3 last year, returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense from that team.
The Wolves will miss WR/DB Micah Smith (48 catches for 948 yards and 14 TDs; 3 INTs; Georgia Southern) and OL/LB Josh Aspinwall (106 tackles and 2 INTs).
A bevy of players return, led by five seniors – OL/DL Tanner Bivins (committed to Army), TE/DE Vance Nicklaus, DL Jackson Turner and WR/DBs Wyatt Hodges and Andrew Van Wie – and two juniors – WR/DB Cooper Blauser and RB/LB Griffin Caldwell.
“We are excited to get the season started,” head coach Franklin Pridgen said. “The Wolves return quite a lot of production on both sides of the ball from 2019’s Class A Private state runner-up team. A few exciting newcomers round out a roster that has the experience and drive to have another great season.”
Wesleyan could see an immediate impact from three newcomers: senior QB Ryan Rose (a Providence Christian transfer) and juniors Mike Soukup (TE/DE) and Jay Black (WR/DB), who both transferred from Pinecrest.
Wesleyan will kick off its season Sept. 4 at Mount Pisgah.
Fellowship Christian, which went 12-1 last season, fell to Wesleyan 56-20 in the Class A Private semifinals. With the return of eight starters each on offense and defense, the Paladins could reach the title game in 2020.
Fellowship lost six senior starters – LBs Blake Scott and Trenton Lewis, DT Ben Rogers, DB Bryce Paul and OL Brett Eppinger and Andrew Jordan. But four seniors – OL/NG Charlie Patterson (committed to Virginia), RB/LB Murphy Reeves and LB Nathan Nardone (offered by Stetson), both first team all-state picks, and all-region TE/DE Brady Niblock (offered by Shorter) – return to lead the squad.
“I’m very optimistic about our season as we have an outstanding senior class with eight players on each side of the ball returning,” Paladins head coach Al Morrell said. “If we can remain healthy, I would anticipate making a nice run this season.”
Fellowship will open the fall by hosting Christian Heritage Sept. 4.
Milton, which went 8-4 and lost to eventual state champ Marietta 38-24 in the second round of the Class 7A playoffs, returns five starters on offense and four on defense.
The Eagles lost six college signees – OL Paul Tchio (Clemson), OL Anthony Minella (Georgia Tech), RB/CB Ahmad Junearick (rushed 155 times for 1,027 yards and 14 TDs; Clark Atlanta), TE/DE Zander Barnett (62 tackles, 9 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries; Richmond), OT/DE Marcos Rangel (39 tackles and 8 sacks; Mount Union) and WR/FS Jack Rhodes (77 tackles; Furman).
Milton will be bolstered by the return of six seniors – OL/DE Cam Dye, WR/TE Matt Evert (198 yards receiving), OL/DL Conner Gay, senior DL/FB Zack Tumminia (24 tackles), senior WR/S Garrett Smalley (45 tackles) and K Jason Aussin (made 5 of 9 FGs, 31 of 33 PATs) – and three juniors – QB Devin Farrell (passed for 1,056 yards and 8 TDs and rushed for 907 yards and 7 scores), TE/DE Jack Nickel (329 receiving yards; committed to Notre Dame), RB/LB Jordan McDonald (rushed for 547 yards and 10 TDs) and sophomore WR/CB Bryce Thornton (team-high 9 pass breakups).
Milton should get an immediate impact from sophomore transfer DE L.T. Overton, the number one player in the nation in his class according to 247sports.com. He had 105 tackles, including 42 for loss and 19 sacks, as a freshman at Bessemer (Alabama) Academy.
“Watching these guys navigate everything we’ve gone through starting back in March when our winter program was interrupted, no spring, a very modified summer, the three weeks we were able to spend in pads so far, I can’t be more excited about what’s coming together,” Eagles head coach Adam Clack said of the team. “Our senior class, even though it may not have all the stars in the world, they are great leaders and stewards of the program.
“Watching them merge and gel together with some of our young, talented players, it’s just an awesome excitement and energy within our team right now. I don’t know what the end (of the season) will bring with the playoffs, but it’s going to be an extremely talented and fun football team.”
Johns Creek, which went 10-2 and lost to Valdosta 28-21 in the second round of the 6A playoffs, brings back only two starters on offense and four on defense. A fifth returning defensive starter, LB Tremonte Barnett, tore his ACL and is out for the year.
The Gladiators lost 25 seniors, including several three-year starters and five college signees – QB Ben Whitlock (passed for 3,300 yards; West Georgia), LB Jon Ross Maye (first team all-state; Lenoir-Rhyne, WR Justin Campbell (Ball State), WR/PR Dalton Pearson (Georgia State baseball), CB Patrick Taylor (Georgia).
Johns Creek will look for leadership from five seniors – DE/LB Cole Nelson (committed to Virginia Tech), RB Tank Pritchett (Colgate), WR/S John Stegenga (2019 defensive MVP; FCS college offers), TE Ethan Storey and OL/DL David Alexander (FCS offers) – and junior OL Tyler Gibson (offers from LSU, FSU and Oregon among others).
Senior RB Dylan Parr (FBS-caliber player who was ineligible last season), junior LB Micah Gay (Mount Pisgah transfer) and junior WR Rowan Darnell, (grew to 6-3, 185 in the offseason) are the team’s top newcomers.
“We return a bunch of experience in several areas and we’re extremely young in certain areas,” Gladiators head coach Matt Helmerich said. “This has the chance to be our best offensive running team in my four years here. Our OL has improved a ton and we have two Division I RBs. We are going to be good up front on both sides, and we will rely on that until our skill areas get caught up to speed (pun intended). We’re aiming for a third straight region championship.”
Cambridge, which went 4-6 last season, is poised to advance to the playoffs this year with the return of 10 starters each on offense and defense.
The Bears lost six seniors – LBs Mike Hudson, T.J. Mowery and Spencer Gray, DL Charlie Goodell, WRs Jack McHale and Garrett Cotnoir and OL Julian Petty.
Cambridge returns 13 seniors – LB Luke Ritter (offered by Stetson), WRs Evan Kurtz (offered by Morehead State), Hayden Gardella, Ryan Beck and Marc Gustafson, RB Phillip Michael Collins (offered by Valparaiso), DBs Luke Kramer, Ryan Counts, Kyle Romano, Chris Beck and Graham Browning, DL Christian Vanderford, OL Jackson Morley – and four juniors – QB Zach Harris, LB/K/P Will Petit, LB Bennett Long and OL Mathew DuBois.
Six sophomores who played and/or started last season are expected to make a bigger impact this year: WR/RBs Jack Marlow and Ian Chaffin, DL Morgan LeeMaster, Aven Kelley and Walker Hicks and OL Cameron Phillips.
“Really excited,” Cambridge head coach Craig Bennett said of the season’s outlook. “We have a lot of returning starters on offense and defense.”
The area’s other schools, five of which reached the postseason last year, hope to advance to the playoffs in 2020.
Alpharetta, led by Stanford commitment Jaden Slocum, is seeking a deeper run in the postseason after going 6-5 and losing to Creekside 28-0 in the first round of the 6A playoffs. The Raiders kick off Sept. 18 against North Cobb. Centennial, which went 0-10 last year, seeks to rebound under new head coach Sean O’Sullivan, who previously was North Atlanta’s head coach. The Knights kick off Sept. 18 at Roswell.
Chattahoochee, which went 6-4 last year and barely missed the playoffs, hopes to build on that season, which ended with five straight wins. The Cougars host Northview Sept. 18. The Titans, went 5-6 last season, fell to Mays 39-7 in the first round of the 6A playoffs.
Denmark hopes to build on its first state playoff appearance after falling to Sandy Creek 42-7 in the first round of the 4A playoffs last year. The Danes face Greater Atlanta Christian Sept. 5.
King’s Ridge is looking to rebound from a 1-9 season under new head coach Terry Crowder, who previously coached at Denmark and Chattahoochee. The Tigers’ first two games (against Greene County and Christian Heritage) were cancelled, likely due to COVID-19, and the team kicks off Sept. 25 against Landmark Christian.
Roswell is looking to build on the momentum it created with five consecutive wins in 2019 before falling to Mill Creek 41-17 in the second round of the 7A playoffs. The Hornets are under new head coach Chris Prewett, who previously served as an assistant coach at Roswell, Johns Creek and Pope, and will kick off Sept. 18 against Centennial.
Mount Pisgah, which went 3-7 last year, kicks off Sept. 4 at home against Wesleyan. St. Francis, which went 7-5 and fell to Holy Innocents’ 42-3 in the second round of the Class A Private playoffs last year, will open the season Sept. 4 at North Cobb Christian.
Coaches from Alpharetta, Centennial, Chattahoochee, Denmark, King's Ridge, Mount Pisgah, Northview, Roswell and St. Francis did not return email messages with a questionnaire seeking comments and information on their teams and the season by the Neighbor's deadline.