Marist football Jack Jardina, James Calhoun

Marist defenders Jack Jardina (36) and James Calhoun (49) chase down a Chamblee runner during a game last year. / Special – Frank Steele

It’s that time of year once again in prep sports as the football season kicks off this week for DeKalb County programs.

Marist enters this season coming off a seven-win campaign in 2016 and a second-place finish in Region 7AAAA. The War Eagles also qualified for the state playoffs, an achievement that has been reached every season since 1983.

“We had a good summer,” Marist head coach Alan Chadwick said. “We had good attendance and the kids made progress. We have a lot of work ahead of us to become more consistent.

Taking the reins at quarterback will be senior Chase Abshier as the new starter. “Chase has performed well and is a good athlete who throws the ball well,” Chadwick said.

Dean Johnson will join Abshier in the backfield as a running back. The main targets at wide receiver will be senior John FitzPatrick, who averaged over 17 yards per catch last season; junior Kyle Hamilton and senior Ben Rosing.

Defensively, senior linebacker Paul Stanley returns after notching 75 total tackles last season. FitzPatrick will also play defensive end and had five sacks in 2016. The secondary includes junior Kyle Hamilton, who tied a team high with four interceptions last year, as well as Johnson and senior Matthew Gwin.

Three of Marist’s four losses last season came by three points or less. The War Eagles’ coaching staff has stressed the importance of finishing games in camp this offseason. Marist opens the season at Lovett on Aug. 25.

St. Pius X won two games last season, which was its lowest victory total since a one-win campaign in 2000. The Golden Lions did extend its streak of making the state playoffs every season since 2006 with a fourth-place finish in Region 8AAAA.

This season, junior Connor Egan will be the new starting quarterback to run the triple-option attack. He will be joined in the backfield by several running backs including senior Nkem Njoku, juniors Jason Jones and Michael Benefield.

Defensively, senior linebacker Marco Dinkins leads the front seven along with Njoku and senior defensive linemen Richard Brown and Scott Braswell. The secondary includes juniors Zach Ranson and Michael Spear, Benefield and senior Ben White.

“The greatest strength we will have going into the season is our team chemistry and leadership,” St. Pius X head coach Paul Standard said. The Golden Lions open the season at Blessed Trinity on Aug. 25.

Cedar Grove had a stellar campaign in 2016 when it brought home the Class AAA state championship, defeating Greater Atlanta Christian (GAC) at the Georgia Dome in the finals. The Saints earned 13 wins last year and defeated Union City, Jenkins, Calhoun, Crisp County as well as GAC in the postseason. Senior running back Demetrius Tharpe should see increased production after averaging more than eight yards a carry and for five scores last season. Senior wide receiver Jadon Haselwood had more than 700 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches last season. Cedar Grove opens the season at Stephenson on Friday. The Jaguars won eight games last season and reached the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.

Tucker reached the Class AAAAAA state finals last season, earning 13 wins and the Region 4AAAAAA title in the process. The Tigers open the season Saturday against Kell in the Corky Kell Classic at Georgia State Stadium.

Arabia Mountain had its best season in program history in 2016. The Rams won a program-record nine games, their first region title and first playoff bid. Junior quarterback Bryson Williams had seven touchdown passes in reserve duty last season. Arabia Mountain opens the season Friday against Stone Mountain. The Pirates look to rebound from a one-win campaign last season, welcoming in new head coach James Collier.

Chamblee earned two wins last season. The Bulldogs, who open this season on Saturday at home against Druid Hills, return several top players including senior running back/linebacker Levinte Washington, junior quarterback Stewart Steele, senior wide receiver Adrian Russ, senior defensive back Princeton Byrd, junior wide receiver Sydney Murray and Hamilton Hall. Chamblee opens the year at home Saturday against Druid Hills. The Red Devils won four contests last season.

Decatur, which won one game last season, opens this season at home against McIntosh on Friday.

Dunwoody looks for improvements from last season’s two-win campaign last season. The Wildcats have several returners such as senior defensive back Jake Oliver who had 108 tackles last season. Junior defensive back Thomas Neville had 61 tackles in 2016 while senior linebacker Charlie Seets had 43 tackles. Senior wide receiver Turner Sims had a team-high 942 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season. Dunwoody opens the year against Lakeside on Friday.

The Vikings won five games last season which was the most in a single campaign since earning six victories in 2003. Senior running back Maxwell Guggemos returns after amassing 1,342 rushing yards, which was the most in all of Class AAAAAAA, and 16 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Matthew Holt had eight touchdown passes in 2016 with his main target being senior wide receiver DaMonte Pressley with five touchdown catches and a team-high 621 receiving yards. Senior defensive lineman Miles Miccichi had 120 tackles last season to lead the team in that category. Senior safety/running back Otha Evans, senior wide receiver/defensive back Ryshad Pitts and senior wide receiver/defensive back Damon Davis are also back.

Lithonia reached the Class AAAAA state playoffs last season after a five-win campaign. The Bulldogs open the season against Carver (Atlanta) on Friday.

Miller Grove won four games and reached the postseason for the first time in program history. The Wolverines face Clarkston to open their season on Friday.

Redan opens the season against Southwest DeKalb on Friday.

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