NORTH FULTON, Ga. – For most high school football teams in North Fulton, 2014 appears to offer more promise than the 2013 season.
Unlike last year, when a majority of the area teams suffered heavy graduation losses, this year’s senior classes for most local teams were not as deep as they were the year before.
A brief look at how things shape up for the 2014 football season in North Fulton:
ALPHARETTA: The Region 6-AAAAAA champion Raiders were one of the teams that do suffer from graduation. It loses around a dozen front line seniors, including receivers Daniel Clements and Andre Harton, standout linebacker Bruce Grauss and most of an excellent secondary.
But the Raiders return two quarterbacks who put up big passing numbers, along with the team’s top two running backs and several receivers. Defensively, end Andrew Butcher keys the list of returning starters, as the Raiders look for a third region title in the last four years and a fifth straight playoff berth.
CENTENNIAL: The Knights are coming off a 1-9 season that included two one-point losses and several other games in which they held leads. The team will lose its top offensive (Christian Robinson) and defensive (Alex Estes) players, along with four starters in the offensive line and several key defenders.
Versatile back Caden Herring leads the list of returning players, with end Jake Dahm back on defense, along with the rest of the line. Quarterbacks Tee Holland and Luke Able both played extensively after an injury to starter Matthew Harries, but will not have Robinson as a target next season.
CHATTAHOOCHEE: The Cougars were likely the most senior-oriented team in the area, and lose a significant amount of talent from a 4-6 team that expected better results.
All the key skill position players are graduating, including receivers Colin Lisa and Avery Ward, running back Chase Nelson and quarterback Taz Wilson.
The Cougars return starters at linebacker led by Josh Weisberg, along with a few linemen, but the 2014 offensive personnel will be almost all new. Just three seasons removed from a state championship, the Cougars may be facing a few lean seasons.
JOHNS CREEK: After going 17-3 in their second and third seasons of varsity football, the Gladiators were winless in 2013. Huge graduation losses and several key injuries took a toll.
The team will again lose a sizeable number of seniors, although some of them were relatively inexperienced after playing behind the 2012 seniors.
The biggest loss is Chase Solomon, who started at tailback for three-and-a-half seasons before injuries forced him to end his high school career at quarterback. The Gladiators return linebacker Turner Fortin, the team’s top defensive player, along with most of the skill position players other than Solomon – leading receiver Kyle Varnell and quarterback Kevin Nalecz among them.
NORTHVIEW: The Titans move back to the state’s largest classification after a 5-5 season that could have easily been 7-3 or 3-7.
After just missing a playoff berth, the Titans could contend for a playoff spot from Region 6-AAAAAA, returning the area’s best receiver, Matty Biondich, and standout quarterback D.J. Pearson along with a productive running back in Nathan Phillips.
The Titans will have to replace their top two offensive linemen and a handful of key defensive starters from a group that improved in 2013 but still yielded a lot of points. A 16-12 victory over 6-AAAAAA playoff qualifier Lambert gives the Titans realistic hope they can compete successfully in their new region.
MILTON: The Eagles will be looking for a fourth straight playoff berth after an 8-2 season ended with a loss to North Gwinnett, runner up in the AAAAAA championship game.
The Eagles played most of the 2013 season without standout senior running back Treyvon Paulk, among the team’s relatively small senior class.
The Eagles will also lose speedster Chad Toliver, two offensive linemen, top receiver Zach Spiezio, several defensive backs and both kickers.
Offensively, Milton returns quarterback Austin McLeod, running back Mikko Brisker, tight end Jake English and linemen Nick Wilson and Ernest Dye.
Linebacker Quarte Sapp will be among the area’s top players next season, with most of the remaining defensive starters also back in 2014.
ROSWELL: The Hornets suffered though their third straight losing season (4-6), but were improved over 2012, and expect to continue along that path next year.
The Hornets had a relatively small number of senior starters, with defensive standouts Davonte Hill and Josh Selembo, offensive lineman Justin Auer and receiver Colin McCauley the key losses.
Other than McCauley, the Hornets return all their main skill position players along with several young linemen who made significant contributions, giving them what should be a potent all-around attack next season.
Most of the defense will also be back, with Roswell looking to return to its accustomed spot in the state playoffs.
CAMBRIDGE: The Bears went 3-7 in their second season of varsity football, including a highlight win over Pope and a close call against sub-region champion Creekview.
Only a handful of starters graduate, most notably cornerback Zeke Gormley, who led the team in interceptions.
The team returns quarterback Brian Moore, who enjoyed a breakout season, top receivers John Hurst and Hunter Smith and lineman Branch Morley. End Josh Kania and linebacker Trey Wolfe head the list of defensive returners, with kick return ace J.D. White among the Bears’ large sophomore contingent.
BLESSED TRINITY: The Titans won Region 6-AAA, and with St. Pius and Woodward Academy both moving up to AAAA next season, their playoff prospects look even brighter after a first-ever trip to the state quarterfinals.
BT will have to replace some key seniors, particularly on defense. Linebackers Zach Mitchler and Carter McManes graduate, along with Ryan Mediate and Kyle Evans in the secondary. Mitchler keyed the offensive line along with Austin Werkheiser, with receiver Colin Bradley, 1,000-yard rusher Chad Manthey and standout kicker Marc Nolan also graduating.
But quarterback Conor Davis and tailback Milton Shelton have two years of football left, and were among a sizeable number of sophomores who made major contributions. Standout linebacker Pat Jasinski will be the leader of next season’s senior class, which should continue the team’s recent run of success.
MOUNT PISGAH: The Patriots ran off 12 straight victories before losing 17-16 to eventual state champion Aquinas in the Class A semifinals. The team had a small senior class, but will have to replace running back Browning Dunn, three receiver/defensive backs and a handful of linemen.
But the Patriots return dual threat quarterback Aaron Winchester, his top two receivers and almost all the front seven on defense, including standout lineman Shingi Chigwere and the entire group of linebackers. After taking teams by surprise this season, Mount Pisgah will be a team to watch in 2014.
FELLOWSHIP CHRISTIAN: The Paladins (5-5) came within an overtime loss in their season finale from a winning season, but will have to replace almost all their skill position players on offense as well as their linebackers and secondary on defense.
Quarterback Hunter Bryant heads the list of the Paladins’ graduating seniors, along with his No. 1 target Alex Edmonds, the team’s top lineman Clay Hostetter and leading tacklers James Wilson and Taylor Cookston, who were also 1-2 in rushing. Standout punter Ian Berryman, who started at wide receiver, is another senior graduating.
Al Morrell, who directed the Paladins to a .500 season in his first year as head coach after coming over from Creekview, will return most of his linemen. But receiver/cornerback Dalton Depew is the lone major contributor returning.