NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Five North Fulton high school football teams won at least seven games this season and qualified for the state playoffs.
Of those five, Chattahoochee appears to be the best situated to make another playoff run in 2013, with the Cougars returning a strong group of skill position players on offense and a solid nucleus on defense.
Johns Creek will be hit the hardest by graduation, with Milton, Alpharetta and Blessed Trinity all having enough returning talent to at least partially offset the loss of a sizeable number of senior standouts on each squad.
The Cougars went 7-4, highlighted by a win over Region 6-AAAAAA champion West Forsyth before losing to unbeaten Norcross in the first round of the state playoffs. The Cougars graduate quarterback Travis Marshall and some key players on defense, but return the majority of their starters.
Among those back are the team’s top two running backs (Chase Nelson, C.J. Leggett) and two leading receivers (Colin Lisa, Avery Ward).
Coach Terry Crowder is optimistic the Cougars will have a new addition to their recent string of standout quarterbacks. Sophomore linebacker Josh Weisberg led the team in tackles and will anchor what should be a quality defense.
The Eagles will graduate approximately 18 seniors who either started or played extensively, with both the offensive and defensive lines losing just about every starter.
Among the team’s losses are nationally ranked defensive end Carl Lawson, SEC-bound tailback Peyton Barber and three offensive linemen headed for Division I colleges. Talented running back Treyvon Paulk will be the focal point of the offense next season, which has two other starters back, but the front seven on the defense will be gone other than linebacker Quarte Sapp.
The Eagles finished 7-4 after a playoff loss to South Gwinnett, with all four defeats against playoff teams.
The Raiders lose almost all the starters from its explosive offense, starting with record-setting quarterback Joshua Dobbs, but leading receiver Daniel Clements will return. The Raiders will not be nearly as dangerous offensively next season, but should feature a strong defense despite some key losses.
Linebacker Bryce Grauss, lineman Andrew Butcher and cornerback DeAndre Watkins will lead a defense that will have to carry more of the load. The Raiders, 7-4, recovered from a slow start to tie for first place in 6-AAAAAA before a last-second loss to Mill Creek in the opening round of the state playoffs.
The Gladiators will suffer the heaviest losses, returning only a handful of front line players. Like Milton, the Gladiators also return a standout running back (Chase Solomon), but both lines of scrimmage were manned almost entirely by seniors, and versatile quarterback Skye Overton will be difficult to replace.
Johns Creek went 8-3 with a playoff loss to North Gwinnett. Apart from Solomon and two-way players Cody Hardage and Turner Fortin, the Gladiators will field an almost all-new team in 2013, with the majority of the graduating seniors starting for at least three years.
The Titans, who reached the second round of the AAA playoffs and finished 9-3, will also suffer heavy graduation losses. But they return some of the area’s most talented underclassmen including tailback Milton Shelton, linebacker Pat Jasinski and offensive lineman Zach Mitchler.
The Titans will have to replace quarterback Spencer McManes and almost all the skill position players on offense other than Shelton, but can rebuild their defense around a strong group of linebackers.
The Patriots qualified for the Class A private school playoffs with a 6-4 regular season record and gave No. 1 seed Athens Academy a battle in the opening round.
Mount Pisgah has cause for optimism next season, with the team losing only six senior regulars and returning a number of key performers.
Tops among them are quarterback Aaron Winchester and lineman Shingi Chigwere.
The Hornets will have a new coach next year, who will have to replace the team’s top performers on offense and defense.
The Hornets are 3-17 the last two seasons and the new coach will be challenged to get the football program turned around.
The Knights return almost its entire offense other than quarterback Chase Rosenberg and standout lineman Vincent Calhoun. However the Knights will have some talent returning, led by Christian Robinson, one of the state’s top receivers.
Defensively, however, the Knights were almost an all-senior group, and improving the defense will be key if the team hopes to better its 3-7 record.
The Titans did not have a large senior class, but among that group was running back Terrence Upshaw, who was largely responsible for the Titans’ high-scoring offense. Northview returns quarterback D.J. Pearson, receiver Matt Biondich and lineman Matt Clover on offense, along with almost all the defensive starters.
In addition to having to replace Upshaw, the Titans will need to improve significantly on defense if they hope for better things in 2013 after a 3-7 record.
The Bears had only a handful of seniors on the school’s first-ever football season, which won once against a full varsity schedule. One of the team’s seniors was quarterback Kevin Little, leaving that position open for next season.
Running back J.D. White played well as a freshman and will be a cornerstone of the team, which will again play at the AAAAA level next season.