ELCA junior tailback Trevor Gear is finding his way as a Charger. (PHOTO: Jeff Hurndon Photography)

PREP FOOTBALL: ELCA, Stockbridge highly regarded in Georgia Sportswriters’ first 2016 high school football poll

With over 20 Division I offers, Stockbridge running back Jalen Holston has become one of the most highly recruited players in South Metro Atlanta. (PHOTO: Dave Williamson)

With over 20 Division I offers, Stockbridge running back Jalen Holston has become one of the most highly recruited players in South Metro Atlanta. (PHOTO: Dave Williamson)

By Gabriel Stovall

gstovall@thecrescentbuz.com

You really know it’s football season when the first high school football polls come out.

The 2016 football season’s first Georgia Sports Writers Association high school football poll was released Tuesday and featured four teams from the four-county Southern Crescent area finding place in their respective top 10 poll.

Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy will open the season atop the Class A poll, which combines both public and private schools, as it prepares to defend its 2015 state championship crown. Despite the Chargers losing a glut of Division I talent, including quarterback D.J. Hammond (Air Force) and offensive lineman Chandler Reeves (Clemson), ELCA still seems to be the early odds-on favorite to represent the Southern Crescent in the Georgia Dome come December.

The Chargers looked impressive in scrimmage play against Class AAAAAA Mount Zion last Friday, as sophomore signal caller Brayden Rush led ELCA to a 36-0 lead at halftime while both squads were playing with a good mix of first and second team players.

Though Rush looked impressive, he’ll still have some inexperience to overcome, which means running backs Trevor Gear and Josh Mays will get the lion’s share of responsibility on offense, at least early on. Wideout Sean Queen looks the part as an effective deep threat target, also.

Defensively, look for a big season from junior defensive end Harrison Taylor and DB Tre’ Douglas. Douglas’ emergence will be particularly important early as Khaleb Hood — a player ELCA coach Jonathan Gess said is “probably our best all around football player” —  will probably miss some time in the season’s opening weeks with a meniscus injury he suffered during ELCA’s spring game.

ELCA opens this Friday at Class AAAAA Eagle’s Landing, and then will play host the following week to Class AAAAAA Jonesboro.

In Class AAAAA, Stockbridge is considered the state’s No. 2 team behind Buford, while boasting two of Georgia’s top offensive players in senior tailback Jalen Holston and wide receiver Marquez Ezzard.

Whitley has turned a once-moribund program into a perpetual state championship contender as he enters his eighth season at the school. The Tigers have won no fewer than nine games since 2011, and, barring catastrophe, should make a seventh straight trip to the postseason.

Despite breaking in a new quarterback in Kendrick Duncan, the Tigers’ expect to continue to be sound on defense. Duncan, a 6-foot-3, 190 pound senior, is considered potentially one of the better passing QBs Whitley has had.

Stockbridge ousted Columbia 40-0 in scrimmage play this past Friday, but won’t open the regular season until Saturday August 27 when it plays Mays — a team that knocked Stockbridge out of the playoffs in 2014.

In Class AAAA Sandy Creek checks in at No. 5 with returning quarterback Bryant Walker and a trio of talented tailbacks in Marvin Hubbard, Jaelen Greene and Drezyn Parson.

Watch for tight end Parker Mallett, a UT-Chattanooga commit, to have an even bigger year as Walker will be looking to find new targets in the passing game after the graduation of Korey Banks (South Carolina). Sandy Creek will begin its season Saturday August 20 against Fort Dorchester (SC) at Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium as a part of the Corky Kell Classic.

Rounding out the area’s list of ranked teams is Starr’s Mill, which will begin the year ranked No. 10 in Class AAAAA. The Panthers finished 10-2 in 2015, it’s best season since the state championship run back in 2010, and while coach Chad Phillips’ team returns starting quarterback Joey DeLuca and Several key offensive pieces, two big names from the triple option attack will be missing this season.

Dion Munerlyn graduated a year after rushing for close to 1,000 yards, while 2015 star Rico Frye transferred to Creekside after rushing for over 1,700 yards. The departures may just pave the way for junior Nick Brown to emerge. The 5-foot-7, 180 pounder rushed for 501 yards on 62 carries in the regular season, and showed much promise.

Several other Southern Crescent schools got votes in their respective polls, including Jonesboro who tied Dacula with the 12th most votes (17) in the Class AAAAAA top 10, despite losing marquee talent on both sides of the ball.

Locust Grove’s nine win 2015 campaign and return of several key players, including running back Caleb Huntley, apparently wasn’t enough to allow them to crack the Class AAAAA top 10. But the Wildcats also received the 12th most votes with six, behind Flowery Branch’s 11. In the same class, a talented Woodland squad received two poll votes while Griffin received one.

Spaulding received eight votes, but should be a force in the newly constructed Class AAAA with quarterback Naricuss Driver and running back A.J. Moses returning. The Jaguars get probably the most intriguing season opener in the area when it starts of the 2016 season by locking horns with in-county rival Griffin on August 26.

Below is the “Week Zero” GSWA High School Football Poll in its entirety.


 

CLASS AAAAAAA

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Grayson (8) 124

2. Colquitt  County (5)  120

3. Roswell 93

4. McEachern 89

5. Mill Creek 85

6. Camden County 45

7. Norcross 43

8. Westlake 35

9. Archer 22

10. Newton 12

Others receiving votes:  Etowah 11, Lowndes 8, Peachtree Ridge 7, North Cobb 5, Walton 5, Hillgrove 4, Central Gwinnett 3, Collins Hill 2, South Forsyth 2.


 

CLASS AAAAAA

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Houston County (2)  108

2. Allatoona (6) 105

3. Glynn Academy (3)  102

4. Lanier (1) 69

5. Northside-Warner Robins  50

6. Tucker (1) 52

7. Valdosta 42

8. Coffee 27

t8. Dalton 26

10. Northgate 22

Others receiving votes:  Gainesville 18, Dacula 17, Jonesboro 17, Lee County 13, Drew 12, Stephenson 12, Mays 11, Brunswick 9, Alexander 1.


 

CLASS AAAAA

1. Buford (9) 125

2. Stockbridge 106

t3. Kell 95

t3. Ware County 95

5. Bainbridge (1) 81

6. Jones County 53

7. Rome 44

8. East Paulding 39

9. Carrollton 28

10. Starr’s Mill 27

Others receiving votes: Flowery Branch 11, Locust Grove 6, Loganville 6, Warner Robins 3, Carver-Atlanta 2, Paulding County 2, Woodland-Stockbridge 2, Griffin 1


 

CLASS AAAA

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Cartersville (12)  128

2. Woodward Academy 105

3. Marist 86

4. Blessed Trinity (1)  80

5. Sandy Creek 76

6. St. Pius X 74

7. Jefferson 57

8. Mary Persons 39

9. Thomson 27

10. Carver-Columbus 10

Others receiving votes:  West Laurens 9, Spalding 8, Ridgeland 6, Cairo 5, Northwest Whitfield 5.


 

CLASS AAA

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

t1. Westminster (7) 110

t1. Calhoun (4) 110

3. Pace Academy (2) 108

4. Greater Atlanta Christian 92

5. Cedar Grove 80

6. Peach County 52

7. Westside-Macon 48

8. Liberty County 41

9. Lovett 29

10. Adairsville 14

Others receiving votes: Worth County 11, Dawson County 9, Jackson 4, Hart County 3, East Hall 2.


 

CLASS AA

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

1. Fitzgerald (11) 128

2. Benedictine (2) 117

3. Vidalia 71

4. Dodge County 62

5. Callaway 60

6. Jefferson County 54

7. Heard County 38

t8. Brooks County 33

t8. Model 33

t10. Elbert County 30

t10. Rabun County 30

Others receiving votes: Spencer 19, Chattooga 15, Hapeville Charter 5, Screven County 3.


 

CLASS A (Public/Private Combined)

School | Points

(First place votes in parentheses)

t1. Eagle’s Landing Christian (8) 113

t1. Clinch County (3)  113

3. Macon County (1) 83

4. Wesleyan 51

5. Darlington 40

6. Commerce 38

7. Mt. Paran Christian  35

8. Prince Avenue Christian 33

9. Irwin County 32

10. Emanuel County Institute 31

Others receiving votes: Aquinas (1) 29, Savannah Christian 23, Lincoln County 11, Stratford Academy 11, Manchester 7, Charlton County 7, Pinecrest Academy 6, Mt. Zion-Carroll 4, Bowdon 3.

Sandy Creek's Jaelon Greene, along with Marvin Hubbard and Drezyn Parson, will keep the Patriots' ground game churning in 2016. (PHOTO: Michael Clifton | www.kombatkamera.com)

Sandy Creek’s Jaelon Greene, along with Marvin Hubbard and Drezyn Parson, will keep the Patriots’ ground game churning in 2016. (PHOTO: Michael Clifton | www.kombatkamera.com)

Now that star running backs Dion Munerlyn (graduation) and Rico Frye (transfer) have departed, more eyes will be on junior quarterback Joey DeLuca in 2016.  (PHOTO: Dave Williamson)

Now that star running backs Dion Munerlyn (graduation) and Rico Frye (transfer) have departed, more eyes will be on junior quarterback Joey DeLuca in 2016. (PHOTO: Dave Williamson)

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