MACON, Ga. — The high school football season is upon us as we gear up for the first Football Friday Night of the year. The team at 13WMAZ gathered around the table to discuss some of the biggest storylines, players and games ahead of the season. Lehgo!!!
Which team do you see exceeding expectations this season?
Frank Malloy, The GOAT: I think I lean towards Northside, which is weird to say because for a while, they were the gold standard. I think Chad Alligood has got the team headed back in the right direction. I think it is a team that, for whatever reason, is not generating a lot of noise, but I think they have the potential, given the schedule the chance to come up with some signature wins.
Marvin James, Sports Director: ACE hasn’t gone over .500 in their five years of existence. They got the man that can lead them in that direction with Keith Hatcher there in his first year. We know what he was able to do at Mount de Sales during his time there. He is an accomplished coach at both the high school and college levels. He also has Mark Faribba on his staff, which speaks volumes. I think the Gryphons can get over that mark and get on the cusp of the playoffs.
Connor Hines, Sports MSJ: Give me Baldwin all day long. They say games are won in the trenches, and there is no shortage of talent on both the Braves’ offensive and defensive lines this season. If the o-line can give quarterback Solomon Burney the opportunity to be great like we’ve seen before, and the linebacking group does its job, the sky is the limit for Baldwin in 2022. The Braves will need to replace some lost talent, but if any team is up to the task, it’s the one that’s coached by Jesse Hicks.
Justin Baxley, Digital Content Manager: Houston County. The Bears have an elite talent at quarterback in Antwann Hill. He has offers from Georgia, Florida and Tennessee already. The sophomore has the ability to carry a team on his back. This could be a dangerous team come playoff time.
Which game are you circling on the calendar at the start of the season?
Frank: Perry vs Jones County: I look to week three, but I don’t look to Warner Robins, Northside. I look to Perry at Jones County. You have Amar Gordon, the Perry quarterback preseason All-State, and you got Javious Bond and Zion Ragins for Jones County, both preseason All-State; I think there is potential for some really big plays in that game.
Marvin: Warner Robins vs Lee County: Everybody knows what Lee County brings to the table. They have won multiple state titles and are a contender to win one almost every year. They are coming to play Warner Robins, who has obviously been to five straight title games and have won back-to-back state championships. It is going to be a different team this year for Warner Robins. It will be interesting to see these two teams matchup right off the bat.
Connor: Warner Robins vs Houston County: It’s been five straight years that the Demons have beaten up on HoCo, and in those matchups, it hasn’t been particularly close. With that said, gone are many of the star playmakers from last year’s state championship team, and the three-peat won’t come easily for Warner Robins. With raw talent Antwann Hill leading the way under center, there’s no better time for the Bears to pull off the upset in head coach Jeremy Edwards’ first opportunity to face his former team.
Justin: Northside vs Warner Robins: The environment at this game is hard to beat, and it typically doesn’t matter what the teams' records are coming into the game. If you have no rooting interest and just want a fun game to attend, this is the one. This edition of the game should be closer than it has been over the last few seasons. I look for Northside to be much improved and a potential state title contender. Warner Robins is enjoying one of the most impressive runs in recent history. Is this the year that the tide flips back in the Eagles' direction?
Who is your preseason player of the year?
Frank: Victor Burley, Warner Robins DL: I remember four years ago, I was covering a Warner Robins playoff game, and I saw this kid make a really good defensive play. I asked around and found it was a 9th grader named Vic Burley. He has gotten better with each year, he is such a good kid, such a good leader. He will go down as one of the best to ever play here.
Marvin: Ricardo Jones, Northside DB and Victor Burley, Warner Robins DL: I am going defense. He had at least seven or eight interceptions last year. He was the bell cow of the defense for a Northside team that went 8-4 after a couple of seasons under .500. And I have him in a tie with a crosstown guy, Victor Burley. I have always been a fan of that kid. He has been a four-year starter at Warner Robins. He has continued to dominate. You can’t block him.
Connor: Victor Burley, Warner Robins DL: It’s really just tough to go any other way. The dude towers over everyone on the football field, including myself on the sideline, and he will continue to wreak havoc at Clemson one year from now. If the Demons have a shot at the three-peat, it doesn’t happen without Vic.
Justin: Zion Ragins, Jones County wide receiver: Hill and Warner Robins Victor Burley are both in the discussion, but this is a chance to be bold. He has the talent and speed to put together a prolific season on the stat sheet. Look for him to top 1,200 yards, score double-digit touchdowns and be the key to the Greyhounds' offense.
Which team is most likely to win a state title?
Frank: JMA and Warner Robins: I think you have to lean towards Warner Robins in the GHSA, but how many years can they continue to get to the finals? The streak they have is just amazing. They don’t rely on just one or two players, they are experienced and well coached. I think that bodes well for them. In the GIAA, I go with John Milledge until someone beats them. I think they have a great chance to win again.
Marvin: Perry: The Panthers are a dark horse. They have back-to-back region championships. They keep knocking on the door and get to that quarterfinal. I think they may be poised to get to that next level. They definitely have the players and experience now. One of the things they have been lacking is swagger. They have that now.
Connor: JMA and Perry: Yes, you read that correctly. The Panthers continue to make history and haven’t looked back. Kevin Smith is building something special, and it’s a group that truly feels like it belongs at the top of Class 4A. It could certainly be a season to remember at the Panther Pit.
Justin: Warner Robins and Stratford. I wanted to go bold here, but it is tough to bet against Coach Marquis Westbrook and his group of Demons. Despite all the turnover last season, they were able to complete the journey and grab back-to-back titles. Burley told me after the win over Calhoun in the title game that he wants to lead them to a third straight title. I believe him. In the GIAA, give me Stratford. I think Chance Jones has a chance to win a title in his first year at the helm.
What is one storyline you are watching this year?
Frank: New head coaches in the area: I look to the coaching changes. A lot of changes with a combination of high-profile jobs and big-name coaches on the move. You look at Keith Hatcher and the Hatcher name at Mount de Sales all those years, leaving to go ACE and getting Mark Farriba, the former Stratford coach, as an assistant on his staff there. Chance Jones is taking over at Stratford. Robert Edwards is taking over at Washington County. Kip Burdette, the grandson of the legendary Dan Pitts, is now at West Laurens. I am looking forward to seeing what those guys do in their first year.
Marvin: New coaches: I am interested in what Robert Edwards can do being back at the House of Pain in Washington County. And the other is Jeremy Edwards at Houston County, he has a winning pedigree from Warner Robins. I want to see how he and his staff, full of former Demons, are able to change the culture at Houston County, who have been the same team outside of the Jake Fromm years.
Connor: John Milledge Academy’s streak: I know it’s never about records, but it’s tough to ignore that JMA is just ten games shy of the longest winning streak ever in the state of Georgia, currently held by Buford with 47. With Macon’s private schools joining the new-look GIAA, it won’t be an easy road to get there, but JT Wall’s crew is up to the task.
Justin: GIAA: It is the move of the local private schools over to the GIAA. I would expect teams like Stratford and FPD to make noise early and potentially take home a state title in the inaugural season of the GIAA. We saw in the GISA that these Macon schools had a streak of dominance, I would expect more of the same this time around in the GIAA.
One bold prediction:
Frank: Perry football reaches final: This is a school that each year has been able to bump up its win total each year. Last year, they won 11. Can they get to 12 or 13 this year? They made a dent in the playoffs last year. I think they are used to that. I think they expect that now. I think they make that one step. I don’t know if they win the state, but I think they get to the finals.
Marvin: Mary Persons’ Duke Watson is the leading rusher in Central Georgia: I think he will be in the top 10 or 15 running backs in the state. He has shown that he can elevate, and he is receiving a bunch of offers at the next level. I think he has the ability to continue to dominate on Football Friday Nights. I think he will be a name you hear around the house a bunch this year.
Connor: Northside wins the 6A state title.
Justin: Bleckley County reaches the state title: Head coach Von Lassiter took the team to an 11-1 record a season ago and ran into a state powerhouse in the second round in Callaway. I think the Royals can build off of their performance last season.
Football Friday Night airs every week from 11:35 p.m and check out more on the season ahead at 5:30 this Thursday during the Football Friday Night Kickoff Show on 13WMAZ. The show will be available to stream and watch on demand on the Roku and Fire TV.
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