When the 2017 high school football season kicks off this Friday, it nearly will be impossible to predict which team will be the best in Class AAA.
A case could be made that Cedar Grove, the defending champions, could repeat. Several coaches have said that the Trojans of Peach County might have the best team in the state. And don’t forget that Greater Atlanta Christian, last year’s runner-up, has plenty of returning talent after losing quarterback Davis Mills to graduation.
So at this point, it is a toss-up.
“Well, the usual suspects are always there," Pace Academy Coach Chris Slade said. "Cedar Grove, obviously as the defending champs, will be a favorite this year. I think Peach County, in my opinion, is one of the best overall teams in the state from what I saw in their playoff run last season. Even though they got beat by Greater Atlanta Christian, they have a lot of kids coming back.”
Peach is led by dynamic receiver Kearis Jackson. Rated a four-star by 24/7sports.com, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound receiver has garnered attention from UGA, Auburn, Alabama and Miami, to name a few.
“I think they have, in Kearis Jackson, the best player in the state of Georgia," Slade said. "Especially on offense, but obviously Jamaree Salyer (Pace's Super 11 offensive guard, ranked No. 1 nationally at the position) is the most dominant lineman. But I think Kearis is the best overall player. Just watching him on film, he can beat you in the return game. He can play receiver, and he is big and physical. He can just beat you, because he is a handful. I just think they're a good team."
But the head coach of the Trojans seems to be singing a different tune.
“Well, I am not too pleased right now,” explained Peach's Chad Campbell. “All the others talking, I mean, do we have a chance to be good? Yeah. But right now, we are not being consistent enough.”
Peach, who defeated Class AAAAAA No. 4 Northside-Warner Robins 13-10 in a scrimmage Friday, will have to fight through injuries which could slow the Trojans' offense and put a damper on the defense.
“We have had a few injuries and aren’t starting on the best foot," Campbell said. "We lost our No. 2 wide out (Justin Harris/broken fibula) who had 500 yards last season and a linebacker (Nigel Manns/ACL). Both of them are sophomores.”
The talent, however, doesn’t stop at Peach.
“But obviously, GAC, Westminster and Lovett will be solid and will have good teams,” Slade said. “Those teams, from what I’ve seen, will be hard to beat.”
GAC, who will replace Mills with junior Joshua Rose at the quarterback position, has two of the best two-way starters in the state. Kyler McMichael, a Clemson commitment, shares duties as a running back and corner back. McMichael rushed for 1,400 yards last season. Chris Hinton, a Michigan commitment, anchors the offensive and defensive lines.
According to Loren Maxwell’s playoff predictions, GAC holds the top-spot, with Cedar Grove, Calhoun, Westminster, Peach County, Lovett, Pace Academy, Liberty County, Crisp County, and Worth County rounding out the top 10. The Maxwell predictions are based on a Monte Carlo simulation of the 2017 season. The computer runs the season 1,000,000 times, and these breakdowns give indications where teams could finish the season, as well as how many times they make each round of the playoffs.
Here are the Class AAA preseason rankings with records from last season.
1. Peach County (12-2)
2. Greater Atlanta Christian (13-2)
3. Calhoun (10-3)
4. Cedar Grove (13-2)
5. Westminster (10-3)
6. Crisp County (13-1)
7. Lovett (8-4)
8. Liberty County (11-2)
9. Pace Academy (6-5)
10. Dawson County (7-3)