Prep Zone

Atlanta high school sports news from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

POY Watch: Lovejoy's Williams starts season at No. 1

For the fourth season, GHSF Daily will be keeping track of the race for the state player-of-the-year recognition. Similar to a Heisman Watch for college football, our weekly feature is called the POY Watch.

Unlike the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super 11 or all-state teams, which reflect the player's individual talents, the POY Top 10 is more about a player's impact on his team and the state as a whole.

Players of the year are more likely to be quarterbacks and running backs than linemen, although there have been exceptions. They are more likely to play on state-contending teams. These rankings reflect that.

The POY Watch is designed to be a fun look at some of the best players. Players naturally will fall in and out of this elite list, and that should not be taken as a criticism of their season.

1. WR Preston Williams, Lovejoy: Williams is coming off a season in which he caught 56 passes for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns. Lovejoy, 10-2 in 2013, enters the season ranked No. 7, giving him the spotlight he needs to win the state's most coveted individual award. Williams was the Class AAAAAA offensive player of the year in 2013. Rated the No. 3 wide-receiver prospect in the nation, Williams is committed to Tennessee.

2. RB Taj Griffin, McEachern: Griffin, rated the consensus No. 1 all-purpose back in the nation in the 247Sports Composite rankings, rushed for 1,225 yards and nine touchdowns on 170 carries for a team that finished 11-3 in the highest class in 2013. That was despite missing significant time with injury. If he gets the bulk of the carries in 2014, Griffin could be put up monstrous numbers for a team that is ranked No. 1 in AAAAAA. Griffin is committed to Oregon.

3. QB/DB A.J. Gray, Washington County: Gray is a two-way starter on a state runner-up team that should make another run in Class AAA this season. Washington County is ranked No. 1. Gray completed 69 percent of his passes and threw for 1,913 yards and rushed for 1,324 in 2013. He accounted for 34 touchdowns. From the secondary, Gray made 75 tackles and had five interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Gray is committed to Georgia Tech.

4. DL Trent Thompson, Westover: The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior is the consensus No. 2 prospect in the country. He was named first-team all-state in Class AAAA last season after finishing with 83 tackles, 38 tackles for losses and 12 sacks. Westover won a school-record nine games in 2013 and allowed just 12.9 points per game. The only defensive lineman ever to be name the AJC's all-class player of the year since the award first was presented in 1981 was Grayson's Robert Nkemdiche in 2011. Thompson is committed to Georgia.

5. RB Eric Swinney, Sandy Creek: Swinney, rated the consensus No. 10 running-back prospect in the nation, rushed for 1,289 yards and 24 touchdowns for an 11-1-1 team last season. Swinney also had 13 receptions for 343 yards and four TDs. He shared time with another 1,000-yard rusher, Delvin Weems, who transferred. For the first time in his career, Swinney will be the focal point of the offense, which puts him in a good spot for the ACPOY award. Swinney is committed to Ole Miss.

6. RB Kawon Bryant, North Oconee: Bryant was named the Class AAA offensive player of the year after rushing for 2,559 yards on 272 carries (9.4 yards per carry) and what is believed to be a regular-season state record of 41 touchdowns. North Oconee finished 7-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Bryant has not made his college choice.

7. Terry Godwin, Callaway: Godwin, the consensus No. 1 athlete recruit in the country according to 247Sports, is a two-way starter who had 585 yards receiving on offense and 38 tackles and five interceptions on defense for a 12-2 team that lost to Buford in the AAA semifinals last season.. Godwin is committed to Georgia.

8. RB/DB Micah Abernathy, Greater Atlanta Christian: Abernathy rushed for 1,664 yards and 20 touchdowns on 154 carries (10.8 yards per carry) for a team that finished 10-2 and reached the second round of the Class AA playoffs. This season, GAC is ranked No. 1 in preseason with a team of more major prospects than any other in AA. Abernathy, rated the No. 20 cornerback prospect nationally, has not made a college choice.

9. RB Mikell Lands-Davis, Alexander:Lands-Davis rushed for 2,374 yards (7.68 yards per carry) and 28 touchdowns last season and had three games with more than 300 yards. He also caught 23 passes for 350 yards and three TDs and passed for two touchdowns. He led Alexander (8-5) to its most victories in 16 years. Lands-Davis is committed to Georgia Tech.

10. OL Mitch Hyatt (North Gwinnett): Hyatt is a five-star recruit and consensus top-10 prospect in the nation. He paved the way for a Class AAAAAA offense that averaged 229 yards passing and 142 yards rushing last year. North Gwinnett went 13-2 and lost to Norcross in the state final. No offensive lineman has won the AJC's ACPOY award since Zeb McKenzey of Parkview in 2002. Hyatt has committed to Clemson.

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