Region 7 will be the freshest, and arguably most challenging, region in the classification this upcoming season with the arrival of two new squads and the return of both 2017 finalists, Blessed Trinity and Marist. Four teams are going to go to the playoffs out of these seven teams, and they’ll all have a chance to make serious noise in the Class AAAA bracket when they do.
Region 7-AAAA: Blessed Trinity, Chestatee, Denmark, Flowery Branch, Marist, West Hall, White County
Flowery Branch was classed down from AAAAA after its FTE (full-time equivalency) enrollment dropped 27% at the midpoint of the GHSA’s four-year reclassification cycle (only schools with 20 percent increases or decreases are affected by this rule). Despite the dip in enrollment, Flowery Branch’s program is trending upward with Ben Hall entering his second year as head coach. The Falcons began varsity competition in 2002 under head coach Lee Shaw, who built the program from the ground up until a surprise departure in 2011. Under Shaw, the Falcons averaged 10.4 wins per season his final seven years. Shaw returned to his alma mater Rabun County where he has once again found a winning formula. Last year, Shaw’s Class AA Wildcats defeated Region 7’s White County (49-26) and West Hall (49-8) and took a 14-0 record to the state finals before falling to Hapeville Charter 35-23 a year ago. Flowery Branch had been struggling until last year’s 9-3 finish. Not only was the team’s three-year playoff drought snapped, but coach Hall is now going to be returning to a classification that he is already well-versed with; Hall led Jefferson to 44 wins from 2013-16 while the Dragons resided in it.
White County is coming off an incredible turnaround campaign in what marked Tim Cokely’s first year as head coach. The Warriors followed their 1-9 finish in 2016 with a 7-4 record and used wins over Chestatee (56-27) and West Hall (33-28) to grab the No. 3 seed behind Blessed Trinity and Marist. This year will be more challenging with the region growing from 5 to 7 teams, but after averaging a school-record 31.36 points per game last season, the program could be poised for an even bigger 2018.
Chestatee lost 43-7 to Flowery Branch last year in non-region play before getting swept in region action, so the War Eagles know how tough next year’s region slate will be with the Falcons adding to it. Also, the War Eagles will have to find a new feature back after the graduation of Nick Lyles, who led the way with 22 of the team’s 26 rushing touchdowns a year ago.
West Hall will debut a new head coach this fall in Krofton Montgomery, who was the team’s offensive coordinator the last five seasons. Montgomery and the Spartans put their five-year playoff streak on the line this upcoming season after grabbing the No. 4 seed a year ago.
Denmark High School is Forsyth County’s newest program and is expected to be in Class AAAAAAA by the next time the FTE numbers are counted in 2020. The Danes are being led by former Chattahoochee state champion coach Terry Crowder and are in the midst of spring practice right now, despite the school not even opening its doors for the first time until next August. Crowder has players coming primarily from South Forsyth and Lambert and will have plenty of talent to work with. Playing a varsity schedule in the school’s first year is going to be a challenge, but there is no doubt that this team will be highly competitive.
Defending region champion Marist used a two-point conversion to defeat Blessed Trinity 25-24 in the regular season, but saw its perfect season end with a 16-7 loss in a finals rematch with the Titans. Last year’s Marist team was one of the most balanced the War Eagles have had in head coach Alan Chadwick’s 34 seasons at the school and it’s uncertain if that will be the case this season now that quarterback Chase Abshier has graduated, along with UGA commit and tight end John Fitzpatrick. Marist is going to open the season with four challenging non-region games (Lovett, Baylor TN, Westminster and St. Pius) and its anticipated championship rematch with Blessed Trinity isn’t until the season finale.
Blessed Trinity is returning the most accomplished senior class in the classification this season and will be tested right out the gates, with non-region contests against St. Pius, South Forsyth, Woodward Academy and Benedictine. Running back Steele Chambers, who recently committed to Ohio State, gives the Titans an unstoppable combination of athleticism, experience, versatility and power coming out of the backfield. Star linebacker and UGA-commit JD Bertrand missed half of last season with a fractured foot, but played like a Defensive Player of the Year when he returned and is a physical force. Quarterback Jake Smith is only getting better, and his favorite target, Ryan Davis, is a big-play receiver with textbook routes, dependability and the clutch factor. Blessed Trinity will have lots of pressure on them this season, but this group has already proved they can handle it. The result should be another energized and highly-focused team that is going to be a blast to watch.