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Players To Watch: North Gwinnett vs. McEachern

After two rounds of mostly blowouts and favorites winning, the GHSA Playoffs get serious tonight with quarterfinal action. This evening marks the first round of playoffs where No. 1 seeds could possibly meet and that’s exactly what we have for you tonight on GPB as the No. 2 ranked and Region 3-7A champion McEachern Indians play host to the No. 4 and Region 6-7A champs North Gwinnett Bulldogs.
 
If that’s not enough to get your attention, there will be at least 21 players on the field from the two teams combined, that have been offered college football scholarships and 16 of those by Power 5 Conference teams. The Big Boys as we like to call them.
 
These two programs are among the biggest and best in the state. When perennial state championship contender and bridesmaid McEachern hired Coach Franklin Stephens in the off-season, I tweeted (which makes it official ha-ha) that he just may be the man to lead the Indians to that elusive state title. No program in the state has won more region championships (18) without a state crown than McEachern. 
 
This is the 11th time that the Indians have reached the quarterfinals in their program history. Five times their season ended here. Four times their season ended in the state semifinals and once, in 1998, McEachern got to the state championship game before losing to Valdosta.
 
Stephens is just the third head coach the Indians have had in the last 36 seasons. Led by the legendary Jimmy Dorsey and then Kyle Hockman, who moved to New Hampstead after last season, McEachern has always been on the threshold but never ever to win the whole thing. 
 
Stephens has. He led Tucker to state championships in 2008 and 2011. He took Lamar County to the state finals in 2013. On four other occasions he got Tucker, Lamar and Ware County to the state semifinals. Coach Stephens produces results. Just look at his resume. But can he do it at McEachern? As of those moment, he is three wins away.
 
On the other side of the field, North Gwinnett Coach Bill Stewart has proven he is one of the best in the state. He led the 2017 Bulldogs to the 7A Championship after losing his star quarterback Cade Fortin to a season-ending knee injury. Senior back-up John Urzua took over and guided North Gwinnett to a 14-1 finish and the Bulldogs to their first-ever state championship beating Colquitt County on a last-second field goal. Fortin just transferred from North Carolina last month and Urzua is at Middle Tennessee.
 
In three seasons, Stewart has gone 35-5 after the Bulldogs had gone 11-10 in the two seasons before he took over. He once again has North Gwinnett just three wins away from a state title.
So, it should be an incredible star-studded battle tonight with two great coaches on opposite sidelines.
 
Here’s the top prospects to watch:
 
North Gwinnett's Josh Downs (Photo - Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
McEachern Indians
 
Dakari Collins - 6-3, 200-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star and No. 29 WR. Committed to Clemson in September over 23 other offers.
 
Javon Baker - 6-1, 190-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star and No. 24 WR. Committed to Alabama November 2018 over 17 other offers.
 
Carlos Del Rio - 6-2, 205-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star and No. 13 Pro Style QB. Committed to Florida in July over 11 other offers.
 
Hasaan Borders - 6-4, 228-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star and No. 15 OLB. Committed to Florida two weeks ago over 21 other offers.
 
Jamil Burroughs - 6-3, 315-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star DT. Committed to Alabama in October over 23 other offers after originally committing to Georgia.
 
Jordon Simmons - 6-0, 192-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star RB. Committed to Michigan State in October over 20 other offers.
 
T.J. Smith - 5-11, 185-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star CB. Committed to Kansas State 3 weeks ago over 9 other offers. 
 
Kevon Angry - 5-9, 176-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star CB. Committed to Kent State in May over 5 other offers.
 
Kyle Mann - 6-2, 270-pound, senior. 247 Sports 3-star DT. Five offers including Kansas and USF.
 
Jamari Bellamy - 6-1, 175-pound, senior. 247 Sports 2-star SAF. Committed to Air Force in August.
 
Ese Dubre - 6-2, 221-pound, junior LB. Offered by Kentucky and Pitt.
 
B.J. Green - 6-2, 225-pound, junior LB. Offered by Akron. 
 
McEachern's Javon Baker (Photo - Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
North Gwinnett Bulldogs
 
Barrett Carter - 6-1, 210-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star and No. 8 OLB. 41 offers including Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU and Ohio State.
 
Josh Downs - 5-10, 170-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 4-star WR. Committed to North Carolina back in February over 29 other offers.
 
Jared Ivey - 6-6, 222-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star and No. 25 Weakside DE. 20 offers including Georgia Tech, Nebraska, Colorado, Duke and Stanford.
 
Jordan Hancock - 6-0, 160-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star CB. 22 Offers including Georgia Tech, Ohio State, Florida and Minnesota.
 
Chuck Smith Jr. - 6-2, 245-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star Strongside DE. Ten offers including Kansas, UAB and Tulane. Son of former Atlanta Falcons star and GPB color commentator Big Chuck Smith.
 
Bobby Ezzard - 6-0, 169-pound, junior. 247 Sports Composite 3-star WR. Offered by Kentucky, Maryland and App State.
 
Taylor Goodson - 5-8, 185-pound, senior. 247 Sports Composite 3-Star CB. Four offers including App State, Mercer, Notre Dame College and UT Martin.
 
D.J. Hart - 6-1, 180-pound, senior WR. Offered by Maryland.
 
J.R. Martin - 6-2, 173-pound, senior QB. Committed to Western Carolina in October over 4 other offers.
 
It’ll be bittersweet for me the next two weeks as I will be away from my Football Friday in Georgia family calling the FCS Playoffs for ESPN. So, I’ll be watching my GPB Sports app
tonight from Cape Girardeau, Mo. Join Larry Smith, Wayne Gandy, Jon Nelson and Hannah Goodin this evening at 7:30 p.m. ET on GPB.
 
And if you get a chance, join me tomorrow at 2 p.m. for No. 13 Illinois State at No. 12 Southeast Missouri for the first round of the FCS Playoffs on ESPN3.

Matt has called the best high school football in the country for the last five years on Georgia Public Broadcasting, with 2019 being year number six. Joining the GPB Football Team in 2014, Matt has now called TV Play-by-Play for High School... more