Football is here. And Atlanta is home to some of the best football anywhere.
Metro Atlanta football has become increasingly more prominent in the Georgia high school ranks over the past couple decades and this wide-ranging success looks like it will continue to manifest itself this fall. Several area teams are ranked in Todd Holcomb’s preseason Georgia top 10 and one is ranked in the national top 100. Meanwhile, several players made the “Score 44,” which was released this past week.
SCORE 44 …
The 44 is a list of the top seniors in the state, as determined by Score Atlanta. The list is divided into 22 offensive payers and 22 defensive players. And out of that list, a whopping 21 are from the metro area, including No. 2 overall player James Vaughters.
A Stanford commitment, Vaughters hails from Tucker and is joined on the list by teammates Justin Garrett and Chris Sanders. All three play defense, with Vaughters and Garrett at linebacker and Sanders at defensive back.
While the Tucker trio comes from east of the city, defensive back Damian Swann hails from right in the center of town. The Grady senior is being courted heavily by several major colleges, including Georgia, Alabama and Florida among several others that have offered Swann full rides to play football. Swann will likely play cornerback in college.
Recently, Score Atlanta’s “The Official Visit” - which airs on 790 The Zone Tuesday nights - interviewed Swann about becoming a member of the inaugural Score 44.
“It’s an honor, but I just like to play football,” said Swann. “Lists and rankings are a part of it, but I just like to play.”
The city school competes in Class AAA and has had eight consecutive winning seasons and multiple playoffs berths in recent years. Grady recently completed a massive facelift on its midtown Atlanta stadium, which shows just how committed the school is to winning at the highest level. Led by Swann, this year’s squad is shooting for the stars.
“I feel I can cover anybody on the field, and that’s going to be an advantage to the team,” said Swann. “We have the pieces to the puzzle to go all the way to a state championship.”
Meanwhile, Score also named 12 players who almost made the cut. Walton’s Kyle Vorster - who was on the cover of Score Prep last spring – was included in that list. DeMarcus Sherrod of Columbia, Akil Dan-Fodio of Redan, Garrett Clarke of North Gwinnett, and the Stephenson duo of Willie Davis and Jordan Mincy joined Vorster on the 12 that just missed the cut.
TEAMING UP …
South Georgia is traditionally known as the football hotbed of the state, but in recent decades, metro Atlanta has threatened to take that title away. Gwinnett County has led the way in that charge, with 12 GHSA state titles captured by county schools since 1996. Roswell, Tucker and Marist have also gotten into the act in recent years with state championships of their own.
Thusly, metro schools are not shying away from top competition and several have scheduled games against big-time programs from around the state and even the nation. This weekend at the Corky Kell Classic, four teams from Cobb will face four teams from Gwinnett in a county-against-county challenge of sorts.
The games will give each team an early challenge in the schedule from a quality opponent. It also gives the players a chance to play in an NFL stadium where the state finals will be held later this season.
“It’s a great experience for our kids to play in a big-time environment in front of 20,000 people,” said Walton head coach Rocky Hidalgo about playing in the event.
The event also gives the players plenty of motivation during those grueling spring practices and summer workouts. And with the games being broadcast on GPB.org, teams will be looking to show what they are all about in front of the rest of the Georgia high school sports world..
“Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of support and show what type of a program we are,” said Peachtree Ridge head coach Bill Ballard. “We’ve been thinking about (the game against McEachern) all summer. We talked about it while we were working out.”
With college football programs trending towards scheduling fewer big, inter-conference games, Georgia high school teams seem to be looking for bigger matchups for their teams. This year, North Gwinnett ─ ranked No. 29 in America by rivals.com ─ faces perennial Alabama power Bob Jones and Southern California juggernaut Crenshaw, ranked No. 13 in America by rivals.com.
Bulldogs head coach Bob Sphire does not shy away from scheduling games against elite competition.
“Being selected to play in games like (the Kell Classic) shows what we’ve accomplished in four years,” explained Sphire. “We always strive to play the best of the best. We look for showcase opportunities, like games against national programs like Crenshaw.”
After the season kicks off Friday night, thousands of players and tens of thousands of fans will be locked in throughout the state this fall to see who the best team in their towns, counties, regions and, eventually, the state is. But here in metro Atlanta, high school football fans can be assured that they are watching some of the best players and teams anywhere.