Tue., August 24, 2010 10:23pm (EDT)

Fulton Schools Ready for Season Full of Rivalry Games, Playoff Pushes
By Ricky Dimon
Updated: 4 years ago

Lovett DB Thomas Patton returns an interception. Photo courtesy of The Lovett School
Lovett DB Thomas Patton returns an interception. Photo courtesy of The Lovett School
The 2010 high school football season kicked off last week, though almost exclusively for teams from Gwinnett County and Cobb County in the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome. For most Fulton County squads, the long offseason wait continued until Friday. Now, at long last, the year of high school football is underway all around the state.


BATTLE OF BUCKHEAD …


Headlining football in Fulton County is the rivalry between Lovett and Westminster, annually one of the best head-to-head duels in Georgia. The Lions and Wildcats have not disappointed in recent seasons; not against each other and not against the rest of the competition. This year should be no different, as both teams are coming off strong 2009 campaigns and are once again ranked in the top 10 of Class AA.


Westminster compiled an 8-4 record last season (6-1 in Region 6-AA) and reached the second round of the state playoffs before a last-second 35-31 heartbreaker at Calloway. The Wildcats lost a significant chunk of their offensive and defensive lines to graduation, but they return quarterback William Linginfelter and running back Ralph David Abernathy IV.


“Our first goal as a team is to make the playoffs,” Linginfelter explained. “The past three seasons Westminster has lost in the second round. This team looks to move past that barrier.”


“RDA is the best player I've ever played with,” added the senior signal-caller. “He draws so much attention from the defense that it makes passing 10 times easier.” Abernathy has scholarship offers from Mississippi, Cincinnati, Louisville and Air Force, among others.


Lovett has already started its bid for a fifth consecutive trip to at least the third round of the playoffs. The Lions finished runner-up to Buford in 2007 and made a run to last year’s Class AA semifinals, culminating in a 49-41 shootout loss at Calhoun. Jonathan Carkhuff graduated along with 24 other classmates, and Hunter Budd takes over at quarterback in an attempt to reload rather than rebuild. Budd will benefit from the return of running back Zach Boden, who rushed for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior.


The Lions, however, suffered a tough 13-11 home loss to Thomasville last Friday. Budd scored on a three-yard run to pace his team to an 11-7 halftime lead, but Lovett was stymied by Thomasville’s defense over the final 24 minutes and a last-minute drive came up short.


As if the “Battle of Buckhead” needed any additional spice, this season’s Lovett-Westminster showdown is the final game of the regular season for both teams on October 29. The Lions and Wildcats have split the past eight meetings with four wins apiece dating back to 2002.


GRADY, ROSWELL RICH IN TALENT …


Arguably the best player and most prized recruit in Fulton County is Grady cornerback Damian Swann. The 6-0, 175-pound senior picked off six passes last season and returned one for a touchdown. Swann, whose top two college choices are reportedly Alabama and Georgia, also hauled in 48 passes and 10 touchdowns as a receiver.


“I feel I can cover anybody on the field, and that’s going to be an advantage to the team,” Swann said in a recent interview with SCORE Atlanta’s “The Official Visit” on 790 The Zone. “We have the pieces to the puzzle to go all the way to a state championship.” Grady went 10-2 in 2009 and advanced to the second round of the Class AAA playoffs.


Looking to steal headlines in Class AAAAA is Roswell, which shared the 2006 state championship with Peachtree Ridge (tied 14-14 in the title game). The Hornets enjoyed another successful season in 2009, chalking up a 10-2 record en route to the second round of the playoffs.


J.P. Douglas split time at quarterback last year for Roswell, throwing for 393 yards and seven touchdowns, and he now owns the starting job. The case is the same for Martez Sumler at running back following the graduation of Duvall Smith. Sumler ran for 695 yards and found the endzone eight times in 2009. He will have every opportunity to eclipse those numbers running behind an experienced offensive line that includes Joseph Turner, who has offers from Air Force, Navy, and UAB, among others.


“You can’t beat experience, especially on the offensive line,” head coach Leo Barker noted last week in an interview with NeighborNewspapers.com. “Expectations are high here. We just gotta stay healthy and see what happens.”