Cinderella Camden County hopes to continue its improbable journey through the GHSA playoffs tonight when the Wildcats make their fourth straight trip to Atlanta to take on the high-powered Walton Raiders in the Class 7A semifinals on this week’s edition of Football Fridays in Georgia. Our Emmy Award-winning coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. from Raider Valley in East Cobb on GPB-TV Georgia Public Broadcasting.

The winner will advance to play either Milton or Grayson for the state championship Dec. 13 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Raiders are seeking just their second state final and first since 2011. Camden County is seeking its fourth state championship game and first since the Wildcats won the last of their three crowns in 2009.


It’s odd to refer to Camden County as a Cinderella because of its great history but playing its sixth straight road game and as a No. 3 seed coming out Region 1, very few gave the Wildcats much of a chance to advance this far. But when Camden knocked off No. 1 ranked and defending state champion Mill Creek 39-20 in the quarterfinals last Friday opinions began to change.

Camden County is led by one of the best head coaches in Georgia High School history who is in his second go-round with the Wildcats. In his first stint there, Herron went 154-18 over 13 seasons (2000-12), winning state championships in 2003, 2008 and 2009 with 12 region titles. Overall Herron is 334-68 over 32 seasons with five state championships also winning with Oconee County in 1999 and Grayson in 2016.

But when Herron took an assistant coaching job at Tennessee Tech in 2019 many thought his high school coaching days were done. But as he told us this week, he “missed being the one making the schedule instead of the one following it.” He listened to the call from Camden County in 2021 to come back and make things right. The once-mighty Wildcats had won only two playoff games in the eight seasons since he’d been gone.

He found the expectations of going 15-0 had disappeared when he came back going 4-7 the first year. In Season Two, improvement, winning a playoff game and finishing 8-4. But few foresaw what’s happened over the last month with this 2023 playoff run. Especially running the Wing-T offense, or as Herron calls it, “the West Coast Wing-T.” The West Coast aspect of it all the contribution of his son Major who serves as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.

The Wing T was an offense once as common as the spread now employed these days by most teams. But because of its now-rare status it has become an even more difficult offense to prepare for opposing defenses. So that’s been the challenge for the Walton Raiders this week.

This is a Walton team that was a Cinderella themselves back in 2021 when the Raiders reached the semifinals. But not anymore. After last week’s quarterfinal carnage in 7A, Walton is the highest remaining ranked team in the state’s highest classification.

Jeremy Hecklinski

Walton QB Jeremy Hecklinski, shown here against North Paulding, has thrown 40 touchdown passes and only one interception.

Credit: Maya Backman

They are led by Wake Forest commitment Jeremy Hecklinkski at QB and who has received my vote for GPB Sports Offensive Player of the Year. He has led a Raiders offense that averages 50.3 points and has had only one game decided by a touchdown. In my opinion, Hecklinski is totally miscast as a “gunslinger.” Now he will make some incredible throws from crazy arm angles, and he’ll make throws on the run, but a gunslinger doesn’t throw 42 touchdown passes with just one interception.

But as great as Hecklinski has been in his career and especially as a senior, he’s just one big part of the story. The other is a transformed defense led by 4-Star, South Carlina commitment Wendell Gregory who found his “home” playing the bandit position.

Gregory’s ascendance in production to meet his recruiting stardom, coupled with 4-Star linebacker and North Carolina commit Ashton Woods and underrated defensive end and Yale commit Lota Ugokwe and the Raiders have a formidable defense that allows just 14 points. But can it stop the Wildcats offense, which will try to ball and clock control, play “keep away,” and keep the Raiders offense on the sidelines? Therein lies the rub.

So that’s the game preview. Let’s take a look at the top prospects to watch this evening.

Walton Raiders

Daniel Calhoun, Walton

Daniel Calhoun, Walton

Credit: Maya Backman

Daniel Calhoun – 6-7, 350, Senior – Committed to Georgia July 5th over 19 other offers – Consensus 2024 4-Star – 247 Sports No. 5 IOL in the country and No. 11 prospect in Georgia

Wendell Gregory – 6-4, 225, Senior – Committed to South Carolina January 27th over 20 other offers – Consensus 2024 4-Star – ESPN No. 7 Edge in the country and No. 15 prospect in Georgia

Ashton Woods – 6-4, 220, Senior – Committed to North Carolina June 21st over 26 other offers including Baylor – Highest Ranking: Rivals 2024 4-Star and No. 17 LB in the country

Jeremy Hecklinski – 6-0, 180, Senior – Committed to Wake Forest December 14, 2022, over three other offers including UCF – Consensus 2024 3-Star QB

MaKari Bodiford – 6-0, 205, Senior – Committed to Memphis June 18th over seven other offers including Troy and App State – Consensus 2024 3-Star RB

Hunter Teal – 6-2, 220, Senior – Committed to Miami (Ohio) over UAB – Highest Ranking: 247 Sports 2024 3-Star TE

Jordan Bride – 5-10, 170, Senior Athlete (Plays WR/CB for Walton) – Committed to Navy July 28th over 21 other offers including Morehouse and Georgia Tech

Wyatt Sonderman – 6-1, 170, Senior WR – Committed to Jacksonville State over four other offers including UMass

Sam Trainor – 6-3, 235, Senior OL – Committed to Air Force

Tyson McCrary – 6-0, 170, Senior CB – Committed to Air Force

Lota Ugokwe – 6-1, 225, Senior DE – Committed to Yale

Cameran Loyd – 5-8, 165, Senior WR – Offered by Navy, Austin Peay and Wagner

Jake Thorner – 6-3, 225, Junior LB – Offered by Georgia Southern and Miami Ohio


Camden County Wildcats

Elyiss Williams, Camden County

Elyiss Williams, Camden County

Credit: 247 Sports

Elyiss Williams – 6-7, 235, Junior – Committed to Georgia April 8th over 15 other offers including Florida State – Consensus 2025 4-Star, No. 1 TE in the country, No. 4 prospect in Georgia and On3 No. 14 overall national prospect

Ja’Marley Riddle – 6-1, 180, Senior – Committed to East Carolina over 10 other offers including Georgia Southern and receiving interest from Georgia and Georgia Tech – Highest Ranking: ESPN 2024 3-Star Safety

DeNigel Cooper – 6-4, 225, Senior – Committed to App State June 29th over 7 other offers including UAB and Liberty – Highest Ranking: 247 Sports 2024 3-Star Edge

Jaden Dailey – 5-9, 175, Senior RB – Five offers including Navy

Mason Robinson – 6-1, 165, Senior Athlete (CB) – Four Offers including Navy and Army

Dylan Higginbotham – 6-3, 240, Senior DL – Offered by Tennessee Tech and Carson Newman – Receiving interest from App State

Sean Green – 5-11, 150, Freshman WR – Already receiving interest from Georgia and Auburn

Gabe Caison – 6-1, 195, Senior Kicker – Receiving interest from South Carolina and App State

Zach Taylor – 6-4, 280, Junior OL – Track offer from Kentucky Christian to throw discus – Football receiving interest from four others including App State and Georgia Southern

Antonio Laws – 6-0, 215, Senior LB – Receiving interest from four programs including Jacksonville State

Cooper Thornhill – 6-0, 190, Senior LB – Receiving interest including Navy

Brysin Osgood – 5-9, 165, Senior Punter – Receiving interest including Presbyterian

Zack Owens – 6-0, 265, Senior OL – Receiving interest from three programs including Sewanee

Cayden Thompson – 6-0, 245, Senior OL – Receiving interest from three programs including Sewanee

So, join Wayne Gandy, Jon Nelson, Hannah Goodin, Wiley Ballard and me for our Emmy Award-winning Football Fridays in Georgia Game of the Week as the Walton Raiders host the Camden County Wildcats starting at 7:30 p.m. Remember at halftime Hannah will highlight this week’s Make That Kid an Offer nominees.

You can watch Football Fridays in Georgia in so many ways. You have traditional TV (GPB), online at, GPB Sports app, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Twitch.

Now if somehow, you miss it live or just want to watch it again, don’t worry, we replay the entire Football Fridays in Georgia Game of the Week at 11:30 p.m. or you can watch it on demand anytime at 

Enjoy your Playoff Friday in Georgia!