Jasper, Ga - October in Jasper is hard to beat. Cool, crisp air. Nearby apples- sweet, juicy, and ready for picking. But don't be fooled by that haze drifting over Dragon Stadium at Pickens High School, Chief Meteorologist David Chandley's air quality index still indicates an excellent reading in the North Georgia Mountains. That layer of smoke simply means the Dragons have scored another touchdown and the fireworks are exploding in what is turning out to be one of the most successful seasons in the school's nearly 70 year history.
"It's kind of like a college atmosphere the way we shoot off fireworks whenever we score," said head coach Chris Parker. "We try to make it a positive environment when people come to the games. We've been winning for a while, but people show up here no matter what our record is."
The record in 2018 couldn't be better. The undefeated Dragons (6-0) are on the verge of a special season according to Parker. Their first goal is to win top seed in Region 6-AAAA in order put themselves in position to win the first-ever playoff game in school history. Pickens qualified for the playoffs each of the last four years, but their lower seeding forced them to play perennial powerhouses Stephens County, Marist, Jefferson and Cartersville on those occasions which led to first round exits.
The Dragons were a talented, but young, group in 2017, their best players were sophomores and juniors. Those same players are now a year older, sparking the Dragons to a big win over Pepperell in week two. But, other than that signature victory over the other fire-breathers, these Dragons haven't really been tested, facing three winless teams along the way. The schedule is about to get tougher, but Parker believes his team is up for the challenge.
"We've got six or seven college football types on this team. Our offensive line is probably our biggest asset to winning games. We go six deep and all of them play on Friday nights."
Junior tackles Aiden Sanchez and Bailey Cannary anchor an offensive line that has helped Pickens score 40 or more points in every game this season. Quarterback C.J. Streicher uses his arm and his brain to attack opposing defenses. The junior signal caller is being recruited by Ivy League schools, including Harvard, and is an early favorite to challenge for class valedictorian in his senior year.
Defensively, the Dragons are led by Hunter Hermann, who was the top region tackler as a junior and continues to lead the way in his senior campaign.
"We really got a lot of guys back from that 2017 team," Parker told High 5 Sports. "We've built our team through our youth programs, the district has been real supportive and the feeder programs have provided us with our most talented players. What makes football special here is that most of these kids' parents and grandparents went here too, so there's more of a family atmosphere all around."
Pickens hopes to win the region in order to ensure the most favorable playoff matchup, which at this point would be either Region 7-AAAA's undefeated Flowery Branch, defending 4-A state champion Blessed Trinity, or 2017 4-A runner-up, Marist. Pick your poison. That historic first playoff win might not come easy.
But, for now, we know that Paul Milliken and the Good Day Atlanta Pep Rally Team will be in Jasper bright and early Thursday morning to breathe in some of that fresh mountain air and celebrate the amazing start to the football season. The Dragons will receive their first-ever High 5 Sports Hand Trophy for their excellent work so far in 2018.
(Note: correction. Earlier version of this story stated C.J. Streicher was offered a scholarship by Harvard- he is actively being recruited by Harvard, but has not received an offer.).