GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. - Day two of the High 5 Sports Football Caravan was big! It featured the state’s largest scoreboard and one of the most massive football players in the country.
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FOX 5’s Ken Rodriguez and company spent 12 hours canvassing all of Gwinnett County for the best stories of the upcoming high school football season and they found lots of school spirit along the way.
Here are the schools part of day 2:
The Berkmar Patriots have a new head coach, and a new attitude in 2015. Kenan Dever came from Texas, another state known for its high level of high school football, so he knows what it takes to win. Dever takes over a team that failed to win a game in 2014, but this year’s bunch seems to be practicing hard as a unit. They’ll need to be close knit, considering they play county powers Buford and Grayson on the road this year.
The Mark Crews era is over at Brookwood High School as the Broncos welcome new head coach Philip Jones into the fold.
Crews retired last season after coaching for thirteen years at the Snellville school, but he didn’t leave the cupboard bare for Jones, who returns to coach where he won a state championship as a player back in 1996.
The Broncos recently completed an upgrade of their facilities and feature a glowing horseshoe on the ceiling of their renovated weight room. On October 16th, Jones will square off against his brother Tommy, the coach of the Dacula Falcons in a much anticipated showdown.
Central Gwinnett Black Knights
The Black Knights were the darlings of the GHSA playoffs in November of 2014, when they knocked off highly favored North Gwinnett in an opening round playoff game. Unfortunately for head coach Todd Wofford, his team stumbled in the second round, losing to the Newton Rams. Expectations are high for one of Gwinnett County’s oldest schools. The Black Knights open on the road at Collins Hill in two weeks.
Dacula played some great football in 2014 for head coach Tommy Jones. The senior laden Falcons had the lead in a second round playoff game against eventual state champion Colquitt County on the road, before the Packers stormed back to win. Dacula has lost lots of key players on both sides of the ball, so depth will be a key if the young birds expect to soar in 2015. Back-to-back games with Brookwood, Grayson and Archer could be a tough late season stretch whether they’re healthy or not.
Collins Hill Eagles
The Eagles always have a strong offense, and this year appears to be no different. Collins Hill returns eight starters on the offensive side and have two versatile running backs in Jeremy Lewis and Jonathan Postell. The question is, will coach Kevin Reach’s defense be more stingy than last year’s group that gave up an average of 23 points per game. With more depth on the defensive side, the Eagles could rebound from a subpar .500 season in 2014.
We had a great time catching up with the first-year Titans of Discovery High School in Lawrenceville. The Band played and cheerleaders cheered as Ken Rodriguez spent some time at practice Tuesday afternoon. Once again the rain chased our crew indoors, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the football team. The Titans play a JV schedule this season, opening up with a home game against Berkmar on September 3rd.
Any time you have a 6-foot-4, 310lb defensive lineman on your team, you get the attention of opposing offenses.
And Derrick Brown on the Lanier Longhorns is no exception-he’s received offers from several Division-1 schools including Auburn and Georgia.
Brown had 17.5 sacks last year, and should help coach Korey Mobb’s group stay competitive throughout the season.
Cody Chaffins spent some time with Brown today during the caravan, but the big guy declined to say where he might play college ball.
North Gwinnett Bulldogs
Coach Bob Sphire’s teams are always in the mix, and after a disappointing early exit from the playoffs in 2014, they look to rebound this year. Coach Sphire showed us his new weight room during a stop on the caravan. In nine years coaching the Bulldogs, Shire has failed to reach double-digit wins only once! The only thing left for the successful coach is that elusive state championship. Perhaps he’ll get one in his tenth year at the helm.
Bob Swank takes over the Wildcats after being an assistant the past two seasons. He’ll be the 5th coach in nine years at the school, and he hopes to bring more balance to an offense that’s had its struggles recently. Swank was defensive coordinator the past two seasons under former head coach Jason Conner, so he knows the key to success will be experienced players stepping up in 2015.
Swank returns to Cobb County in week one when his team opens the season at Wheeler. Coach Swank was Pope’s head coach for three years from 2005 through 2007.
Peachtree Ridge Lions
Quarterback is the theme at The Ridge this year. Conner Heyward takes over the reins from the graduated Chance Thrasher. Coach Mark Fleetwood told us recently that Heyward’s a very different type of signal caller, but he’s a playmaker and has had experience at the position before.
Heyward was the team’s most prolific receiver last year. And with D1 talent all over the field in 2015, the question might be how quickly these guys learn to play together.
Norcross Blue Devils
Coach Keith Maloof has lots of talent on the defensive side of the ball in 2015, especially on the line. But he lost several key skill position players on the offensive side of the ball to graduation. Will the Blue Devils have enough to win a state championship like they did back in 2013?
Not certain, but we do know they have to largest video board in the state, something they showed off to our Cody Chaffins during their caravan stop.
With key two-way standouts Micah Abernathy and Darius Slayton now playing major college football, the Spartans will have two major holes to fill. But, with stability at the quarterback position, coach Tim Hardy has confidence that GAC can compete at a high level again in 2015. The Spartans came so close last season, losing in the state championship game to Benedictine inside the Georgia Dome. That experience could help this group, especially the upper classmen playing in the secondary.
Make sure to jump on board the caravan tomorrow-there’s plenty of room as we make our way up to Cobb County for a look at a dozen of the most interesting teams in the state, including last year’s single-A champions from Mt. Paran Christian School. Follow along on social media using the hashtag #High5Sports, we’re active on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.