Please, trust me when I say we are not imposters. We spent the summer months talking to Forsyth County high school football coaches about their teams in anticipation for the 2015 season. We pressed them on every position battle, every strategic modification and every angle of their roster. We want to be considered experts after all.
But ….. we still have questions. Some of them are in the minutiae of the season: Can Forsyth Central retool its offensive line; can West Forsyth retool its secondary; and can South Forsyth retool virtually its entire offense?
Most of our questions, though, are of the big-picture variety. They speak in many ways to Forsyth County’s football reputation at large, and we can’t wait to see how their answers unfold over the course of the season.
So here are five questions we still have about Forsyth County high school football going into the season:
1. Can Forsyth Central start a new winning tradition?
Let’s repeat the facts one more time for those still unaware: Central went 6-4 last season, the first winning season for the program in 13 years. The Bulldogs were even in the playoff hunt up until the next to last game of the regular season. The season on the whole felt monumental, particularly for the way it injected enthusiasm and pride into the county’s oldest high school.
But can Central do it again?
You’d figure with the return of running backs Shaun Diebel and Sabrian Howard it could. That’s 2,167 yards coming back, after all. And you’d think getting defensive playmakers like Cameron Daube, Sebastian Legarra, Hunter Stephens, Pierce Nufer and Robbie Repasz back makes it a no-brainer.
But outside of Repasz, the Bulldogs will have a new secondary, a big question mark in a region with potent spread offenses (Cambridge, Kell, etc.). And besides two returning starters, Central will have a new offensive line.
The guess here is that Central is in the process of turning a corner. The floor is 5-5. The ceiling is just too cool to talk about yet.
2. Will first-round blues continue?
I’ll take the blame for this one. Since my arrival as sports editor in 2013, Forsyth County is 0-7 in the state playoffs, including Horizon Christian Academy.
Let me dispel any jinx myths that might be circulating right now. I’ve covered teams that have made second rounds, quarterfinals, semifinals, state finals. I’ve even covered a state champion. But, the fact remains: under my watch, Forsyth County is winless in the playoffs. I’ll bear whatever responsibility I have to for that.
It’s certainly a frustrating trend. Even when the region match-ups were changed this past season, Forsyth County still struggled. The county has produced teams capable of winning in the playoffs (2001 North Forsyth, 2012 West Forsyth). Will it do so again this season?
3. Is there a region champ among in Forsyth?
Maybe we’ve gotten ahead of ourselves. We’re thinking playoff runs already, skipping right over what’s often a team’s first goal going into a season: a region championship.
County teams have won a collective eight region titles in their histories, including two Pinecrest Academy won while competing in the Georgia Independent Schools Association. West was the last to win one in 2012.
There’s hope for county teams this season. Alpharetta has won back-to-back region titles in Region 6-AAAAAA, but it just graduated a large senior class. That region could be wide open.
Central proved it could compete with the stronger teams in its region. Could the Bulldogs take the next step and be a threat in Region 7-AAAAA?
The juggernaut in Region 6-A, defending champion Mount Paran, graduated Dorian Walker. Is the door open for a Pinecrest team that returns a potent offense?
4. Will a new QB please stand up?
North Forsyth’s Jacob Bailey and Pinecrest Academy’s Ryan McCarthy are the only starting quarterbacks returning this season. That means five county teams will be breaking in new starters at the sport’s marquee position.
The status of those new starters varies amongst those teams. Lambert’s Richie Kenney figures to be the Longhorns’ starter. He’s got an offer from Old Dominion, an FBS school that knows quarterbacks. Horizon seems confident in newcomer Jacob Grinstead.
Elsewhere, things appear more ambiguous (or maybe coaches just want it that way).
Junior Jagger Hartshorn and senior Aubrey Blackmon might share snaps for Central. Senior Austin Harvey and junior Davis Shanley have been competing at South? West has options in junior Hank Flood, sophomore Austin Marshall and transfer Kiernen Hamilton.
5. Who’s the next breakout star?
No question, Diebel was the breakout star of 2014. He went from not even playing football as a sophomore to rushing for 1,370 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior. The running back now enters his senior season as the front-runner for Forsyth County Offensive Player of the Year.
Who will be 2015’s version of Diebel? Here are a couple names to remember.
Lambert running back Ken Dix looks the part. The sophomore transferred in this season and has all the necessary qualities to succeed right away: agility, size, speed, vision. Plus, he’ll have the county’s most experienced offensive line blocking for him, led by Cincinnati commit Sean Bailey.
North Forsyth’s Simon Holcomb is getting rave reviews from Raiders head coach Jason Galt. North’s philosophy under Galt has been to put its best athletes on defense. Galt made an exception with Holcomb, calling him “one of the best athletes, if not the best, in the county.” It always helps having 6-foot-4, 280-pound senior Jackson Bardall to run behind.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8976 or follow him on Twitter at @BrianPaglia.