Over the past decade, Columbia County's high school football programs have produced some big-time gridiron talent.
More prep stars should emerge this fall, but there are a lot of question marks heading into the 2002 season, with two new head coaches, an important transfer or two, and a number of key players lost to graduation.
Public high school squads in Georgia can officially start practice July 22, but it's not too early to take a look at the local teams.
Harlem was hit hard by graduation, and the big blow is the departure of Domonique Brown, a four-year starter at quarterback. The Dogs also lost top linemen Travis Reese and Tyler Holley, plus a number of other key contributors from the 2001 campaign.
Harlem is coming off back-to-back berths in the Class AAA state playoffs, and if that streak is to stretch to three, head coach Jimmie Lewis will need monster seasons from speedster Kelvin Sturgis (running back/defensive back) and powerful Josh Wilmoth (fullback/linebacker).
Over on Cox Road, rumor has it that the Evans Knights will get a huge addition this season.
A little birdie told me that Lakeside star Steven Rogers will soon be wearing black and gold.
Rogers, a 6-2, 175 pound receiver, is a bona fide college prospect with great hands, ample speed and superb athleticism. Rogers led the area in receiving yards as a junior last year.
The apparent transfer to Evans was set in motion with the firing of Lakeside head coach Ed Koester.
Koester, who ran a wide-open, pass-happy offense, was replaced by longtime Lakeside assistant Randy Hill, who is expected to put a major emphasis on the ground game - a move that obviously would cut into Rogers' receiving stats.
The happiest person in all of this should be Evans quarterback Travis Clark, a rising junior with the Knights. If Rogers does make the move, expect to hear "Clark-to-Rogers" quite a bit this season.
At Greenbrier and Augusta Christian, look for talented young players to have breakout seasons.
AC tailback Cole Rabun should run wild in the Georgia Independent Schools Association. The junior will replace Joel Whinghter, the best player to ever suit up at Pride Valley.
Whinghter rushed for more than 5,000 yards during his record-breaking career with the Lions, and Rabun will have a hard time matching those numbers, but he could come close.
Rabun's 4.4 speed make him fun to watch - and hard to catch - plus his rushing totals as a sophomore were comparable to what Whinghter posted during his sophomore year.
Greenbrier is another team stung by graduation. The Wolfpack does, however, return starting quarterback Cam Griffin, but the senior will have to work hard to retain his job behind center this year.
The Pack coaching staff is giving junior Brooks Robinson a serious look at the signal-caller position. Robinson was the back-up QB last year, and has a strong arm.
Also, look for Scott Wandless to take over for his brother, Nick, as team leader at the Brierpatch. Nick has graduated, and Scott likely will start at fullback and linebacker. He should finish his junior season as one of the leading tacklers in the area.
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