With the kickoff of the 2002 high school football season just around the corner, prep squads in the CSRA are conditioning and practicing everyday to get ready for the opening coin toss.
Region 3-AAAA, which comprises several local teams in the McDuffie and Columbia County areas, has been realigned with the addition of two new teams.
Baldwin County from Milledgeville and Jones County from near Macon join this region which already includes Thomson High, Lakeside High and Greenbrier High. The other teams that make up this region are Glenn Hills, Statesboro, Butler, Hephzibah, Cross Creek and Burke County.
"The Jones County Greyhounds have always been tough in whatever region they played in," said Randy Hill, who is beginning his first year as engineer of the Lakeside Panther football program. "Jones County is the only high school for a large country area on the edge of Macon. The team is comprised of rural country boys who have traditionally been strong athletes.
"As with the Baldwin County Braves, you never know what you will face. They always have had good athletes in their program."
Thomson Bulldog Assistant Coach Lee Hutto said teams should be gearing up for Jones County.
"Jones County won its region championship last year," he said. "They came out on top of such region foes as Sandy Creek and Creekside. The Greyhounds beat Hephzibah in the first round of the 2001 state playoffs before being beat the following week by Troup County."
And Baldwin County could be trouble too, he said.
"Baldwin County played in Class AAAAA last year, but even though they are traditionally not good in football, they have a brand new coaching staff this year that is led by a college coach," Hutto said. "The Braves will be at somewhat of an advantage this season, since they are dropping down in classification. A 5-A school always has more athletes to choose from than a quad-A school."
Hill said the season is shaping up as a three way race at the top.
"The front runner for the region title this season will be between Thomson, Statesboro and Jones County," he said. "Statesboro has lost a lot of players due to graduation, but they will still be tough.
"The big battle this year in our region will be for the third and fourth playoff spots. Lakeside, Greenbrier, Hephzibah and Burke County will all be in the running for these spots."
Lakeside will kick-off its 2002 season with the Westside Patriots at Panther Stadium on Friday, August 30. The Thomson Bulldogs will open their new season on the road at Hart County the same night.
The season-openers on Aug. 30 also include two matchups of local rivals. Greenbrier and Evans square off in a non-region battle at the Brierpatch, while Harlem travels to play Aquinas.
Evans and Greenbrier have split in their two previous meetings, with the Pack pulling out a 9-7 win last season at Blanchard Stadium.
Georgia High School Association realignments also have resulted in some changes for Evans and Harlem this fall.
The Bulldogs compete in Region 3-AAA, which has added Josey and lost Cross Creek, which moved up to Class AAAA. The region heavyweights are back, though, and if the Dogs plan to challenge for the region crown, they'll have to get by Washington County and Westside.
Evans, meanwhile moves to Region 7-AAAAA, and that should mean the Knights have a better shot at advancing to the state playoffs, according to Coach Lee Chomskis.
"The positive part of our schedule is it's a nine-team region, whereas we came out of a 16-team region (4-AAAAA)," Chomskis said. "As far as talent goes, the regions are certainly comparable. But four out of the nine teams (in 7-AAAAA) go to the playoffs, as opposed to four of 16, so our odds are better."
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