Here are my preseason rankings for Columbia County football:
This was a close call, but I went with the team that, I feel, has the best athletes top to bottom. Evans returns one of the top wide receivers in the area in Jonathan Nicely (6-4, 190), and Kevin Millward is back as a three-year starter at quarterback. Also, two-way talent Trey Henderson will be one of the county's premier defensive backs. If the Knights get some help from their ultra-talented group of sophomores they could challenge for a playoff spot.
The 'Pack will battle Evans for the top spot because of the return of quarterback Nick Richards. The 6-4 senior had some growing pains as a first-year starter in 2006. Luckily he had county Player of the Year Freddie Jones to rely on last season. With Jones' graduation, the focus will be on Richards to move the offense. Also, fans can expect to see more of head coach Scott Chadwick's passing offense this fall. Chadwick had to adjust things a bit last season to fit his team's strengths. They will be neck-in-neck with Evans.
3. Augusta Christian
In 2004 the Lions finished 6-5 in their first season in SCISA. During the last two seasons the Lions are 23-4 with a state title and a state runner-up finish. Last season the Lions were 10-3 and finished second in the state despite having to replace 2005 SCISA Player of the Year Lee Banks at quarterback. This season the Lions return starting quarterback Tyler Bourdo. Although not as flashy as Banks, Bourdo got the job done last year. Also, Jay Harmon, a starter since his freshman season, is back at tailback. Senior Travis Cerasuolo should be one of the top linebackers in the county. So, despite losing several key players, the Lions should be solid again in 2007.
The Bulldogs must replace several great players. Quarterback Brendan Gray, running back Barry St. John and linebacker Maurice Dorsey are all gone. Head coach Jimmie Lewis always finds a way to make his squads competitive so he will find a way again in 2007. Linebacker Mike Leverett will anchor the defense and will likely have a chance to play on Saturdays in 2008. On offense, Lewis' triple option will, as always, cause some team fits. So the Bulldogs will pick up a couple of wins, but the playoffs are highly unlikely.
Lakeside brings in new coach Jody Grooms. I really like everything I hear about this guy. He took over an Anson County program that was 2-8 and turned them into a state championship contender. Anson won eight or more games for three consecutive seasons and finished 10-4 after falling in the state quarterfinals in 2006. Six of his players earned scholarships including North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, Triston Sturdivant, who signed with Georgia.
Perhaps even more impressive was the outcry of support he received from Anson fans when the story of his hiring ran in The Augusta Chronicle. Anson County folks flooded the message board to let Lakeside fans know how strongly they felt about Grooms.
So I, for one, like his chances to get things going in the right direction at Lakeside, but Lakeside fans must be patient, because it will take some time.
Also, I am very happy that former head coach Randy Hill decided to stay on board as an assistant. I have known Hill for 25 years (man, I'm getting old), and he really cares about his players, works as hard as anyone and is a great motivator. So things at Lakeside might get much better down the road, but 2007 still looks rocky.
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