After a Coronavirus-plagued offseason, the 2020 high school football season finally begins this Friday. As area teams gear up for their season-openers, here are five questions we're looking to see answered this year.
1. How will teams adapt to new classifications and regions?
The latest round of GHSA reclassification led to major changes for a number of Northeast Georgia teams. Gainesville is now a part of the state's largest classification for the first time in the school's history, joining the Forsyth County schools in Region 5-7A. Buford also continues to climb the ladder, joining fellow Gwinnett powers Dacula in Lanier in 8-6A. East Hall, Jefferson and Jackson County all moved up in class as well. Will those teams be able to adapt to the new competition? Also, how will the power structures change as teams move into new regions? The landscape will look very different this year.
2. Can Buford perform an encore?
The Buford Wolves had a storybook season in 2019. The first year under head coach Bryant Appling had enough memorable moments to fill a decade for most programs and it led to the school's first state championship since 2014. Now the Wolves move up to Class 6A and will be tasked with the one thing harder than winning a championship: defending one. While a season filled with the drama and the number of climactic finishes that last year saw is unlikely, Buford certainly appears to have the talent and experience to put another championship run together. Now it's time to put that to the test.
3. Who will be the top dog in the new Region 7-3A?
Northeast Georgia teams were unable to end Greater Atlanta Christian's dominance in Region 7-3A over the last four years. Now, such an effort won't be necessary, as the GHSA's realignment moved the Spartans out of the region. While it wasn't the only change, it was the most noticeable. It has changed the discussion surrounding the region from one about who can unseat G.A.C. to who will win what now looks like a wide-open region. White County moves down from Class 4A and appears to be one of the favorites, but it would be unwise to count out Dawson County or North Hall. Cherokee Bluff also looks to finally have a team capable of making a playoff push. It will be a fun race for the region championship to watch.
4. Can Rabun County finally top the 2A mountain?
Over the last decade, Rabun County has transformed itself from a state afterthought to a dominant force, not just in the North Georgia mountains, but on the state level. The Wildcats have won six straight region championships, made the playoffs eight straight years and have made at least the state quarterfinals every year since 2015. The only accolade left on their wall of banners is a state championship. They look to once again have one of the top teams in Class 2A led by South Carolina-commit quarterback Gunner Stockton and second-year head coach Jaybo Shaw will no doubt have his team ready for another deep playoff push. While this question won't be answered until likely December, it's one everyone in the Georgia mountains is waiting for.
5. Will Shad Dabney provide the final piece for a Cherokee Bluff breakout?
The Cherokee Bluff Bears have been slowly building their program in southeast Hall County over the last three years, but there is optimism that this may finally be the year the team breaks through to the state playoffs or beyond. Quality depth led by players like Jayquan Smith, Garrett Davis, Jaylon Justice and Mateo Guevara, who has been part of the program since its inception in 2018, is a big reason why, but another reason is a senior who will wear purple for the first time this Friday: Shad Dabney. The Kansas-commit moved to Cherokee Bluff from Riverside Military Academy after the Eagles canceled their 2020 season. He is expected to contribute all over the field for the Bears, but will he provide the added spark needed to turn a team that is expected to be a playoff contender into something more?