GHSA Region 6-A has no defending champ

The winds of change blew across the Peach State, bring reclassification and realignment to athletic programs throughout the Georgia High School Association, but the situation crafted in Region 6-A is either enviable or disasterous, depending on one's perspective.

Two-time defending Region 6-A champions Adairsville has jumped to Region 6-AA with the likes of Chattooga, Calhoun and Darlington, leaving just four football programs in Region 6-A, all of them assured of making the state playoffs.

The battle this year will not be to see who is the odd man out come playoff time, but rather who can secure one of the top two spots and guarantee home-field advantage in the first round.

And that battle should be wide-open. Trion and Temple both finished with 5-5 records a year ago while Gordon Lee and Bremen ended their seasons 4-6.

Picking this year's favorite is tough, but according to the head coaches, Trion, who lost just four seniors from last year's squad, has the size and skill to stand as the team to beat.

Temple has tons of speed and Gordon Lee has lots of skill players back and both could surprise. Bremen was hit hard by graduation, but has lots of young players to try and rebuild a traditionally strong program.

Bremen Blue Devils

2001 record: 4-6 overall, 2-2 region

Head coach: Ricky Tolleson

"Play Together As One" was the Blue Devils' motto during spring practice and they will have to adopt that strategy if they are to make a push toward a region title.

The Blue Devils lost 12 talented players to graduation, but there is enough talent left over in third-year head coach Ricky Tolleson's troops to make a run at a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

The quarterback situation is shaping up to be a family affair. Senior Chuck Jones and junior Trey Walker are battling for the starting job. Jones and Walker are also cousins and very talented. Jones got the majority of the snaps under center last year.

It could be a backfield by committee. Gone is speedy tailback Ken McCoy, but Bremen has no less than 10 different players that may get a look during summer drills. The front runners are two sophomores, Matt McClure and Marrio Bexley, both of whom have outstanding speed.

Senior Joe Grant was an all-county receiver as a junior. He returns along with senior Chase Sanders. Walker is also a very sure-handed wideout.

The offensive line was another area hit hard by graduation. The Blue Devils have just two returning starters in senior Will Kent and junior Thomas Heard. Senior Jarred Stevens and juniors Darrell Ingram and Allen Buffington will be counted on to step up their play in the trenches.

On defense, Heard is perhaps Bremen's biggest impact player. He was named to the all-county squad as a defensive lineman. Buffington and Ingram will join him on the line. McClure took a few snaps at linebacker last year, but is the only player with any major experience. Walker, Sanders and Jones give Bremen an experienced secondary.

"We are just trying to get better every day," Tolleson explained. "I don't like the fact that all four teams get to go to the playoffs. I think you should have to earn a playoff spot, but we're just going to play as hard as we can and try to be champions on and off the field."

Gordon Lee Trojans

2001 record: 4-6 overall, 1-3 region

Head coach: Gregg Ellis

The good news is that the Trojans have made the state playoffs the past two seasons. The bad news is that both times they have done so as the fourth seed in 6-A, earning the dubious honor of having to travel to Class A powerhouse Bowdon. But things could be different in 2002. The Blue and White have experience in the form of seven returning starters on both sides of the ball and if the chemistry is right, it could be a fun season in Chickamauga.

The offense will be quarterbacked by junior Jake Padgett, who showed flashes of potential several times last year. With nearly two full seasons as a starter under his belt, Padgett should have a better knowledge of the offense.

The Trojans have both depth and experience in the backfield. Seniors Corey Ellison and team MVP Dustin Tommey give Gordon Lee a nice one-two punch carrying the ball. Another senior, Kyle Clarkson, will open holes at fullback. Look for talented sophomore Zach Burns to see his share of carries as well.

Padgett will throw to his running backs quite a bit. When the Trojans do look downfield, senior Dusty Brock and junior Dustin Afman will be the prime targets. The offense showed their firepower last year during a four-game stretch that saw them average nearly 40 points a game. Seniors Robby Kokoszka and Jeff Breedlove will pave the way in the trenches.

On defense, Kokoszka, Breedlove and fellow senior Kevin Guffey will lead up front along with juniors Tommy Heath and Justin Cantrell. Clarkson and Tommey are two of the hardest-hitting linebackers around. Another senior, Dave Ritchey, and a junior, Robbie Robertson, will give Gordon Lee a nice corps to work with.

Ellison, Brock and Afman will blanket receivers in the secondary. They will get help from Burns and senior Nathan Lewis.

"We have kids that want to win every week," said head coach Gregg Ellis, "or at least play well and give us an opportunity to win every week. The main thing is to stay healthy through those first seven games so we will be at full strength for those last three region games. They are the most important ones."

Temple Tigers

2001 record: 5-5 overall, 0-4 region

Head coach: Marty Wild

For the past two seasons, the Temple has been knocking on the door of the state playoffs, but no one will let them in. In 2000 and 2001, head coach Marty Wild's Tigers have started 4-0, only to go winless in the region and become the odd man out come playoff time.

This year, the Tigers are planning to kick the door down.

A senior-laden squad welcomes back nine starters each on offense and defense and there is no doubt who "the man" is when it comes to the Temple offense.

Senior quarterback Robert Reese is arguably the best player in the region. Reese accounted for 1,600 yards and 29 touchdowns last year as the Tiger offense lit up the scoreboard to an average of 33 points a game. Reese is a four-year starter and one of the most highly sought-after college prospects in the state, already entertaining offers from SEC schools like Auburn and Vanderbilt.

But Reese isn't a one-man show. The offense can boast of senior tailback James Robinson, who rushed for 950 yards and 18 TDs a season ago. Reese has two lightning fast receivers at his disposal in senior Shannon George and Darvane Chism. Junior tight end Frank Meritt is a three-year starter.

Seniors Matt Shumake and Todd Thomas will anchor the offensive line while sophomore Toby Jordan will protect Reese at center.

After allowing just 29 total points in their first four wins a year ago, the Tiger defense gave up an average of 44 points in their next five games, all losses. This year's defense will determine whether the Tigers are at home or on the road in the first round.

Thomas will again line up at defensive end after leading the team with 11 sacks last year. Another senior Matt Jones, who paced Temple with four interceptions in 2001, will patrol at middle linebacker. All-county selection Oliver Billings led the Tigers in tackles with 62 in just his freshman year. Reese, Robinson and George give the Tigers experience in the secondary.

"We don't want to go in the playoffs as the fourth seed," said Wild. "These kids have taken their knocks over the past few years and they're hungry to turn it around and try to win a region title."

Trion Bulldogs

2001 record: 5-5 overall, 3-1 region

Head coach: Mark Loudermilk

The Bulldogs have long been a fixture at or near the top of the region and even with a new head coach in place, Trion appears to be loaded for bear once again.

Loyal Bulldog supporters are still stinging from last year's shocking upset loss to Mt. Zion in the first round of the state playoffs, but the experience could work to Trion's benefit in 2002 after losing just four seniors off last year's squad.

Head coach Mark Loudermilk, who comes to Trion from Pickens County, will keep the triple option offense intact. Juniors Zach Allgood and Brandon Hennon are battling for the starting job. Juniors Chris Chapman and Daniel Blevins are a dangerous one-two combo in the backfield. Look for senior fullback Jared Blevins to lead the way and see his share of carries.

The speedy running game will get blocking from an experienced offensive line. Seniors Morgan Stowe, Eric Evans, Co-Ray Helms and Tony Lively will be joined up front by junior Micah Lively to give opposing defensive coordinators headaches. When Trion does throw the ball, they will be looking toward receivers Matt Mills, Levon Burke and Ben Desper and tight ends Andy Fisher and Brandon Espy.

Loudermilk's 50 defense includes Matthew Brooks, Micah Lively, Hennon and Espy at end with Stowe and senior Matthew Peek at tackle. Tony Lively will clog up the middle at noseguard. Junior Brandon Hall and sophomore Robbie Eversole will back up Lively in the middle.

The linebackers are another experienced group with the Blevins boys joining Kevin Payton. Payton may also see time at defensive tackle. The secondary includes corners Allgood and Chapman and safeties Fisher and Corey Barnes.

The Bulldogs should be battle-tested by the time the region schedule starts in November as Trion will take on traditional powers Bowdon, Calhoun and Darlington and Class AAAA Ringgold.

"We want to come out here and have a great year," Loudermilk explained. "The kids have worked hard and hopefully the hard work will pay dividends quickly. We are going to play our best and hopefully win some games, but a region championship sure would be nice."

Scott Herpst is the sports editor of the Walker County Messenger. He may be contacted at sherpst@walkermessenger.com

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