The Georgia high school football season will kick off with the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic and showcase a four-day, 11-game lineup to celebrate its 32nd anniversary. Adopting event founder and Hall of Fame former Brookwood head coach Dave Hunter to the event’s official name is one noticeable feature this year that will represent rich history and innovative spirit that continues to drive its growing prominence.
“I made a promise to the guy and tried to live up to it,’’ said Hunter. “Now I’m just so humbled by this honor. My family is humbled. It’s so special because of the longevity of the event and the name of it. I feel like a proud grandparent.’’
Without pause, Hunter expressed that the most satisfying part of these 32 years since the event’s inception has been the impact the Classic has had on the players.
“It’s about the kids in the end,’’ said Hunter. “Seeing the smiles on those kids’ faces, man alive. And the exposure they get, you can’t put a price on that. When you say you’ve played in the Corky Kell, everybody knows what that is.’’
Hunter, who won 149 games in 15 seasons at Brookwood, where the field is named for him, was one of the most impactful members of the GHSA’s executive committee for more than 25 years and is a member of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame and the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame.
The other major development will be seen on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the four-game lineup will serve as the trial run for the GHSA’s new video-replay protocols. Following a unanimous vote early this offseason, the Georgia High School Association established tentative video review protocols to be used for this year’s football championship games that will also be returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the first time since 2017. As a result, the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic, is a perfect opportunity to introduce the new rules and have a trial run in the same facility that will stage all eight of this year’s state championship matchups.
The replay rules call for three video review officials, two in a restricted area of the press box and one on the sideline. The head replay official may call for reviews at any time while head coaches are limited to one challenge per half signaled by throwing a red flag. The two press box officials would make the review decisions and relay them to the field and would have access to the Falcons video replay equipment that will be used during each game of the Saturday broadcast.
The Corky Kell Classic returned to Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2021 and it was a historic collaboration that gave the event access to all the tools in the venue’s groundbreaking state-of-art control room. This allowed an unparalleled presentation of high school football broadcast and the joint venture helped spring-boarded the Corky Kell Classic to the next level and now will help make the state of Georgia one of fewer than 20 states to adopt some form of video replay.
Four days of must-see action will kickoff at Kell High School on Wednesday, Aug. 16 with a double-header featuring Class 6A’s Johns Creek and North Atlanta in the opener and Class 7A Parkview and Class 5A Kell in the backend of the double-header. North Atlanta will be looking for its first-ever victory over the Gladiators after a dramatic win over North Forsyth at last year’s Classic, while Kell and Parkview are poised for a cross-classification top 10 showdown and first-ever meeting. Additionally, the No. 1 ranked senior wide receiver in the state—Parkview’s Mike Matthews—will be a headliner during the Wednesday action.
West Forsyth will host Day 2 of the Classic with Archer and North Forsyth and Cherokee Bluff against the host Wolverines. Archer and the Raiders last met in the first round of the 2013 playoffs and the Bears will take on West Forsyth for the first time in their history. On Friday, Fellowship Christian will host Mt. Pisgah in a rematch of last year’s 21-19 thriller before the action kicks off at Rome’s Barron Stadium with Creekside and Kennesaw Mountain at 5:30 p.m. and Cass and Rome in the nightcap.
The fourth and final day is packed with four Class 7A showdowns—beginning with the first-ever matchup in history between Norcross and Marietta at 10 a.m. Corky Kell’s original two teams, Brookwood and McEachern battle for bragging rights in the second time slot before defending state champion Mill Creek faces Gwinnett County rival North Gwinnett. The final matchup will stage Grayson and Walton in what will be the first time the programs have faced since the 2011 state championship at the Georgia Dome.
Wednesday, Aug. 16
Johns Creek vs. North Atlanta
Johns Creek and North Atlanta will kickoff the Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic at Kell High School. This is the first game of high school action this season. Coming into the matchup, Johns Creek is 4-0 all-time against North Atlanta and won the last matchup between these two teams 42-13 in 2019. Last season, Johns Creek finished 2-8 and missed the playoffs after four consecutive postseason appearances. The Gladiators showed promise and improvement towards the end of the regular season finishing with a 32 point victory in their final game of the regular season.
Johns Creek will have their third coach in three years in 2023 and will look to establish some stability long term for the program. It is the debut season for first-year head coach Jim Rowell who came over from Cambridge High School. Rowell served as defensive coordinator last season for the Bears.
“I am excited to be named the head football coach at Johns Creek High School. Johns Creek has a history of amazingly supportive parents and administration,” said Jim Rowell. “I feel extremely privileged to join the Gladiator family.”
Both of these teams were region opponents in 2018 that same year Johns Creek went undefeated in region play and was a perennial playoff team. North Atlanta head coach Jamie Aull talked about facing a familiar opponent in the regular season.
“Johns Creek was a region-opponent my first two years here when I was an offensive coordinator. I am definitely familiar with that program and what they can do there. They are going to be tough upfront on both sides of the ball,” said Aull. “They will have a few skill athletes that can hurt you. We are just going to have to go out and compete and play our best game. Hopefully we will be in it at the end and get the job done.”
North Atlanta enters this year’s matchup after their most successful season in school history finishing 8-4. North Atlanta had one of the most exciting finishes in the Corky Kell Classic last season when they defeated North Forsyth on a game-winning touchdown as time expired, winning 31-27. The Warriors used that momentum and went 4-0 to start the season last year. This year North Atlanta will return junior quarterback Ian Reynolds which will be his first year as a starter. Last season, Reynolds backed up QB Trey Lennon but now he will have the keys to the offense.
“I am excited about Ian as a player. He has a tremendous skill set and for him to push Trey who was also a tremendous player for playing time last year kind of speaks to that especially with him just being a sophomore last year,” said head coach Jamie Aull. “He throws the ball really well and is athletic enough in the run game to do some of our stuff as well. He’s got a lot of those intangibles, those things you can’t coach like leadership, posture, and poise. He had a great offseason and summer. We are really excited to see what he brings in the fall.”
Returning for the Gladiators will be senior quarterback Michael McClellan who showed flashes of brilliance in his game and continued to make strides and improvement in his junior season. McClellan ended the 2022 season throwing for 344 passing yards and three touchdowns leading Johns Creek to a 47-15 victory against Pope. Leading tailback Tony Gilliam will also return for the Gladiators. Gilliam rushed for 329 yards and a touchdown in 2022.
Xaiden Benson and Darius Malcom are key starters on the defense for North Atlanta this season. Benson was instrumental in securing the exciting win in the Corky Kell Classic last year for North Atlanta after having a multi-interception game.
“We have a lot back from last year especially on the defensive side of the ball. Our guys have been really locked in since January and committed to our process and preparation for the season,” said Aull. “Benson, who was a starter for us on both sides of the ball last year, returns. He is going to be a key guy. Darius Malcolm is returning on that side as well at corner. He is one of the better corners I have been around and this is year 19 for me. He does a tremendous job. The goal is to take it a step further. We talk a lot about getting into that third round or elite eight and practicing on Thanksgiving. That has been a goal for our guys.”
Parkview vs. Kell
This first-ever matchup between Parkview and Kell will cap Wednesday’s matchups. Kell had its first 10-win season since 2016 under first year head coach Bobby May in 2022. Parkview finished 8-4 and reached the second round of the playoffs last year.
For the Kell Longhorns they are led by rising senior quarterback Bryce Clavon who passed for 2,668 yards and 24 touchdowns. Clavon is also a top prospect in baseball and is likely to be taken in the 2024 MLB draft next year.
“He is a really good quarterback. He has great accuracy and arm strength,” said May. “He really understands the game of football. With how much he goes back and forth with baseball, he is mentally tough with football as far as knowing coverages and things like that.”
A returning receiver will be Peyton Zachary who burst onto the scene as a freshman and finished with 868 yards and six touchdowns. His breakout performance came in Week 1 in the Corky Kell Classic against Cherokee Bluff. He had seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Vaka will also be a vital component of the receiving corps. Vaka was second team all-region last year as a junior.
“Our receiver group is really good. Kyle is one of two seniors. Peyton and Kyle tend to lead that group,” said May. “I feel like we have seven or eight guys that can play. A lot of guys that are going to step up like Emmanuel Ulinfun and Brayden Rouse and all of our receivers. We are pretty confident in our receiving core permitting everybody is healthy.”
The Panthers will be stout upfront and return their entire offensive line from last season. This includes Jordan Floyd (Georgia Tech commit) and Cortez Smith who is heavily recruited in the 2025 class. Lead tailback and one of the most impressive rushers in the state will return for his senior season in Khyair Spain. Spain rushed for 2,383 yards and 16 touchdowns last season and will have Trelain Maddox in the backfield. Maddox is committed to Georgia Tech and missed a lot of time in 2022 due to injury.
Cortez Smith is going to be a big time guard. Jordan Floyd is going to be one heck of a tackle. An unsung hero Aaron Robinson who played guard for us last year we are moving him to center,” said Sturdivant. “He will be outstanding for us. A big body and a center. It will be hard to move around him. He is super athletic. We have Anthony Arrington at guard. Josh Haynes who is a fantastic offensive tackle. That is five guys I think are going to be very good and can play at an extremely high level.”
“Khyair Spain is one heck of an offensive player. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, run the football, be power, or scat. He can do it all. He reminds me of Darren Sproles,” said Sturdivant. He is super special. Our offensive line blocked well for him last year but running for 2,300 yards in a single season at Parkview was a really big deal. We have another kid Trelain Maddox who was injured last year and is an extremely good tailback. Those guys are loads.”
An intriguing matchup to watch in this game will be secondaries against impressive receivers on both sides of the ball.
5 star WR Mike Matthews (Tennessee Commit) will also be a marquee player on offense to watch for the Panthers. Matthews had 48 catches, 1,030 yards receiving and nine touchdowns as a junior. 4 Star defensive back Jalyn Crawford (Auburn commit) will play both ways next season. Bryce Coulson and Carson Wilson will also be valuable receivers this season for Parkview.
“Carson Wilson and Bryce Coulson are studs. They are going to be very good for us,” said Sturdivant. “Jay Crawford can also come over and play receiver. Antonio White will come over and play receiver and Zelus Hicks. We have a great stable of receivers which I love to utilize.”
On the defensive side for the Longhorns, they are led by LB Justin Logan (Arkansas commit) and an impressive slew of highly touted defensive backs including Marquavious Saboor (Cincinnati Commit), Cedric Franklin (Virginia Commit), and Kemari Nix (Arkansas State Commit).
“We are excited about our defensive back end and we think we match up with most people,” said May. “Those guys give us flexibility to move people around. I feel like we have six or seven good players on the back end.”
Thursday, Aug. 17
At West Forsyth
Archer vs. North Forsyth
Archer and North Forsyth will make their second appearance in the Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic. Archer leads the series 1-0, having won 34-7 back in 2013. The Tigers are a relatively new program that has only been around since 2009 and will enter their second season under head coach Dante Williams who is looking to build on last year’s 2-8 record. Coach Williams talked about the foundational pieces in place and how it has made a difference to the program entering a new year.
“That is the biggest thing: the foundational pieces are in place: new staff, booster club, & philosophies. As you mentioned, the region we play in was not easy at all,” said Williams. “We may be in the toughest region but it doesn’t matter. We have had a tremendous spring and summer and I am really excited about year 2.”
North Forsyth head coach Robert Craft enters year eight with the Raiders and is coming off the most successful finish in his career while North Forsyth had its most successful finish since 2005 going 8-4. Last year, North Forsyth battled in a tough in Region 6-7A coming up short in the region championship game against Gainesville 34-21 on the road. North Forsyth had impressive victories against Shiloh, Lanier, Hambersham Central, Aplachee, and Jackson County. Entering 2023, the Raiders will have to deal with adversity. The Raiders will play their first couple of home games on the road this season after a storm damaged their field and scoreboard.
“The whole North Cumming and North Forsyth community got hammered on July 22nd. For us, it wiped out our scoreboard and has done enough damage to our field that it is going to have to be replaced,” said head coach Robert Craft. “We told our players that it is going to be a part of our story. We are going to have to relocate our scrimmage game and relocate our first home game. It’s going to be week to week and our guys are just going to have to own this and battle through adversity. More than anything we are just glad that no one got hurt.”
North Forsyth will return 15 seniors and all-region running back Karson McBrayer who last season rushed for 718 yards and three touchdowns last season. McBrayer also had 230 yards receiving and two touchdowns. On defense Brody Hancock will be a key returning starter for the Raiders. Last year, Hancock was third on the team in sacks with eight. Braden O’Shields is another key defensive piece for the Raiders as he was selected to second-team all-region defense last season.
“We have a young senior class and this was a senior class that East Forsyth opened a few years ago. We have a small group of 15 seniors but they are anxious for their opportunity. They sat behind some bigger classes. We returned our entire offensive line and we returned all-region running back Karson McBrayer. We feel like the defensive line will be a strength of ours again. This group being small is a very close-knit group of seniors and are excited about their opportunity to lead.”
William Wallace is one of Archer’s key returning offense starters next season. Wallace scored three touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Wallace also made all-region first-team offense as a skill player. Jonathan Stafford will be another skill position player to watch in year two of his varsity career. As a freshman, Stafford made second-team all-region offense and was dynamic in the open field with the ball in his hands.
“I love where our skill players are at. We graduated quite a few on the offensive line, so we will be young. The kids are very hungry. On our defense we are returning a lot so that is going to be very strong for us which is what you need. I feel like our pieces are there. We are still young but I really like where our skill players are at and the totality of our defense.
Coach Williams talked about being patient with success and how everything needed to be exemplary at Archer.
“We have a unique place at Archer. We have an incredible administration, an incredible community that wants to be there and see Archer win,” said Williams. “We want to compete, so all the pieces are there. We just have to put our heads down. You know success is a slow cooker not a microwave. Anything worth doing takes time.”
The Tigers are looking for a big bounce back in the 2023 season.
Cherokee Bluff vs. West Forsyth
Cherokee Bluff began playing football in 2018 while West Forsyth started its football program in 2007 and the first meeting between the programs will take place this season as the team’s meet for the nightcap game on the second day of the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic at West Forsyth.
Cherokee Bluff began its football history going 0-10 in the inaugural season in 2018 but rose quickly. The Bears – playing in Region 7-3A – went 3-7 in their second year and finished 10-2 and 11-1 in 2020 and 2021, respectively, winning back-to-back region titles.
“We are in year six and basically got off to a pretty good start, program wise,” said Cherokee Bluff head coach Tommy Jones. “In years three and four we won region championships, but unfortunately with that, we graduated that first group of kids that came through from the bottom, and they’re playing in college now. So we kind of have to begin again a little bit.”
Last season, the Bears slid back and finished 3-7 after reclassifying to Region 8-4A.
“We are just kind of getting back to basics,” Jones said. “Last year was a little bit of a step back and it’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster. But growth is not always linear, right?”
The returning starters bring experience for Cherokee Bluff and on the offensive side, quarterback Asher Wilson leads the way. The senior was 101-of-194 passing for 1,359 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while leading an offense that averaged 170 rushing to 148 passing yards per game. Wilson made 37 carries for 109 yards and four touchdowns during his junior campaign.
Ryan Graves, a 6-3, 215-pound tight end, missed last season with a knee injury sustained in 2022, his sophomore year, and his return as a senior has been widely anticipated.
“We are excited about getting him back,” Jones said. “He was honorable mention All-State as a sophomore before the injury at the end of that year, so we are excited about getting him back.”
On the ground, the Bears return the team’s leading rusher from last season – senior Perry Haynes. Last season, Haynes made 112 carries for 610 yards and five touchdowns. Also returning is Jaylon Carroll, who had 47 carries for 320 yards and two touchdowns last season. A group of five juniors – Chris Griffin, Caleb Cooper, Connor Griffin, KT Thompson, and Tre Brown – each scored one rushing touchdown last season.
The Bears will have to replace the five leading receivers who combined for 10 touchdown receptions, but Caleb Cooper (1 TD reception) and Nathan Richardson (1) return with experience.
“The good news about coming off a 3-7 season is that you have a number of returning kids, so that’s always encouraging,” Jones said. “We have a group of offensive linemen which have had legitimate experience. Probably the most recognizable name in that group is Caleb Williford.”
Williford, a Western Carolina-commit, is a 6-foot-5, 275-pound offensive tackle and defensive end and anchors the line.
On the other side of the field, head coach Dave Svehla is entering his fourth season leading the Wolverines. In 2020, he led the team to a 9-4 finish and quarterfinal appearance before the 5-6 finish in 2021 and 4-6 finish last season.
The team averaged 159 rushing to 106 passing yards per game last season while finishing 4-6 and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The returning experience is key for the Wolverines to make a push back into the postseason.
Sophomore Max Walraven is entering his first season with starting quarterback duties after the team graduated last year’s starter Jack Tomlinson, who was 69-of-136 passing for 889 yards and seven touchdowns. Walraven has experience and was 13-of-22 passing for 167 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman while adding 167 rushing yards and a touchdown. Including Walraven, West Forsyth rotated four quarterbacks in its 35-20 loss to Lanier in the scrimmage last week – Carter Centanni, Jackson Galt and Elliott Bryson.
Junior tight end Hunter Green will be a favorite target. At 6-foot-2 and 230-pounds, Green’s size could cause trouble for opposing defenders. Senior Henry Delp, senior Ryan Stewart and junior Cole Cato help anchor the West Forsyth receivers corps. In the backfield, sophomore Ivan Ehima could emerge this season after rushing for a 65-yard touchdown run against Lanier in a scrimmage.
On the defensive side, the Wolverines graduated its two leading tacklers – Raleigh Herbert and Brody Sanderson – but the team returns free safety Ryder Stewart, linebackers/defensive end Tyler Hoffman, linebacker Brady Allen and linebacker Ethan Nyandoro.
Friday, Aug. 18
At Fellowship Christian
Mt. Pisgah vs. Fellowship Christian
Mt. Pisgah and Fellowship Christian made history last year by being the first-ever private schools and all-private matchup to participate in the Corky Kell. The game set the tone in the Friday triple-header and saw Mt. Pisgah come away with a massive 21-18 victory. Prior to the win, Mt. Pisgah was 0-4 all-time against the Paladins and the Patriots were led by the since-graduated quarterback Jack Cendoya in the second half to pull away with the victory.
“We have played Fellowship for years,” said head coach Ryan Livezey after the victory. “And quite honestly, they had kind of moved well ahead of us in the last few years and it really had not been much of a rivalry anymore. But we have a great group and I think these guys got tired of being beaten by them.”
Cednoya graduated following a tremendous senior season and signed to play at Trinity University after racking up 4,273 total yards of offense and 49 total touchdowns. Cendoya led the team with 3,526 yards through the air with 36 passing touchdowns and also had a team-high 816 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. This season, senior Ian White is taking the reigns and comes to the Pisgah program via Marist—where he operated within an offensive system more geared to the run. Pisgah has the bulk of its offensive line returning and will see Jack Garver and Brandon Bostic returning as key playmakers for the Patriots’ offense.
Defensively, Praise Chane is returning at linebacker after earning the starting job last season as a freshman. Additionally, Jake Schmitz is poised for a big senior season after contributing last year as a defensive end and tight end. Fellowship Christian followed up its loss in Corky Kell last year with a tremendous 12-2 campaign and achieved the program’s fourth-straight region title and fourth run to the semifinals in the past seven seasons. In the offseason, The Paladins promoted defensive coordinator John Thompson to take over as head coach—replacing former head coach Tim McFarlin and setting the stage for Thompson’s head coaching debut in this year’s Classic. Thompson was one of the biggest hires during this offseason’s coaching carousel and is regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the coaching field. Prior to joining Fellowship in 2021, Thomson had served as defensive coordinator or co-coordinator at several SEC schools, including Mississippi, Florida, Arkansas, South Carolina, and LSU. Throughout his coaching career, he successfully graduated more than 40 of his defensive players from the collegiate level to the NFL.
“John and I have shared a friendship for many years, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with him again,” McFarlin said. “He brings so much to the table, and his contributions extend not only to the players but also to the coaches who work around him. He raises the bar for players and has a way of elevating them to play at a level well beyond what they thought was possible. He does the same for coaches, and he has a unique way of teaching coaches how to coach. John elevates everyone around him.”
This year’s Paladins team will have one of the most exciting Class of 2026 prospects in the state starring in the backfield. As a freshman, CJ Givers earned all-state praise with a 1,150-yard campaign and a team-high 16 rushing touchdowns. Givers began last season sharing the load, but became the lead back shortly after the Corky Kell and had several massive performances, including a 30-carry, 139-yard, two-touchdown performance against ELCA and a 200-yard three-touchdown outing against Union County. Givers is a tremendous down-hill runner with big-play ability and coach Livezey stressed the importance of his defense preventing explosive plays in this matchup. Moreover, Fellowship Christian’s offensive line will feature five-star junior offensive tackle Josh Petty. The 6-foot-5, 262-pound Class of 2025 standout is the No. 15-rated junior in the nation and the No. 5 ranked player in Georgia in the junior class heading into the season with more than 24 Power 5 offers. Starring in the receiving corps will be junior Josh Milhollin—who was outstanding last season with 838 receiving yards and also this year’s Class 2A Male Soccer Player of the Year. He is committed to play at Army following this season and is an experienced prospect with a proven ability to score touchdowns.
At Rome’s Barron Stadium
Creekside vs. Kennesaw Mountain
Creekside is coming off an excellent season finishing 10-3 and undefeated in their region. The Seminoles battled a tough Warner Robins team in a thrilling finish that saw them come up short in a 31-28 defeat. Head coach Maurice Dixon talked about the loss and how it fueled his team for this season.
“We’ve had a really big push on having character. We want to be selfless. Character shows up on the biggest stages and on the biggest opportunities, so we had a lack of character,” said Dixon.
“We had some kids on our team that didn’t perform during that time. We want to be selfless and we want to be the tribe.”
Kennesaw Mountain finished the 2022 season 7-3 but missed the playoffs in a crowded region that includes North Cobb and Walton. Coach Caleb Carmean talked about being prepared and what his team needs to do to make the postseason.
“We have to build on last season. We are playing in a great region with great competition so we gotta bring it every week,” said Carmean. “Our focus this offseason has been attack. We want to attack our best every single day.
Creekside bolsters four-star offensive lineman Caleb Holmes (Pittsburgh commit) and will return the bulk of their rushing production from last season including running backs Roderick Mccrary and Travis Terrell. Running backs combined for 2,264 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2022.
“Caleb Holmes is a four year kid. I tell all the college coaches if you had to build an offensive guard or interior offensive lineman from scratch you make him about 6’3 285 long arms, athletic and lean. That is Caleb Holmes,” said Dixon.
“Travis Terrell is probably one of the best players in 6A football. Roderick McQuerary has been here for like eight years. He’s old. I love him to death. He’s like my son,” said Dixon. “We go through the ups and downs together. I remember him playing in ninth grade and that’s just because we had to play him. The team is on his shoulders. We will go as far as he takes us.”
Kennesaw Mountain will return highly sought after wide receiver Naylin Scott who has several major power five offers including Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee.
Michael Bell is also another key returning starter for the Mustangs. Last season Bell was tied for the team lead in interceptions with five. Bell has an excellent knack for being around the football and causing havoc leading to turnovers for the defense.
“We have a great senior class and this group has really bought in from day one and led us this offseason especially,” said Carmean. “We are bringing back safety and wide receiver Michael Bell and wide receiver Naylin Scott.
The Creekside defense will be a group to watch next season especially with the potential it has to be even better next season. The Seminoles produced five shutouts last season and held eight of their 13 opponents to 14 points or fewer.
“I really feel like on defense we are going to be better than we were last year. Daiquan White was a great player for us but I feel like his development and leadership into the guys we got coming back makes our group even more equipped,” said Dixon. “You are talking about on the backend we got five guys with college offers. I feel there isn’t a better front three in the state than ours. I trust the coaching we have to prepare them for Friday Nights.”
This season, the Mustangs will be strong on their offensive line. Despite losing four-star Connor Lew to Auburn, Kennesaw Mountain will return the majority of their offensive line from last season.
“We have three out of five of our starting offensive linemen returning. We’ve got some new guys about to burst onto the scene too,” said Carmean.
After their matchup with Kennesaw Mountain, Creekside will play two national opponents including St. Peter’s Prep (New Jersey) and Mater Dei (California).
“It’s about going out there and playing the best teams you can. We have trouble getting games in-state, so we have to reach out nationally to play games. We just look at them as opportunities,” said Dixon. Playing Mater Dei is no different than last year playing top 10 East St. Louis. We are just looking for the best competition to prepare for our region play and push to win our 15th game of the year.”
Both teams will look to jump off to a good start and set the tone for the 2023 season.
Cass vs. Rome
The Cass Colonels are on a mission to make 2023 the year that determinately establishes the program as a preeminent force on the Georgia High School Football landscape. Fourth-year head coach Steve Gates—a McEachern alum that has both played and coached in the Classic—has been at the helm during this ascendant mission and the Colonels are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in the school’s 71-year history. Cass has even higher aspirations driving it this year and has a roster that is loaded with experience and exceptional talent.
In 2022, Cass produced a school-record 30.42 ppg offensively and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A state playoffs following a 27-17 win over No. 4 ranked Jefferson. The Colonels’ explosive offense returns sophomore quarterback Brodie McWhorter after he completed 172-of-261 attempts for 2,012 yards, 20 touchdowns and five interceptions—earning First-Team All-Region and several major Power 5 offers. Additionally, the offense returns a seasoned offensive line that includes Bear McWhorter and Kail Ellis at the tackle positions and 6-foot-4, 310-pound junior and two-way starter Tayvian McKibbin in the interior. Georgia-commit Sacovie White and Liberty-commit Devin Henderson as versatile playmakers that will also star as one of the state’s most dynamic safety tandems in the Cass secondary with Jakai Baldwin returning at cornerback after earning First-Team All-Region following a tremendous sophomore campaign.
Senior linebacker Kevin Henderson is a 6-foot, 205-pound prospect with multiple offers that tallied 96.5 tackles, 13.5 TFL, four sacks and four interceptions this past season. Defensive lineman Kaden Ellis is poised for a big junior season and the 6-foot-1, 275-pound prospect picked up an Appalachian State and Eastern Kentucky offer this offseason. Ellis tallied 46 tackles, 8.5 TFL and a team-high 4.5 sacks last season. This will be the first time since 2019 that Cass has played Rome and the Colonels are 1-9 all-time in the series with five-straight losses. The past five losses to Rome produced an average margin of victory of 40 points per game in the Wolves’ favor—which makes this matchup an ultimate measuring stick for Cass. Class 6A powerhouse Rome is making its fourth all-time appearance in the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic and earned a 16-6 win over Class 5A No. 2 ranked-Creekside last year.
The Wolves will once again be opening the season against a Class 5A contender and are coming off a strong 12-2 season. Rome’s only two losses came to Class 7A’s Carrollton and eventual state-champion Hughes in the semifinals and the program marched to the semifinals with impressive playoff wins over Paulding County (49-0), Alpharetta (35-14) and Marist (17-7) before falling to the Panthers. In Region 6-6A play, Rome was unstoppable—sweeping the field and outscoring Allatoona (42-19), Woodstock (70-0), Sequoyah (52-0), River Ridge (55-7), Creekview (30-0) and Etowah (63-3) a whopping 312-to-29—resulting in a 47.2 average margin of victory.
The Wolves enter this season with eight-straight playoff berths, five region titles, two state championships and 19 playoff victories in the same span and are 6-2 in season openers since John Reid assumed the head coaching role in 2015. Much of this success has been experienced with Reece Fountain under center and the Class of 2024 prospect is entering his fourth-year as a starter. Fountain has a 27-5 all-time record as a Wolves’ starter and is coming off a junior season that saw him complete 218-of-292 passes (75 percent) for 3,028 yards and 28 touchdowns. These numbers were a sharp improvement from his 2,312-yard, 19-touchdown sophomore season and he is poised for a tremendous finale to his varsity career. DK Daniel is back to lead the receivers after hauling in a team-high 71 catches for 957 yards and seven touchdowns. Defensively, Justin Terrell is a 6-foot-2, 280-pound three-star senior prospect that is committed to N.C. State. Terrell earned First-Team All-State honors last season and tallied 53.5 total tackles with seven tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two pass deflections and one fumble recovery. Senior Javion Winston will lead the Rome secondary and posted 32 tackles, a team-high eight pass breakups and three tackles for loss last season.
Saturday, Aug. 19
At Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Norcross vs. Marietta
Norcross and Marietta have been playing football in some form or fashion since 1902 for Marietta and 1923 for Norcross.
There have been 29 different head coaches involved in the Marietta or Norcross programs since their inception, plus 221 combined football-playing years. In all that time, with all of those influences and despite being just 24 miles apart, the programs have never met.
That is until now. The storied programs will unite for the first time to open the final day of the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to kick off the four-game Saturday schedule.
“Most of our young guys were either watching on TV or from the sideline last season, so it will be nice for them to get that first taste,” said Marietta head coach Richard Morgan. “It will be nice to play in that first game. Last year, we were the last game of the night, so we spent a lot of time waiting around, but it’s just so good to be back for the second year.”
Marietta is a few seasons removed from the program’s 2019 state championship, marking the second title (1967) for the Blue Devils and following last year’s 5-7 finish and second-round exit, Marietta is looking for more and has returning experience to get it.
“We have most of our receiver’s corps back,” Morgan said. “Bobby Butler, Brandon Rosato, all key players are back. Plus, we got a transfer in Noah Brown, who I think is going to be a very special player for us. So, we feel really good about our wideouts. Then, our tight end Thomas Abercrombie, we feel good about him too.”
Arguably Marietta’s strongest returning force is at the quarterback position, senior Chase McCravy.
“Our quarterback was new to the offense last season and returns, knowing the offense really, really well,” Morgan said. “He’s had great camps this summer and we expect a lot out of him, throwing and running the ball.”
During his junior campaign, McCravy was 128-of-231 passing for 1,448 yards and eight touchdowns, but with 11 interceptions. His developed knowledge of the offense will likely produce a faster start to this season. On the ground, he rushed for three touchdowns on 67 carries. The Blue Devils will have to weather the graduation of its two leading receivers – Nakari Ashley (4 TDs) and Christian Mathis (4 TDs) – but returning experience will help.
On the offensive line, Cole Davis and Reago Hudson play tackle and guard and provide experience that will help returning running backs Jaylen Frazier and Russell Bey find space in opposing defensive lines. Frazier is a 5-foot-11 running back and Bey is a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back.
“We have some key pieces to kind of fill in, or replace, but there’s a pretty good nucleus back on offense,” he said.
On the other side of the field, Head coach Keith Maloof is entering his 28th season as a head coach and 24th season at Norcross. He’s 215-96 through 311 games and has six region championships with two state titles.
The team is 10 years removed from its back-to-back state championships in 2012-2013 when the Blue Devils finished 15-0 and 13-2 respectively and with a vast swath of returning talent, the Blue Devils are formidable.
Since the back-to-back championships, Norcross has advanced to the playoffs each season but exited in the first or second rounds in each season aside from a semifinal appearance in 2020. Despite finishing 8-4 in the past two seasons, the Blue Devils are determined to return deep into the postseason.
The main returning piece is quarterback AJ Watkins, an Air Force-commit. The 6-2, 180-pound senior was 147-of-236 passing for 2,132 yards and 23 touchdowns last season while rushing for 606 yards and seven touchdowns. Watkins led Norcross to an 8-4 record and managed an offense that averaged 197 passing to 161 rushing yards per game last season.
Watkins is multi-talented and at the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter/Brent Key 7-on-7 Tournament at Georgia Tech, Watkins was featured as receiver on a play, utilized his speed, and out-classed several defenders, beating them down the left sideline for a touchdown.
“Well, that’s AJ,” said Maloof, while shaking his head and chuckling at Watkins’ speed.
In the backfield, Norcross returns senior Michael Ammons (7 TDs last season) and junior Laji Taylor (2 TDs), both productive last season. The team lost its three leading receivers from last season, but junior Jamari Harrold (1 TD reception last season) returns.
Brookwood vs. McEachern
When Brookwood and McEachern meet on the second day of the day in the Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic, it will be the ninth time the two teams have faced off. McEachern currently leads the series 5-3 and won the last matchup 48-10 in 2019. The Indians head into 2023 after a disappointing 4-6 season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008. However, McEachern is riding high into the season with newly appointed head coach Kareem Reid after their impressive 31-7 victory against Pebblebrook in the August scrimmage. Coach Reid talked about how the administration is making a difference and what he is trying to establish in year one.
“The administration is awesome and super supportive. Great facilities and resources. The community is 100% behind the program,” said Reid. “The players have been great. It’s kind of a dream job as a head coach and has everything you could ever want. For us year one we are coming in and establishing a culture. We are building a foundation for the future. I think we have enough right now to win right away and really make some noise in the state of Georgia, so I am excited to see what we do come August.”
Going into 2023, Brookwood will replace one of their best passers in program history in Dylan Lonergan. Lonergan was a four-star prospect and is now playing college football at Alabama. Brookwood is coming off a 6-5 season and their seventh consecutive playoff appearance under head coach Phillip Jones. Jones has two 10 win seasons in his career with the Broncos and will look to push his team deeper into the postseason.
Offensively, WR Lee Niles will be a key contributor for the Broncos. Last season, Niles was second on the team with 426 yards receiving and three touchdowns as a junior. He also had the longest reception on the team with a 73-yard grab in 2022. A potential player to watch is freshman running back Brayden Tyson, who could carve out a role in his first year for the Broncos. Tyson already has offers from Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and USF before taking his first varsity reps. Tyson played in the Under Armour All-American game as an eighth grader and is already on the national radar.
McEachern will be strong upfront and on the backend this season. The Indians return a good bit of their starters on the offensive line. This includes Parker McClendon who stands at 6’2 and 310 pounds and is an anchor on the offensive line. In the secondary, Daniel James (Cincinnati Commit) finished his junior season with 46 tackles, 15 PBUs, a forced fumble and an interception. James is one of the most outstanding cornerbacks in the state and a ballhawk in the secondary.
“I think the offensive line is our strength. This is probably the best offensive line that I have walked into as a head coach,” said Reid. “After that our secondary is pretty good on defense too. When you are good in the trenches upfront you get a chance every single week and on the back end when you can cover people up you can do a lot of different things defensively. I am excited for us.”
Brookwood will have some key returning starters on defense this season and one of them is inside linebacker Cali Gober who has committed to Mississippi Valley State. Gober finished third on the team with 90 tackles. He also had 10 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and a sack last season for the Broncos. 3 star defensive back Kaleb Neal (Appalachian State commit) will be a vital piece in the secondary for Brookwood. Neal brings a lot of experience and had 33 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception during his junior season.
For Coach Reid playing in the Corky Kell Dave Hunter Classic means more. He talked about how special it is to play in such a prominent event and one of the biggest across the country in his first year as the head coach for the Indians.
“Corky Kell is an event I always wanted to be a part of. Obviously being at Westlake and Griffin in the past as the head coach, I never got the opportunity to participate in that,” said Reid. “I kind of was always envious of the teams that were selected so to be a part of that event now as one of the premier games I am super excited for that individually as a head coach.”
North Gwinnett vs. Mill Creek
An intense Gwinnett-area rivalry highlights the third Saturday showdown at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic. The major themes will be Mill Creek opening the season wanting to mount a championship defense and North Gwinnett seeking a smooth transition with its new head coach.
“North Gwinnett and Mill Creek have been rivals for several years,” said first-year Mill Creek head coach Eric Godfree, who was hired from Parkview to take over the program in February following Bill Stewart’s departure to the Georgia Tech coaching staff.
“Especially them [previously] being in the same region together. So that alone is big, then you throw it at Mercedes-Benz Stadium as a part of the Corky Kell, our whole community is excited about this game.”
The Hawks are coming off the program’s first state title after beating Carrollton 70-35 in the Class 7A championship game last season. Mill Creek’s Josh Lovelady is entering his fifth season as the head coach in Hoschton after coach Shannon Jarvis handed over the keys. Jarvis helped build the program, which started playing football in 2004, with Lovelady’s assistance.
Mill Creek has 11 returning starters and 34 returning lettermen from the 2022 state championship team and is perfectly positioned to make another run in the 2023 playoffs. The team did lose valuable seniors from last season, but there are a lot of younger players who gained valuable experience and they are ready to prove what they can do.
Senior running back and Navy-commit Cam Robinson returns after 214 carries for 1,802 yards and 21 touchdowns in the championship run. Senior linebacker and North Alabama-commit Josh Anglin made 71 solo tackles with 25 assists, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks and one interception. Senior Trajen Greco, a Georgia Tech-commit, stars as a defensive back and receiver who made 41 solo tackles and 20 assists and five interceptions with 17 pass break ups last season.
Senior defensive back/receiver Jaiden Patterson, senior defensive back/receiver Justin Content, senior offensive lineman Aiden Banfield and senior linebacker/tight end Cole Mullins also return.
On the other side of the field, North Gwinnett will look for an inspiring Week 1 victory and it returns talent from last season’s quarterfinal run to make Godfree’s job a bit easier.
“We are pretty young and somewhat inexperienced, but I feel really good about what we have, offensively,” said Godfree. “Our quarterback [Ryan Hall], in my personal opinion, is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the state for his class, 2025. He does amazing things, incredible arm. He does a lot of Johnny Manziel type of things, if you will. He just creates more time in the pocket.”
Last season, as a sophomore, Hall was 99-of-181 passing for 1,610 yards and 12 touchdowns, while running for 787 yards and nine touchdowns to lead a program averaging 232 rushing to 139 passing yards. Senior Julian Walters had 185 carries for 1,134 yards and 15 touchdowns to lead the rushing attack.
The Bulldogs will have to find replacements for last year’s leading receivers – Marek Bailey, Will Collins and Grant Godfrey – who were lost to graduation.
“There’s some inexperienced receivers, but we feel really good about them,” Godfree said. “Carter Campbell, a senior for us, he is 6-foot-2 and a tall target. Erik Ronning and Nick Bookman, well, Bookman is hurt but we hope he’s back for Mill Creek, but those are our two fastest receivers, and both had really good summers.”
On the defensive side, North Gwinnett’s defensive line is stacked, according to Godfree.
“This is where I get most excited,” he said. “In 24 years of doing this, this is the best defensive line I have coached. This is a very good defensive line. We have four guys up front and three have Power 5 offers and the other will eventually have a Power 5 offer.”
The line is anchored by junior 6-foot-4, 225-pound edge Cole Funderburk, who had 15 sacks last season and is explosive off the line. Another impacting factor on the line is 6-foot-3 junior defensive tackle Braxton Kyle, who has several Power 5 offers.
“Both of them have had a great summer for us,” Godfree said. “Senior Jaden Brock also will factor. He has every Academy offering him and some other offers to go along with that as well. He’s a good football player. London Seymour, the other starting tackle, he’s got great size. He’s a junior and just started playing football as a freshman. So when he really gets things going and figures out football, he is going to be a great player and a college player as well.”
Walton vs. Grayson
The eleventh game of the 32nd annual Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic and Saturday’s grand finale will stage a must-see battle between two of this year’s top contenders in Class 7A. The only other previous time that the Rams and Raiders have faced came in the 2011 state championship game and Grayson. Both programs were undefeated at the time and searching for their first-ever state titles and Grayson came away with a 24-0 victory. The Rams have added two more state titles in the 11 years since that initial triumph and have captured eight region titles and recorded 10 double-digit win seasons over the same span with nine-straight heading into 2023. Walton has not returned to the finals since the 2011 season, but has remained one of the state’s most consistent and talented programs.
Under head coach Daniel Brunner—who is heading into his seventh season at the helm—Walton has advanced past the first round of the state playoffs every year. The Raiders famously served top-ranked Buford a 42-35 defeat in the second round last year before falling to Carrollton in the playoffs and are returning all the key pieces and more from that impressive run. Walton’s offense is commanded by senior quarterback Jeremy Hecklinski—who shattered the school-record last season with a 271 passing yards per game average, 3,520 total yards through the air and 37 passing touchdowns. Hecklinski’s efficiency is just one layer of his skillset and the ability to distribute the ball with elite accuracy is why he is considered one of the top passers in the state heading into the season. Miami-Ohio commit Hunter Teal is back at tight end and nearly tallied 1,000 yards last season and the perimeter will feature Wyatt Sonderman and Cameran Loyd as primary targets.
In the backfield, Makhari Bodiford is back after a 1,582 yard and 20-touchdown junior season and will be running behind a star-powered offensive line that only got better after the arrival of UGA-commit and towering offensive tackle Daniel Calhoun from Centennial. Walton is expected to have 15 Division I signees in this senior class and the defensive side of the ball is also returning a tremendous cast of playmakers and prospects. Jordan “Bam” Bride is a newcomer that will provide elite pass coverage and tackling in the Walton secondary and the linebacking corps is led by seniors Ashton Woods and Wendell Gregory, who both are physical and capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways. Gregory is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound four-star committed to South Carolina and Woods is 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and pledged to go to North Carolina.
Grayson will also have a roster filled with collegiate talent and this game will mark the head coaching debut for 28-year-old Santavious Bryant—who previously served as a coordinator at Grayson and was on Gainesville’s staff last season. At quarterback Jeff Davis is returning for his senior year and is coming off a strong junior campaign that saw him throw for 2,242 yards and 15 touchdowns. All-American senior running back Dylan Elder will star in the backfield and the receiving corps will have John Cineas and Kylan Fox at tight end. Fox is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound mismatch that will also provide the Rams with all-state playmaking at defensive end. Fox is a four-star prospect committed to the University of Central Florida and is the No. 8 rated senior athlete in the country and No. 18 overall prospect in the state. Fellow four-star Waltclaire Flynn Jr. will also be going to UCF after this season and will be lining up on the offensive line with his 6-foot-2, 305-pound frame.
Grayson’s defensive reputation has been a staple during the 100-plus victories the program has achieved in just the past decade and will star sophomore linebacker Tyler Atkinson—who proved to be one of the best linebackers in the state last year as a freshman. Atkinson finished last season with 112 total tackles and 22 tackles for loss and will be key to stopping Walton’s balanced offensive attack with his speed and pursuit. The Rams will also feature three-star Nasir Smith on the defensive line and three-star athlete Myles Wood in the secondary after he tallied 76 tackles and five pass breakups last year. Wood also can contribute as an explosive slot receiver and impact player on special teams.