The Corky Kell Classic has kicked off the Georgia high school football season every year since 1992, and is gearing up to stage a captivating four-day, 11-game lineup to celebrate its 31st anniversary this year. The ever-growing spotlight surrounding Georgia’s proud gridiron tradition has flourished alongside the Corky Kell Classic, which has routinely raised the bar to ensure that each new season kicks off with with the biggest and most competitive lineup of matchups. This year, eight of the 22 teams participating in the classic will be making their Corky debuts and the lineup will also introduce the first-ever private school matchup in the event’s history with Fellowship Christian and Mt. Pisgah squaring off. Tune into PeachtreeTV to watch live and access the full Corky Kell schedule below.
Saturday, Aug. 20
At Mercedes-Benz Stadium
NORTH GWINNETT vs. MCEACHERN [10 a.m.]
The first of the blockbuster four-game schedule between Class 7A programs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Aug. 20 features two storied teams looking to build upon lessons learned last season. Last year, both programs advanced to the second round of the Class 7A playoffs but lost in that round, McEachern to Mill Creek (52-30) and North Gwinnett to Brookwood (17-14).
North Gwinnett enters the game as a defensive stalwart, but with offensive obstacles to overcome.
“Our strong point is our defensive front seven and linebackers,” head coach Bill Stewart said. “Linebacker Grant Godfrey just committed to Kentucky yesterday. Tyler Walton committed to Wake Forest, he’s a defensive end. Kayden McDonald, we are still waiting to see who he commits to, but he is the bigger of all three. Jaden Brock, a defensive end and a junior, he got offered by Vanderbilt after the Spring game. So that’s a good group on the front seven. So that will likely be our strong point.”
Godfrey, a four-star recruit listed by 247Sports, is 6-foot-3 and 215-pounds and finished his junior campaign with 52 solo tackles, 16 assisted tackles and 10 tackles for loss with six sacks and one interception.
On the offensive side, North Gwinnett will feature a trial by fire for its newly-minted starting sophomore quarterback.
In the Spring, returning senior quarterback Ethan Washington tore his ACL and will not play during his senior campaign, leaving sophomore Ryan Hall to garner the quarterback duties. Last season, Washington was 147-of-287 passing for 1,620 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing 112 times for 496 yards and five touchdowns.
“Hall is a good player,” said North Gwinnett head coach Bill Stewart. “But he is a sophomore. We spent time this summer in 7-on-7s to help get him familiar with starting.”
The Bulldogs receiving corps, as well as the backfield, will have an ‘it takes a village’ flavor to it according to Stewart, but returning pieces of the puzzle do add depth.
“Marek Briley will be coming off an ACL injury and returns,” Steward said. “He tore his ACL in game six and I think he is a Division 1 player. He will be a great addition to have back. Kenan Holmes is a wideout who can run a 4.4 and definitely is a guy who we will get the ball in his hands. The others will be a committee of guys in the position.”
McEachern will search for experience at the quarterback spot entering the first game of the season as junior Jaydon Kinney takes over for a trial by fire on the largest stage in the state. The protection of their new starting quarterback is paramount for the Indians and the offensive line, which was young and inexperienced two years ago, is ready.
“We actually feel pretty good about our front,” Stephens said. “They were a bunch of babies two seasons ago playing as freshmen and sophomores. After the trial by fire and two years later, they’ve kind of grown up to look how you want them to look and they’re strong and mature and have played a lot of snaps over the last two years so we need those guys to step up and be very good for us.
On the defensive side, seniors Lance Watkins and Kameron Neal will help anchor the McEachern defensive line with other players rotating in. In the linebackers spot, Jackson State-commit Jace Ward returns alongside Andrew Ruffin and Matthew Draper.
“Our secondary is a lot like the quarterback position,” Stephens said. “That’s where we might be a little inexperienced. The secondary will have a lot of new faces. We like to think of ourselves as a five-man secondary and we lost four of five last year.”
Cornerback Danny James returns and will feature alongside Manny Gomez, Christian Lynn, Jacobi Fox and Shamar Hall.
Returning to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Stephens is a blessing and he knows the type of stage provided by the Corky Kell is unparalleled in high school football. One big game on a big stage can change a player’s recruiting profile even before the game ends
“Last year, I think Kaleb Webb put himself on the map at the Corky Kell,” Stephens said of his former four-star recruit who is at Tennessee now. “It was his coming out party and if you are not on the map and want to get on the map, the Kell is a huge opportunity.”
BROOKWOOD VS. NORCROSS [1 p.m.]
When Brookwood and Norcross meet in the second game of the day in the Corky Kell Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, you can expect a playoff-like atmosphere with historic implications. The teams have met 18 times and split the series, which dates to 1982, 9-9. Norcross has won the previous two meetings – 27-22 in 2019 and 24-14 in 2018. Many eyes will be on Brookwood quarterback Dylan Lonergan, the Broncos’ best signal caller in history and one of the best quarterbacks in the nation..
“We haven’t played the last two seasons because we were not in regions,” said Norcross head coach Keith Maloof. “But I know he is a huge talent, big arm, very heavy. You don’t get recruited like he has been recruited, Nick Saban doesn’t just come and offer anyone to play at that level. I think this is a great way to start the year playing against one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.”
Lonergan is a consensus Top-10 quarterback nationally and led the Broncos to a 10-3 record and advanced Brookwood to the quarterfinals before losing to Walton 52-35 in 2021. During his junior campaign, Lonergan was 234-of-371 passing for 3,392 yards and 32 touchdowns with 90 carries for 645 yards and seven touchdowns. For his career, Lonergan has passed for 6,239 yards and 57 touchdowns.
“He is special,” said Brookwood head coach Philip Jones. “He is the full package. It starts with his work ethic. He is a tireless worker. He is a team-first kind of guy. The accolades, scholarship offers and the awards don’t really affect him much. He is thankful for them, but he is really a team-first guy and loves to compete.”
But one intangible Jones points out is the mental aspect of Lonergan’s approach and his unseen abilities.
“It all starts with his football I.Q.,” Jones said. “He has a 3.95 in the classroom and is just as football smart, if not even more. He has just such a natural understanding of what he is doing out there. Now he is not really a dual-threat, but he can make you pay with his legs at any time. His game kind of reminds me of Andrew Luck. Nobody really thought of him as a running quarterback but when he had to run, he was a great athlete and strong and could make you pay.”
Entering the season, Lonergan’s targets will be a committee of sorts with one returning starter, Bryce Dopson.
“Dopson will play one of our outside receiver spots,” Jones said. “He is one of the fastest kids in the state in track. He has proved invaluable for us in camps and with his experience. We lost our two primary targets from last season, Stone Bonner and Alexander Diggs. We have Cozze Meyer, Noah Holton and Miles Massengale in the slot and Lee Niles. We also flare the backs a bit so we will run the running back in the slot kind of like we did with Diggs last season.”
Across the field, Norcross is preparing. The team is reloading, rebuilding and fueled by a sour taste in their mouths from a season cut short in the playoffs.
“We have our returning starter in AJ Watkins who won the job last year and never looked back,” Maloof said.
During his sophomore campaign last season, Watkins was 47-for-88 passing for 675 yards and 10 touchdowns with 95 carries for 536 yards and six touchdowns.
Protecting Watkins is an offensive line with five returning starters.
“We feel good about where we are offensively,” Maloof said. “The offensive line has five guys back from a team that should have played in the quarterfinals last season. Those front guys have bonded together and gotten better.”
“Watkins has great people he is throwing to,” Maloof said.
Four-star UGA-commit Lawson Luckie is a 6-foot-3, 225-pound tight end who made 33 catches for 358 yards and three touchdowns during his junior season. Wide receiver Nakai Poole, a Mississippi State-commit, is another Division-1 prospect at the ready. Another target for Watkins is Parkview transfer and Georgia Tech-commit Zion Taylor, who made 48 catches for 700 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
On defense, Norcross has returning talent ready to attempt to thwart a Lonergan show.
“The guys that make our defense are defensive tackle ShaKwan McKnight,” Maloof said. “Defensive end John Woods and the guy who really anchors the defense is linebacker Jonathan Mathis. Behind them, safety Devin Hunter and Antonio Molder are ready.”
MILL CREEK vs. WALTON [4 p.m.]
In the third game of the day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Walton Raiders will face the Mill Creek Hawks on Aug. 20 at 4:00 pm. Both losing to Milton the year prior in the semi and quarterfinals, respectively, the two Corky Kell mainstays are looking to start the 2022 season off with a win in Atlanta.
Going into his fourth year as head coach for Mill Creek, Josh Lovelady feels prepared to repeat another successful season. The Hawks finished last season 11-2 (3-1 in region play) with a total of 60 touchdowns averaging 36.5 points per game. With a relatively young team from last year, most of the team is set to return, but the loss of the team leader in tackles linebacker Zach Jollay, All-State kicker Trace Butcher, and 1,000 yard rusher Donovan Journey, these will be areas in need of replacing. Lovelady has said that the seniors from the defensive line will also be very missed, because of their ‘grind, fast and physical play.’ Despite these losses, the Hawks will have two of the three All-State players from last year returning for their senior season. Linebacker Jamal Anderson is committed to Clemson and the state’s highest rated senior prospect, safety Caleb Downs, committed to Alabama on July 27.
Downs hauled in five interceptions this past season and returned two of them for touchdowns. Lovelady is also thrilled to have starting quarterback Hayden Clark returning after he threw for 2,065 yards and 19 touchdowns his junior year. His favorite target from last year Brendan Jenkins, who caught 31 balls for 525 yards and eight touchdowns. Clark knows how to use his tools effectively and is a strong leader who will act as a mentor to rising sophomore Shane Throgmartin. Throgmartin will likely take the starting role next year once Clark graduates, which makes this the year to soak up his brain with tips from the highly regarded quarterback for the future of Mill Creek football. As Mill Creek is working on replacing guys on the offensive lineman, junior Aiden Banfield and senior Cooper Bothwell will continue to do their job and protect Clark.
Led by head coach Daniel Brunner, Walton finished last season with a 9-4 record (3-2 in region play). Brunner is heading into his sixth season with the team and has compiled a 42-19 record over that span. The Raiders ended their 2021 season scoring 61 touchdowns and averaged 34.6 per game. Walton had three guys make All-State and all three have since graduated. Offensive tackle Carson Henry is a 6-foot-6 South Carolina signee and cornerback Marcus Allen is a 6-foot-2 North Carolina signee. Allen had 59 tackles and two interceptions as well as having twelve receptions for 343 yards and a team leading six touchdowns on the offensive side of the ball. The resilience and leadership is what is going to be missed most said Brunner.
After a tough loss to Marietta last year, the boys didn’t flinch and continued to dominate and make their way into the playoffs. Last season, the quarterback spot was split between senior Zac Rozsman and sophomore Jeremy Hecklinski, but with Rozsman gone, Hecklinski will take over under center and is hoping to break some records as he gets the majority of reps. Rozsman threw for 1,125 yards and ten touchdowns while Hecklinski had 1,471 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as running for a combined seven touchdowns between the two. Hecklinski’s great arm and mobility led him to a great 7-on-7 circuit and the same is expected during the 2022 season. Walton has a deep receiving corps and is expected to distribute the ball to a variety of contributors. On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker and captain Ashton Woods will be an X factor for the defense’s success. As a sophomore, he led the team in tackles with 93 to go along with two sacks and three interceptions. Coach Brunner has loved the growth in the players so far in off season workouts and stated they are still, “not quite where they want to be now” as they prepare for another grueling season in Georgia’s top classification.
Walton has got a new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinator—a product of the program’s recent success and this offseason’s flood of job openings statewide–but is not planning on changing the ingredients that have established the historic success enjoyed in Raider Valley. At this time, Brunner says he is only focusing on winning game one in the opener against Mill Creek.
GRAYSON VS. MARIETTA [7 p.m.]
The Marietta Blue Devils and Grayson Rams will go head to head at 7:00 pm at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 20 in the grand finale of the 31st annual Corky Kell Classic. After an evenly matched scrimmage between the two teams last year, there are real bragging rights on the line this time in their televised showdown.
Marietta’s head coach Richard Morgan is entering his seventh season after leading his team to a 7-5 record (3-2 in region play). Morgan is looking to improve upon last season’s performance by putting their very best on the field at all times he says. Anything is possible for Marietta with Morgan at head coach as he has shown he has brought confidence and an aggressive style of play that helped lift Blue Devils to a state championship in 2019.
Three out of the twenty-six graduating seniors who acted as leaders both on and off the field were named All-State honorable mentions. Quarterback Tyler Hughes had a career year putting up 3,368 yards in the air as well 610 yards on the ground with a combined 48 touchdowns. Hughes found his favorite target and Indiana University commit Kamryn Perry 65 times for 1,152 yards and 19 touchdowns. Lastly, on the opposite side of the ball, linebacker Carlos Cervantes served as the anchor of the defense as he led the team in tackles with 152 as well as being second in sacks getting to the quarterback six times.
Before Marietta kickoffs their season, coach Morgan was tasked with a tough decision at the quarterback position as he has two transfers getting reps during the offseason to take Hughes spot. During his junior year at Mount Paran Christian, Daniel Gray threw for 558 yards with six touchdowns. Gray’s new teammate and competition for the starting spot, Chase McCravy threw for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns during his sophomore season at Hillgrove. Whoever earns the starting spot shouldn’t have trouble getting into the groove as they will have a wide open and talented target in Christian Mathis. Coming off his junior year catching 54 balls for 911 yards and 11 touchdowns, Mathis is expected to be All-State as a senior and will have the same role as Perry last year as the primary receiver.
Marietta is only returning seven starters, but Morgan has decided to focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses in the squad. With Marietta bringing back two division one commit cornerbacks, the secondary will be the focal point of the defense. Their offensive line will also be a cornerstone of the team’s success. Morgan has stated that this year’s senior class is no different than the other ones in the program’s history.
On the opposite sideline, Grayson head coach Adam Carter will lead his boys who finished last season 10-4 (3-1 in region play). Carter has had an impressive 35-6 start with Grayson winning the state championship in 2020 with a perfect 14-0 record. Last season, the team got in the end zone 40 times and averaged 21.1 points per game. Grayson is in the same boat as their opponent Marietta, in that they also have a quarterback battle happening on their practice field. Reps last year were for the most part split between Rayne Fry and Joseph Stone Jr. but coach Carter has announced that this season Stone will be stepping away from under center. He is set to focus on being an offensive skill player as he had a total 789 yards and nine touchdowns as a back and receiver. This season, Fry will continue to throw the pigskin, but will either have to win the starting spot or share time again with transfer Jeff Davis from Warner Robins.
Mumu Bin-Wahad is a defensive back and West Virginia commit who had 40 tackles and a team best three interceptions. On the defensive side with Bin-Wahad, linebacker and Tennessee commit Jalen Smith will return for his senior season with Grayson. In 2021, he led the team in tackles with 173 and in sacks with ten. Smith won’t be alone out there on defense as teammate and LSU commit Michael Daugherty is also returning for his senior season as a safety. Last year, Daugherty recorded 91 tackles and four sacks. Carter has been satisfied with offseason workouts putting in his boys through seven on seven play and a padded camp in June. According to Carter, although this year’s senior class is a great group of guys who are talented and leaders, the class of 2024 and 2025 have been getting more attention from colleges.
2022 Corky Kell Classic Schedule
August 17 at Johns Creek
5:30 p.m. Kell vs. Cherokee Bluff
8:30 p.m. Johns Creek vs. Parkview
August 18 at West Forsyth
5:30 p.m. North Atlanta vs. North Forsyth
8:30 p.m. West Forsyth vs. Archer
August 19 at Rome
2:30 p.m. Fellowship Christian vs. Mt. Pisgah
5:30 p.m. Cass vs. Kennesaw Mountain
8:30 p.m. Rome vs. Creekside
August 20 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium
10 a.m. McEachern vs. North Gwinnett
1 p.m. Brookwood vs. Norcross
4 p.m. Walton vs. Mill Creek
7 p.m. Marietta vs. Grayson