Grayson (Loganville, Ga.) won the 2011 state title, was a state semifinalist last season and won one of the toughest football regions in the country in four of the past five years, but the Rams may have taken a great leap forward with their 2016 schedule.
Grayson opens its season with IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) on Aug. 26, a televised game that’s part of the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff. Grayson also will play Deerfield Beach, Fla., Georgia state playoff teams McEachern (Powder Springs) and Archer (Lawrenceville) and another possible TV opponent in Hoover, Ala., which has won three state titles in the past four years.
It remains to be seen how Grayson will fare against that schedule, but it has already helped it attract a four-time state champion coach and elite transfers. In March, after then-head coach Mickey Conn left to join the staff at Clemson, the Rams hired Prince Avenue Christian (Athens) coach Jeff Herron, who won three state titles at Camden County (Kingsland) and one at Oconee County (Watkinsville).
“I was very happy where I was at Prince,” Herron said. “There was a part of me that missed coaching at this level. … Mickey had done a tremendous job here and it was a situation where I didn’t have to move. For my family and all the reasons I moved up here in the first place, those were still intact. Between the challenge of the schedule and the opportunity to have the numbers of kids and the talent of the kids they have here and step into a program that was already in good shape, it was kind of a no-brainer to me.”
Grayson athletic director Brian DeBerry, who along with Conn, put together the schedule, said its level of difficulty came out of necessity instead of design.
“The (Georgia High School Association) added another classification (Grayson is now in AAAAAAA),” DeBerry said. “We went from eight region games to five region games, so we had to find five non-region games. We are used to finding just two. We just had a hard time finding games in Georgia. We had to fill the schedule to 10 games and we had to broaden our spectrum and that’s kind of how it ended up. It wasn’t done by intent. Looking at it now, we will know what we’ve got and we will be tested throughout the year in non-region and region. It can do a lot of good in the long run.”
Led by quarterback Chase Brice, a Clemson commit and offensive lineman Will Taylor, a Duke commit, and three-star linebacker Aaron Brawley, Grayson already had plenty of Division I players returning. In January, three months before Herron took over, an influx of talent began to transfer in, including four players who were All-County last season.
At the start of the year, elite wide receiver/cornerback Deangelo Gibbs and four-star Breon Dixon linebacker crossed over from Peachtree Ridge (Suwanee). In recent weeks, five-star defensive back Jamyest Williams from Archer (Lawrenceville) and four-star offensive tackle Tony Gray from Central Gwinnett (Lawrenceville) have transferred there as well. Grayson begins spring workouts on Thursday.
Todd Wofford, who was Gray’s coach at Central Gwinnett, said there has been a rise in the number of transfers in Gwinnett County, one of the football hotbeds in the South. Since 2006, Gwinnett County teams have won 13 state titles.
“Last year, we lost E.J. Price (who transferred to Archer),” Wofford said. “This year, Tony never said a word. He just left. Gwinnett is one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, so there have always been guys moving in, but the transfers going from school to school in the county is new.
“Whoever the hot team is, it seems people seem to transfer there. I think it has gotten worse with social media. These kids go to a camp together and build some type of bond over two years that supersedes the bond they have with their high-school teammates.”
Boo Mitchell was an All-American wide receiver at Vanderbilt and is a longtime football coach in the county. He’s currently a wide receivers coach at Mill Creek (Hoschton) and trains many of the area’s top football players in the county at his SPAT (Sports Performance and Athletic Trainers) Atlanta facility, including several of the recent Grayson transfers. He said that the Gwinnett Football League has served in the past as a feeder program for many of the high schools and has, until recently, kept players loyal.
“The kids play in that from the sixth through the eighth grade,” Mitchell said. “You get used to those colors and you don’t want to change. A lot of people say the success that we have in Gwinnett County is because of that. I coached my son (B.J., who’s now a TV actor) at Lilburn Park, which was a feeder program for Berkmar (Lilburn). My son cried when he couldn’t go to Berkmar because neither his mother nor I lived in that cluster.”
Increasingly, however, players are apt to transfer to schools that play games with nationally televised games, he said. As Gwinnett County has become more urbanized, it has become easier for parents to move to a new school’s zone without changing jobs.
“High school football is rapidly changing,” Mitchell said. “We’re in what I call the ‘exposure era.’ Everyone wants to get that exposure and coaches are trying to get their high school to play competition from Florida or Las Vegas. Kids want to be a part of that. Their parents want them to get in games that have national exposure.”
“Some of those kids transferred in over there did so prior to coach Herron going in over there. Deangelo, Breon Dixon, and Demetrius Murray (a three-star cornerback from South Gwinnett in Snellville) had already transferred in. The kids who are heading over there now, I think coach Herron being there has a lot to do with that. Being a marquee coach, I have nothing but respect for coach Herron. … The players did kind of the LeBron and D-Wade and Chris Bosh thing. ‘Hey, let’s all go to Miami and play together.’ Everybody hears there’s a party going on at Grayson and they all want to be a part of it.”
|IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.)||Aug. 26||Grayson||7:30 p.m.||GEICO High School Football Kickoff game|
|McEachern (Powder Springs)||Sept. 2||McEachern||7:30 p.m.|
|Deerfield Beach, Fla.||Sept. 16||Grayson||7 p.m.|
|Ramsay (Birmingham, Ala.)||Sept. 23||Grayson||7:30 p.m.||Youth night|
|Rockdale (Conyers)||Sept. 30||Rockdale||7:30 p.m.||Region 8-AAAAAAA game|
|Shiloh (Snellville)||Oct. 7||Grayson||7:30 p.m.||Homecoming, Region 8-AAAAAAA game|
|Archer (Lawrenceville)||Oct. 14||Grayson||7:30 p.m.||Region 8-AAAAAAA game|
|Newton (Covington)||Oct. 21||Grayson||7:30 p.m.||Region 8-AAAAAAA game|
|Hoover, Ala.||Oct. 28||Hoover||8 p.m.|
|South Gwinnett (Snellville)||Nov. 4||South Gwinnett||7:30 p.m.||Region 8-AAAAAAA game|
|Playoffs (first round)||Nov. 11-12||TBD||TBD|
|Playoffs (second round)||Nov. 18-19||TBD||TBD|
Kickoff times and locations are subject to change.