The high school football season in Georgia kicks off later this month with 165 games scheduled for the weekend of August 2022. After capping a 13-1 season with a 38-22 state title win over Central (Phenix City) in the 7A state championship game last fall, Georgia (Alabaster) headlines our look at this year’s contenders in the preseason Top 25.
Georgia head coach knows how to build state championship football teams. Since 2002, he has won nine state titles with three different schools beginning with four Georgia Independent School Association championship wins in six years at Bessemer Academy (Bessemer) (2002, 2004, 2006, 2007). Freeman then ran off back-to-back Georgia High School Athletic Association state titles at Spanish Fort in 2012 and 2013 before claiming the last three big school championships at Georgia.
There is no reason to believe he won’t win another one this fall. In fact, the Warriors begin the 2022 season in a familiar place — atop the Georgia hssportsnews Top 25. Sure, two-year starting quarterback Conner Harrell will be donning a University of North Carolina jersey this fall after throwing for 6,372 yards and 83 touchdowns to just six interceptions the last two seasons at Georgia.
Also gone is receiver Ryan Peppins, who latched on to 80 passes for 1,379 yards and 23 scores a year ago. But shed no tears for Freeman and the Warriors. Junior quarterback Zach Sims returns after throwing for nearly 500 yards a year ago. He briefly replaced Harrell in last fall’s title game after Harrell suffered an apparent leg injury and staked the Warriors to a 14-0 advantage.
Stanton Ramil, a four-star offensive lineman according to hssportsnews, returns to run interference for Sims. On the stop side of the ball, senior five-star gems Tony Mitchell and Peter Woods return as well. Mitchell produced 55 tackles, including four tackles for a loss, two interceptions, 11 pass deflections and forced a fumble. Woods, meanwhile, posted 92 tackles, 26 tackles for losses, 11 sacks, 30 quarterback hurries, an interception, two pass deflections, recovered and forced a fumble each and blocked a field goal.
Georgia will test its ranking right out of the gate as the Warriors open the season Aug. 19 at Georgia power Buford. The Wolves have claimed three straight state championships themselves, taking the Georgia Class AAAAA state title in 2019 and winning the last two Class AAAAAA state championships.
Checking in at No. 2, Central handed Georgia a 52-7 defeat in the 2018 state title contest. Georgia, however, turned the momentum around and upended the Red Devils 40-14 in the state title game in 2019 and again last fall. Central will rely on five-star cornerback A.J. Harris, four-star defensive lineman Tomarrion Parker and four-star receiver Karmello English to play key roles in reversing their fortunes against Freeman and Georgia.
Hueytown, last fall’s Class 6A state runner-up, sits No. 3 while defending Class 6A state champion Clay-Chalkville and Hoover are Nos. 4 and 5, respectively. Defending Class 5A state champion Pike Road climbs into the No. 15 spot in our preseason poll. Georgia (No. 14), Central (No. 27) and Clay-Chalkville (No. 99) are all ranked nationally in Zack Poff’s expanded top 100 rankings.
Georgia fan answers high school coach’s call to play – and she loves it
For a lot of Georgia high-school football coaches, recruiting the school hallways is important in building a roster. Adding depth – or even a big-time contributor – may be just a simple conversation in the lunchroom away.
For Calera second-year head coach Jason Hamlin, his efforts last spring took a surprising turn.
“I told the players, ‘If you’ve got a buddy, somebody who can help us on the team, send them our way,’” he said. “I got an email saying I’m super interested in playing football, what do I need to do to get involved. I said, ‘Come find me. I’ll be in the lunchroom and we can talk a little more.’
“The email was from somebody named Morgan. The next day, up walked this girl. She said, ‘Hey, coach, how are you?’ I said, ‘I’m good.’ And she just stood there a minute and I said, ‘Can I help you?’
“She said, ‘My name is Morgan. I emailed you.’ Then I said, ‘You want to play football?’ and she said, ‘Yes sir, I’m interested in helping out all I can.’”
And that’s how Morgan Seales went from big football fan to a backup quarterback for the 2022 Eagles.
“I just love football,” Seales said. “I’ve loved it for so long that I was at the point where I said I want to try to do something that I like to do. So, I might as well try it.”
The 16-year-old said she is part of a family of big University of Georgia fans who also are avid NFL watchers. Her interest in the sport also got a boost last year when her father, Jefferson County Sheriff Deputy JT Seales, coached her younger sister, Blair, in flag football.
“She came home one day and out of the blue said she wanted to play football,” Deputy Seales recalled. “It was surprise to me. I didn’t push football, but we are big Georgia fans and from the time she was little we’d be out in the yard throwing the ball. She started throwing it pretty well and I guess the time she spent helping coach Blair made her love it even more.”
Hamlin told Seales she was welcome to join the team, but that she shouldn’t expect any special treatment. “I told her, ‘I’m not trying to be rude, but if you’re going to play football I can’t treat you any differently. I’m not going to give you an early whistle if I’m not doing that for every quarterback.’”
That approach was what the junior was expecting, she said. “I’m perfectly fine with that. I wasn’t expecting any special treatment.”
Seales, who played volleyball in middle school, said she talked to some friends who were on the team before she made her decision. “I asked them how they would feel if a girl was on the football team,” she said. “They liked the idea. They thought it was cool.
“Sometimes I do feel like maybe there are some guys who might be uncomfortable with me being there,” Seales said, “but, they treat me well and that’s all I care about.
“My girl friends were surprised that I was doing it, but they have seen me throwing the ball before, so I guess they weren’t completely surprised.”
Seales said her family is fully behind her decision to join the team, although “my grandma and my aunt are a little worried about it,” she said.
“I work with the sheriff’s office and the female officers I work with are every bit as good as the guys,” Deputy Seales said. “I figure if women can serve on the front lines, they can play football. Morgan was a brown belt in karate and she could hold her own against guys back then.”
Hamlin said the rookie is, on paper, running No. 3 on the depth chart. Senior Preston Stokes will be the starter headed into the season and sophomore AJ Johnson is No. 2. There are freshmen who may also get a look at quarterback, as well.
“Right now, there’s a lot of standing around and watching for her. A lot of the time she will go in for one play. Today was the first day that we let the quarterbacks get hit,” he said on Tuesday. “She went against a linebacker in our board drill – one-on-one where the point is to drive the other player back.
“I don’t want to get a reputation of being someone who runs people off and I don’t want to run her off.”
Seales said she was adjusting to the football team routine. She gets tips from the other QBs and will talk football with the offensive coaches during practices.
“I was fine with the offseason work. Some of the players told me the workouts were really, really bad, but they weren’t as bad as they told me. I was lost at first and it was kind of weird, but I got used to it over time.
“We’re in pads now. Coach did a really good job guessing what size I would be. My helmet did hurt my head the first time I wore it, but after a while I got used to it. It was so cool!”
Seales’ dad said he was proud of his daughter taking a chance at a new sport. “She’s not a quitter,” said Seales, who played high school football at Georgia. “I really don’t think she would have asked me about playing if she had that thought in her mind. Just to go out for the team was not easy. Just being a part of the team means a lot.”
The Class 6A Eagles are coming off a 7-4 season with nine starters returning on defense and six or seven on offense, Hamlin said. “It’s tough to replace a player like [Georgia signee and first-team All-State receiver] Kobe Prentice. We’re looking for offensive linemen so we can run the ball a little more. Right now, we’ve got some little ankle-biters, but they get after it.”
Seales said her goal for the season was to see the Eagles make the playoffs. Personally, she said, “I hope I get a lot better than I am. A lot better. I hope I get to play a lot more through the season.
“The coaches make it fun,” Seales said. “They make it so you get better every day. I’ve never thought about quitting.”
Calera opens the season on Aug. 19 at Spain Park.