Shot Caller

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL regular season is over, and the Atlanta Falcons finished 4 – 12.

Atlanta has the No. 4 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft. They fired Dan Quinn earlier in the season and they need to hire a new coach (and GM).

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates and see who the best fit is.

I’m going to say one thing before I start. I’m not a big fan of hiring coordinators for their first head coaching position. The reason is players make them look much better than what they actually are.

For instance, Brian Billick was labeled an offensive genius as the Vikings offensive coordinator. When he coached the Baltimore Ravens, they were never good on offense.

We can also say the same thing about Quinn coaching the top defense in Seattle and coming to Atlanta.

Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator in New England also before becoming a head coach.

Eric Bienemy is the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator and he’s the hottest candidate. He has the benefit of coaching Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

This is another case of the talent he coaches that makes him seem like a great play caller. If the roster stays the same there will be talent at the skill positions for the Falcons, except at running back. This might be a decent fit for both.

Josh McDaniels is back in New England in his second stint as OC from 2012 to now. He was also there from 2005-08 as the play caller. He was the head coach for Denver from 2009-10 and his record was 11 – 17.

In 2018 he was announced as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the same day he withdrew from the position to stay with the Patriots.

I think this would be a very bad fit. McDaniels coached Tom Brady, who is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. That has helped to bolster his status, but it hides the fact he’s not an elite coach. The Patriots were 27th in total offense this season after Brady left town.

Lincoln Riley is the Oklahoma head coach. He’s had that position since 2017 and he’s led the Sooners to a 45 – 8 record.

His offense is explosive and continues to have success with whoever plays quarterback.

He has coached NFL starters like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.

This season with Spencer Rattler as the signal caller they were still one of the best offenses in the country.

I think this would be the best fit because offense wins championships now.

He’s also an experienced head coach. A few years ago, college coaches had a tough time transitioning to the NFL. Now the NFL has adopted so much from college football that it is not as difficult.

We have also seen former college coaches have success in the NFL with Pete Carroll being the most successful.

Brian Daboll is the Buffalo Bills OC. Before getting hired for that position in 2018 he spent one season as the co-offensive coordinator and QB coach at Alabama.

He also served as OC for Cleveland (2009-10), Miami (2011) and Kansas City (2012).

I think this would be an average fit with the Falcons. He helped develop a young quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen has improved in each of his three seasons and he is drastically better this year.

Tampa Bay Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich is also a possible candidate.

Hopefully Atlanta can hire a good general manager and head coach. The franchise needs a turnaround badly.

Malevolent Mullen

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

“My team is on the floor.”

In a movie full of memorable quotes and scenes (Hoosiers) that line may encapsulate the integrity of Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) more than any other.

In six words he not only holds the one available substitute on his bench accountable for not following his rules, but he shows tremendous support for the four players that did.

Regardless of wins and losses the character does exactly what you want a coach to do, set a good example for the players around him.

If Hoosiers was to be remade into a football movie starring Dan Mullen the line may sound like this- “My team is on the field…except it’s not this year’s team, it’s next years…and you know I could just take them all off the field and not play, right…and by the way, what’s with the lack of a crowd, it’s interfering with my current, but yet not current players…hey, how do you like my Halloween costume?”

If adversity is supposed to expose a person’s true character this past season has shown Mullen to be a narcissistic, excuse-riddled coach, whose post game comments are more of a fit for fan base discussion boards as opposed to press conferences. (Seriously, all those jokes about the SEC only losing bowl games they’re not interested in playing, originally directed at delusional fans, can now add Mullen to their intended list of targets.)

For most of the season it seemed like the best way to handle his rants was the same way you would handle a toddler throwing a fit in the toy aisle at a Target; just let him have his moment and move on.

Of course, as any parent will attest, if you don’t stop the fits early enough, they’ll grow into a full blown tantrum, which is basically what Mullen’s post Cotton Bowl press conference amounted to.

There really isn’t any way an objective person could watch that video and justify what he said as anything other than adult tantrum.

Despite all the ridiculous and frankly disrespectful comments he made his lack of integrity was what really pushed the whole thing over the edge.

As I mentioned above, the one thing we hope a coach will do at a minimum is set a good example for their players, right? I mean, I feel like I’ve heard “shaping boys into men” a few times over my 40 years on this earth.

How did Mullen shape his players this year? I assume they learned if things get tough just throw a bunch of excuses and blame towards others and then make sure they know just how lucky they were that you at least showed up?

Coming into this season I didn’t really have strong feelings towards Mullen, one way or the other. I thought he was a good coach who up to that point seemed like a decent guy.

Obviously, my feelings are a little more pronounced than they were a few months ago.

Look, Mullen may be taking the Dabo Swinney approach by doubling down on his comments because he doesn’t care what people outside of his program’s fan base thinks of him.

However, if he does care about his reputation, and since he’s already admitted he’s moved on to the 2021 season, I know just the perfect movie he can watch to help him on his way.

Are You In Or Out?

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

You want to know what the trendiest trend is today in college football?

It’s called opting out. You can’t blame it on Covid-19 because this negative trend started a couple of years ago and it is getting out of control.

For example, The University of Georgia could be minus 8-9 starters in this week’s Peach Bowl due to opting out.

SEC East Champ Florida looked like a Gator team we had never ever seen in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma due to opting out. All of Florida’s playmakers like Kyle Pitts and company were not in Dallas.

In my opinion the only way to cure the opting out issue is to expand the College Football Playoff to 32 teams in 4 brackets.

You could have a version of March Madness where you could have a committee deciding who gets in and who is left out.

A greatly expanded playoff eliminates opt outs because you could have a five-game post season that would crown a true champion and create the incentive to participate.

It could be accomplished by doing the following:

Notre Dame joins the ACC full time in football. Is there a more self-centered football program in the country than ND?

The arrogance about being a football independent has long run its course, and the powers that be in college football need to break it down for the Irish and say join a conference or get left out. This is not the 1940’s anymore. All independents join a conference.

Eliminate all conference championship games. Yes, I know it’s a cash cow, but a 32-team playoff is the ultimate cash cow.

Have all teams play a 10-game regular season that consists of 9 conference games and one out of conference game.

Set up rotating schedules and have tie breaking formulas in effect to determine a conference champion without a championship game. Alabama would have been SEC Champ in 2020 by virtue of being the only undefeated team in conference play.

Time to evolve thinking around traditional rivalry games. You may not get a UGA/Auburn or Alabama/Tennessee game every fall. Get over it we are trying to cure the opt outs here.

All current Power Five and Group of Five conference champions get an automatic playoff bid.

After that you fill out the rest of the playoff field with At-Large teams.

Football Playoff Committee selects 4-number one seeds to sit atop 4 brackets. You could name each bracket after four influential figures in the history of college football.

Each of the four brackets consists of 8 teams. The higher seeded team would host first round and second round games to get down to the final 8 teams.

Then you use traditional bowl games (Fiesta, Cotton, Citrus, and Peach) to determine bracket champions and narrow the field down to a final four

Use the Orange and Sugar Bowls as national semifinal games annually to determine the final two teams.

The National Championship Game will be played every New Year’s Day in the Granddaddy of them all The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The Championship Playoff Committee could meet the week before Thanksgiving to set the field of 32.

Playoff would begin the Saturday after Thanksgiving with the National Championship game being played on January 1st.

Want to end the plague of opting out? I just laid out a plan on how to accomplish it.

If we had this playoff format in place today, I guarantee you Notre Dame would be the first number one seed to be eliminated.

Have a blessed 2021 everyone. I have opted out of 2020.

Hot Start

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

A season ago, Tom Crean was entering his second season as Head Coach and the Bulldogs had a future first overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft in Anthony Edwards.

Despite having such an elite talent as Edwards, the Bulldogs failed to finish the season above .500 on the year.

With Crean being able to bring in a talented group of freshmen along with Edwards, the bulldog faithful hope to see much more success without Edwards than we were able to see with him wearing the red and black.

The Bulldogs two leading scorers in Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds left for the NBA the Bulldogs after last season, leaving Tom Crean and the rest of the Bulldog coaching staff having to replace the team’s top two leading scorers for the 2019 season.

Point Guard Sahvir Wheeler (9.0 PPG and 4.5 Asst.) and Center Toumani Camara (6.6 PPG and 4.3 RPG) were the best two returning players for the Dawgs in terms of numbers and in-game experience.

In 2019, the Bulldogs were 16-16 overall and 5-13 in SEC play giving them the 13th spot out of 14 in the SEC tournament. Heading into the 2020 season Tom Crean and the Bulldogs look to improve the program that has seen much improvement since Mark Fox left in 2018.

The Bulldogs were off to a Hot 7-0 start that carried them through the non-conference without losing a game.

Although, having their best win in that span being against the Cincinnati Bearcats at home in Athens, it doesn’t discredit the Bulldogs best start since the 1982-83 season where the Bulldogs had their one and only Final Four appearance.

As conference play begins with SEC Men’s basketball, let us take a look and see what the 7-1 Bulldogs look like and what to look for moving forward.

As expected, leading the way for the Bulldogs this season is the duo consisting of Sahvir Wheeler averaging 13.7 PPG and 7.4 Asst. and Toumani Camara averaging 14.8 PPG along with 8.3 RPG so far through eight games this season.

As the Georgia Bulldogs get further into the season, they will need Wheeler to take better care of the ball as well as being able to feed the hot hand down the stretch of games.

The biggest and best change for the fans of the Georgia basketball team is that the Bulldogs currently have five players averaging double figures and the Bulldogs also rank 11th in offensive rebounding and 18th in adjusted tempo.

Although not much was expected from the Bulldogs this season, they seem to be out to prove their worth on a campus that has had its eyes on the College Football Playoff for the past four seasons.

Wheeler, Camara and company look to better their conference record from a year ago, which ended up in just five SEC wins.

After a 7-0 start for the Bulldogs, they finally gave one away at home on December 30th to the Mississippi State Bulldogs (5-3) ending Georgia’s hopes at breaking a school record for best start in program history.

Border Recruiting Wars

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The one thing that Kirby Smart and his staff at the University of Georgia can do is recruit.

The Bulldogs have been recruiting at a very high level since Kirby arrived in Athens. So, at the Early Signing Period conclusion, Georgia added 20 commitments.

This could be the fifth straight year that the Dawgs land a top three class.

The Bulldogs signed 11 players from Georgia, two players from Alabama and two from Florida.

Kirby landed four five-star players during the early period: Amarius Mims (7th rank player in the nation), Brock Vandagriff (14th rank player in the nation), Xavian Sorey (20th rank player in the nation) and Smael Mondon (29th rank player in the nation).

The Bulldogs remained strong in the trenches on offense with Amarius Mims, Micah Morris, Dylan Fairchild and Jared Wilson.

Georgia went out of state to sign three wide receivers in Adonai Mitchell (Tennessee), Jackson Meeks (Alabama) and Brock Bowers (California).

The prize recruit on offense is Brock Vandagriff. Vandagriff is a five-star quarterback from Christian School in Bogart, GA. He is the second ranked quarterback in the 2021 class and should compete for playing time as soon as he steps foot on campus.

The Dawgs hit a home run after home run on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers Xavian Sorey and Smael Mondon led the class, but players like defensive back Nyland Green, defensive end Jonathan Jefferson, defensive tackle Tyrion Ingram Dawkins and defensive back Kamari Lassiter are just a few of the players that round out an outstanding defensive class.

Fans, want to know why the Dawgs are consistently ranked in the Top 10? Recruiting!  Kirby is one of the top 3 recruiters in the country. I will give the Bulldogs an A+, because they added playmakers on defense, two of the top offensive tackles and one of the most anticipated college quarterbacks in today’s NCAA.

Speaking of, the NCAA issued a statement that the University of Florida football program was found violating recruiting rules.

The Gators were fined $5000, issued a seven day recruiting ban in the Spring of 2021, and were given a three day recruiting ban in January 2021.

How will it affect recruiting in 2021? It won’t.

The Gators landed 25 commitments for the 2021 class during the Early Signing Period.

This will be Dan Mullen’s second top 10 class. Florida signed two quarterbacks, six receivers, five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

After going eight years without a five-star player, Mullen landed his second in as many years. Jason Marshall, the number two ranked cornerback in the country signed with the Gators. Marshall will compete for playing time next season barring injury.

Marshall leads a defensive back class that is one of the best in the nation. Marshall, Cory Collier, Dovovan McMillon, Jordan Young and Dakota Mitchell add some much needed athleticism to the Gators Secondary.

Mullen signed multiple quarterbacks this cycle with four-star Carlos Del Rio-Wilson out of Cartersville, GA and three-star Jalen Kitna the (son of NFL’s John Kitna). Adding these two players the quarterback room in Gainesville is shaping up nicely.

The Gators put an emphasis on the defensive line and signed five defensive linemen: two defensive tackles Desmond Watson and Christopher Thomas, two strongside ends Tyreak Sapp and Justus Boone, and one weak side end Jeremiah (Scooby) Williams.

Florida signed three offensive linemen Yousef Mugharbill, Jake Slaughter and Austin Barbar. Look for the Gators to add a couple in February or through the transfer portal.

Overall, the Gators had a solid class, I would give them a B- but with the transfer of five-star 2020 running back Demarkcus Bowman that bumps the grade to a B+.

Recruiting is why Georgia should be the favorite to win the SEC East in 2021 and the Cocktail Party.

Georgia will have either first or second most talented team in the county entering 2021.

To quote the Head Ball Coach “Why is it that during recruiting season (the Georgia Bulldogs) sign all the great players, but when it comes time to play the game, we have all the great players? I don’t understand that. What happens to them?”

Disney Or Six Flags?

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Since John Calipari arrived in Lexington almost twelve years ago, Kentucky has dominated the SEC.

Over that period of time, in conference play, the Wildcats have won six regular season and conference tournament titles, while finishing in either first or second place in every season but one.

Kentucky has essentially been operating at the level of Disney and the rest of the SEC has been Six Flags.

Still, even when you’ve been as dominant as the Wildcats have been there is usually a season mixed in there somewhere, when other teams are able to get their shots in- last year’s UNC season comes to mind.

Could this be the year the tables are turned?

The one team that automatically comes to mind that’s in the best position is Tennessee.

The Vols are probably the league’s most completely team, with a nice mix of experience, talent, and coaching.

They have played the second toughest schedule of anyone in the SEC (Kentucky’s has been the most difficult, by far) and they have been the most impressive doing it.

The only thing I worry about, and I realize I’m contradicting myself a bit here, is I just don’t trust Rick Barnes.

Yes, I think he’s a good coach, his teams just tend to fall short when they’re the leaders. In a weird way I would actually feel better about their chances if Kentucky were playing at a higher level.

Teams like Arkansas, Missouri, Auburn, and LSU could certainly let wind up at the top of conference if Tennessee were to falter, but there are still too many questions about each for me to feel comfortable separating any one of those from the pack.

I think some of the other teams (Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M) will certainly have a shot at some upset wins, I just don’t think they’ll be able to compete for a shot at the top spot.

Florida is the one wild card in this whole thing. After witnessing Keyontae Johnson collapse on the court and then the aftermath of that event, you can’t predict how they’re going to react.

And just to be clear, these are a bunch of teenage kids who saw a teammate and friend collapse in front of them, so however they respond on the court is really inconsequential.

Of course, this topic is only relevant because Kentucky is off to their worst start in over a hundred years. An optimistic fan will argue the team has played the most difficult schedule in the country and their young players will mature and grow over the course of the season.

Everyone else will counter with the fact Kentucky still lost those games and those young players have more than likely never faced this kind adversity that is currently staring them in the face.

We should have a good idea who may be on the right path after the first few games, since Kentucky begins their conference schedule against some of the league’s weaker teams.

Even though we knew this season was going to be different for all the obvious reasons, I think most still felt like Kentucky was the team to beat and most everyone else was playing for second place.

With Kentucky’s early struggles it feels as if a number of teams have an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be the top dog.

Don’t get me wrong, going to Six Flags can be great, but it’s Disney that most everyone is after.

Soaring Down South

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Atlanta Hawks have devoted the last three seasons to growing and building their organization since parting ways with then head coach Mike Budenholzer in 2017.

However, this season looks different as the 2021 NBA regular season is underway.

Preparation for the 2021 season began early last February by making moves to bring former Houston Rockets Center Clint Capela to the city of Atlanta.

General Manager Travis Schlenk continued to work to add more talent through a lottery pick to catapult Atlanta to an NBA championship contender in the upcoming season.

This move landed names such as Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, reigning NBA champion Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn and sixth pick Onyeka Okongwu from University of Southern California, putting Atlanta in a position to be one of the eight-best teams in the Eastern conference.

Adding to the mix, the talented young superstar Trae Young, who is looking to achieve some milestones.

Young is a key component to the Hawks success this year and with his ability to showcase his talent, he is certain to receive a contract extension when his rookie contract ends in 2022.

Atlanta’s talent pool combined with the NBA’s new play-in format to get into the playoffs, Atlanta just has to be a top 10 Eastern Conference team to earn a position in a three-game series to determine the two final seeds.

Moving into the season, the Hawks strength is offense. Last season, the Hawks were fifth in the league in their offensive rating at 111.2 points per game, proving that they can score on anyone.

The Hawks entire offense, centered around Trae Young, accompanied by John Collins and Kevin Huerter, is modeled after Golden State’s offense using Young as Stephan Curry in Atlanta’s system.

With the addition of Bogdanovic and Gallinari, who are two solid role players that can put the ball in the hoop, the Hawks open up more scoring options for the team.

The Hawks offense will also be strengthened by allowing Trae Young to take on a leadership role on the floor, playing off the ball as well as allowing him to play freely within the system.

It is important to circle back around to the addition of two-time NBA Champion Rajon Rondo.

By acquiring Rondo, the Hawks balance the team with some much needed veteran leadership after the retirement of the long-time great Vince Carter.

Rondo is a great role-player. Throughout the Lakers Bubble appearance last season, Rondo averaged 8.9 points per game along with 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

The Hawks needed a key role-player that has been in the league long enough to know how to approach each day with a one-day-at-a-time mentality.

Even though there were many significant improvements made to the offense this offseason, Atlanta is sure to see struggles ahead in their already weak defense.

The additions of Bogdanovic and Galinari will provide entertainment to fans and they will put up a lot of points, but they do not provide much reprieve in the Hawks defense.

Recruiting Wars

By: Robert Craft

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

I am handing out grades to the following teams’ recruiting classes following the early Signing Period for the class of 2021.

Considering the challenges all coaches have to deal with while recruiting during the pandemic, there is plenty of praise and blame to go around for Miami, UCF and Florida State.

Recruiting has three periods: Early Signing, National Signing Day, and Transfer Portal. I’ll be looking at the Early Signing Period and Transfer Portal.

Grading any recruiting class is a subjective venture. I determine grades based on the balance of talent level that is brought in, alongside with how the class addresses needs on the roster.

Miami: The Hurricanes earned the signatures of 21 players during the first day of the Early Signing Period. When the dust settled, the Hurricanes had the 11th class in the nation and 2nd class in the ACC.

Miami put a big emphasis on locking down the best players from South Florida (15 of the 21 signees are from Miami-Dade and Broward County).

The keystones of this Hurricane class are five-star defensive tackle Leonard Taylor and safety James Williams.

Miami also flipped four-star quarterback Jake Garcia from USC. The Hurricanes still need to add a couple more offensive linemen and cornerbacks. I’m giving Miami an A-.

UCF: The Knights had 19 players sign and one transfer. The Knights rank 61st Nationally and 4th in the AAC.

UCF focused on the defensive side of the ball with 11 defensive players signing.

Anthony Hundley signed with the Knights after decommitting from LSU.  The Miami native had offers from Florida State, Michigan and Ole’ Miss.

Mikey Keene became the third quarterback to sign with the Knights since Josh Heupel took over. The Arizona native passed for 5,089 yards and 47 touchdowns during his time at Chandler High School.

Former Virginia quarterback RJ Harvey transferred to the Knights; however, he will play at running back.

UCF is a program unlike the others in this article, their recruiting budget is 1/10th that of the other schools. The Knights will add a few more pieces in February and use the Transfer Portal to fill out their class, but the grade for the Knights is C+.

Florida State: The Seminole fans hoping that the football program was going to take a dramatic, positive turn in the first year under new head coach Mike Norvell were in for a rude reality check.

The prized newcomer for the Seminoles won’t be a freshman, but rather, former UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton. If Milton is healthy, this is a talented game changer for Florida State.

This is the first class in modern day FSU history that has not included a five-star player.

In addition, the Seminoles only have one player ranked inside the top 250.

Norvell is very clearly trying to revamp the FSU defense with 10 of their 16 commits on that side of the ball.

Hunter Washington is the Seminole’s highest ranked recruit, and he is a bit undersized at 5 foot 11 and 175 pounds. Hunter Washington, Malik McClain, Shambre Jackson, Omarion Cooper, Rod Orr and Patrick Payton anchor Novell’s second class.

Florida State ranks 22nd Nationally and 4th in the ACC.

The Seminoles have a lot of work ahead of them to raise the talent level of their roster. Norvell must utilize the Transfer Portal. My grade for Florida State would be a D- but the arrival of McKenzie Milton alone raises it to a B-.

The Legend Of The Dirty Thirty

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It would be the epitome of understatement to say that the 2020 season for the Frederica Academy Knights was a surprising one.

Any season that ends in a trip to the state title game is a superlative one, no doubt.

Although the season was still somewhat up in the air due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the global pandemic was the least of Coach Brandon Derrick’s worries.

Defensive Coordinator Alex Mathis left the squad to join fellow FA coaching alum Geoff Cannon on the Brantley County Herons.

The already thin roster saw several contributors either opt out of the season or transfer to other schools, most notably the starting quarterback.

When the dust settled, the Knights would look to start the season with a meager 30 varsity players – “The Dirty Thirty” as they would come to be known.

And then, as the Knights approached their season opener versus longtime rival Valwood, COVID made its presence known. A positive test two weeks prior to the season opener required a 10-day shuttering of the program. After four days of game prep, the team headed to Hahira, GA to take on the Valiants.

After their first four quarters of the season, the Knights had given the first peek of what could be ahead in 2020 in the form of a 36-13 win.

Senior RB Kyle “Meatball” Perez put up 149 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns, while freshman soon-to-be phenom RB “The River” Jordan Triplett notched 2 more touchdowns, while piling up 167 yards.

What turned out to be the tipping point of the season came in week three, when the team traveled to Chula, GA for the first time in six years to take on Tiftarea Academy.

The Panthers mounted a 4th quarter comeback and won the game 21-18, knocking the Knights to 1-2 on the young season, but more devastating was the loss of Kyle Perez. A broken leg would cost the running back most of his senior campaign.

The injury to Perez would mean an opportunity for Jordan Triplett to shine – and shine he did. The freshman back took on the weight of the starting role impressively, and the Knights wound up going 6-1 over the rest of the regular season, with the lone loss coming to Bulloch Academy, 20-16.

That loss would be avenged a month later in the first round of the playoffs, a game the Knights won 34-27.

In that game alone, Jordan Triplett carried the ball 24 times for a gaudy 278 yards and 4 touchdowns. Payback for another regular season loss came in the second round of the playoffs.

In a low-scoring affair, Frederica punched their ticket to the state championship with a 14-7 victory over Tiftarea.

Alas, the season ended where the Knights wanted it to end, it just didn’t end how they wanted it to end. The Goliath of John Milledge Academy got some payback of their own against the David of Frederica, flipping the script from 2018 and winning the trophy, 49-0.

When all was said & done, Jordan Triplett wrapped up the season with a noteworthy 1865 rushing yards on 237 carries, racking up 22 TDs on the ground and 2091 all-purpose yards.

Triplett’s opening salvo of his high school career saw him ranked as the #1 freshman running back in the nation, and the #2 back across all classes in the state of Georgia.

Post-season superlatives for #4 include selections to the GISA All State & All Region teams, Southern Sports Edition All-Area team, and an invitation to try out for the U.S. National Team.

While the freshman was making waves on the stat sheet, his 16 teammates from the Class of 2021were making their presence known as well. DEs Will Thompson and Will Counts (otherwise known as “the Wills”) combined for 94 tackles and were both named to the GISA All-State, All-Region, and All-Star teams.

Joining them on all three squads was LB Josh Meadows, who contributed significantly on both offense (his seam route was near unstoppable all season) and on special teams (blocking two punts in one game while playing without full use of one of his arms).

Senior MLB Joshua Elliott also got the nod for All-State and All-Region recognition, and three more Knights seniors were named to the All-Region squad as well; Eli Fritchman, Jaiden Rose-Scally, and Garrett Squire.

True, there are holes to be filled on the roster, but as any team coached by Brandon Derrick shows, talent follows talent, and more importantly, heart follows heart.

The 2020 Knights had plenty of both.

High Tide

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The SEC Championship Game saw #1 Alabama (10-0) face off against #7 Florida (8-2).

These two programs played in the first SEC Championship Game in 1992. This was a matchup of two historically great programs, but it also determined the Heisman winner.

Mac Jones and Kyle Trask were the two frontrunners to win the Heisman and they did not disappoint.

This was the first real test for the Crimson Tide against a Gators team that would not quit. This is the case of the best player on the best team versus the best player in college football.

Mac Jones threw for 418 yards, five touchdowns and one interception. Najee Harris rushed for 178 yards and scored five TD’s. DeVonta Smith caught 15 receptions for 184 yards and two scores. It was enough to win a 52 – 46 shootout in Atlanta.

“Those guys are pretty phenomenal. They have been all year,” Nick Saban said. “They certainly delivered tonight when we needed them to.”

The Gators trailed 35 – 17 at halftime but they scored a couple of third quarter touchdowns and held Alabama scoreless. They scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but Bama scored 17 points.

Kyle Trask threw for 408 yards and 3 touchdowns.

“We were rolling pretty good,” said Trask. “We just ran out of time.”

Harris was the MVP of the game. He had 31 carries for 178 yards, but he also caught 5 passes for 67 receiving yards and turned three of those into scores.

“I’ve been catching the ball since birth,” he quipped. “People don’t expect it because of the running back name, but I can catch.”

Harris set an SEC championship game record with his five touchdowns, breaking the mark of four scored by Auburn’s Tre Mason in 2013. The Alabama senior also broke a couple of school records, setting new standards for career rushing TDs (44) and overall TDs (54).

Kadarius Toney led the Gators with 8 receptions for 153 yards 1 TD. Tight end Kyle Pitts had 7 catches, 129 yards and a touchdown. Florida’s leading rusher only had 2 carries for 24 yards. I think the lack of offensive balance has been a problem all season that came back to haunt them in this game.

“I thought we showed a lot of character,” coach Dan Mullen said. “That was an excellent team we played … give them credit. That’s why they’re ranked No. 1 in the country.”

This win completed an undefeated season for Alabama. They are the clear favorites going into the College Football Playoff.

“This has been a year with a lot of disruptions,” said Saban, who had his own bout with COVID-19. “The resiliency this team has shown this season to win 11 games is pretty phenomenal.”

The only team that I think is capable of beating Alabama is Clemson. The Tigers would not see them until the National Championship, assuming both teams win. They beat #2 Notre Dame 34 – 10 in the ACC Championship Game.