Washington County didn’t end 2013 No. 1, but it is starting there this season.
The trick is to not fall off the perch.
The Golden Hawks were one win away from winning the Class AAA state title in 2013, falling to Buford 35-19 in the championship game. Washington County led 13-0 but ultimately fell to a Wolves program that won its ninth state crown going back to 2001 but is now in Class AAAA.
Dynamic receiver D.J. Sanders and running back Melvin Hill are gone from a proficient offense, but quarterback A.J. Gray isn’t.
The Georgia Tech commit had more than 3,000 offensive yards as a junior and also intercepted five passes as a defensive back as a primer to what could be another All-State season.
Gray helped Washington County lap most of its foes. The 13 wins were the best single-season total since the Golden Hawks put up consecutive 15-0, state-title winning years in a row in 1996 and 1997. They also scored at least 40 points 10 times. In those other four games, Washington County still averaged 32.5 points per game.
Not that Gray and his passing and rushing abilities are the only reasons for optimism in Sandersville, Ga.
“The coaches coach us up and we’re always prepared,” Gray said.
Lineman and Georgia Southern commit Logan Hunt should be one of the area’s best players as well. Linebacker Will Coneway was second team all-area as a junior and shouldn’t have trouble cruising past 100 tackles again.
Washington County, with its three state championships and strong history, has always been about more than one star player.
But having Gray as the quarterback certainly doesn’t hurt.
“You can’t put a price figure on it,” said coach Joel Ingram, who is 71-24-1 in eight seasons as head coach. “His overall demeanor, it’s one thing when you have someone with that skill set who does the things that he does. It’s another thing to have somebody that has great character and composure under pressure.”