Corky Kell Preview: Brookwood vs. Valdosta

Photo by Brookwood HS

North vs. South is what Georgia high school football is all about. The traditional powers ofSouth Georgia and metro Atlanta’s powerhouses have been battling for bragging rights for decades and, when they meet, the stage is always set high. Brookwood and Valdosta squared off for the first time in 1996 at the Corky Kell Classic. Valdosta took a 31-28 victory, but the Broncos had an answer later that season that would initiate this rivalry.

That same 1996 season, Brookwood beat Lowndes in the semifinals and earned a rematch with the Wildcats that would take place at Valdosta for the state championship. Brookwood let an early lead slip away but pulled away for the 42-24 win, stamping its first-ever state title and leaving Valdosta stunned on its home turf.

The Wildcats answered back in 1998 and knocked Brookwood out of the playoffs in the semifinals en route to their 24th state title. Eight years separated the next time the teams would meet and Brookwood was able to take a 3-2 series lead over Valdosta after a 9-7 win in 2006 and 37-6 victory in 2007.

Brookwood has played in every Corky Kell Classic and is led by Mark Crews, who will be entering his 13th year with the program. Under Crews, the Broncos have qualified for the state playoffs every year. Crews has accumulated a record of 110-40 with one state championship (2010).

Last season, Brookwood overcame an onslaught of injuries and battled to a 6-6 record. Junior Jesse Brown ran for 1,439 yards and 13 touchdowns after he had originally begun the season penciled in as a defensive back. Brown’s older brother Josh, who was the starting running back, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the season-opener and it called for the younger Brown to lead the offense. Brown can be a receiving threat out of the backfield and took 14 receptions last year for 180 yards (12.86 yards per catch).

Junior Will McCullough steps in at quarterback and has a solid corps of receivers with Ricky Sharma and Dorian Miles. Backing up McCullough is 6-foot-4 sophomore Tanner Winskie. Neither quarterback saw varsity action last year and an underclassman passer making a debut against the hungry Valdosta defense will be a test.

The Broncos’ defense will have recent Georgia State commitment Chase Middleton to rely upon. Middleton had a good season last year collecting 64 tackles and three sacks. His leadership will be needed along with the other returning starters if Crews’ boys want to make it 13 straight state playoff appearances.

The words “high school football” and “Valdosta” are synonymous in Georgia. The program has built the winningest high school team in the entire nation with an overall record of 858-215-34, and is arguably the most historic program in the country.

The Wildcats’ six national titles, 24 state titles and 35 region championships speak volumes, but statewide competition has leveled out the Wildcats’ reign the past several years. Head coach Rance Gillespie will be entering his fifth season with the team.

The former Georgia Bulldog defensive back started his tenure with the Wildcats with a bang going 11-2, but fell 22-0 to Grayson in the quarterfinals. In 2011, the Wildcats were shocked in the first round by Newnan 17-7.

The Wildcats’ backfield averaged 190 rushing yards per game last season as Nelson Herring paced the attack. With Nelson graduated, junior Tim Griffin will take a lot more carries this season. The defense will likely lead this team early and they are once again a very fast and hard-hitting group. Senior defensive backs Tre Barrett and Josh Norwood are ball-hawking playmakers that will control the secondary this season.

Julian Fraser is a productive pass rusher on the weak-side of Valdosta’s four-man front and his pressure last season earned him a trip to the Elite Junior Classic All-Star game this past December and helped Valdosta allow just 93 passing yards per game on defense. Year 5 is a promising one for Gillespie and the Wildcats, who will look to add a 25th state title to their resume.

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