Friday-night clash features explosive offenses for Buford, Hillgrove

Anthony Grant. Credit: John Amis/AJC

The Buford Wolves and the Hillgrove Hawks will clash on the gridiron at 8:30 p.m. on Friday for the schools’ first meeting to kick off the 2017 season. Buford and Hillgrove will be playing in the Corky Kell Classic for the second time in each program’s history.

The Wolves will be hungry for a victory to open their 2017 season, as their 2016 campaign ended in a 17-6 loss to Rome in the state championship. Buford enters the year with a new head coach after John Ford came over from Roswell. Ford has big shoes to fill as Buford has reached the state championship every year for the past 10 years and has won the state championship seven of those times. Head coach Jess Simpson left last December to take a job with Georgia State, but he accepted a defensive assistant position with the Atlanta Falcons several months later. In 2016, Buford was beaten to begin the season by 7A state runner up, Roswell, in the Corky Kell Classic but bounced back from the loss to win 13 games in a row before falling short in the state championship.

Hillgrove will be the first challenge Buford will face as the Hawks are two classifications above the Wolves. After facing the Hawks, Buford will have a very competitive non-region schedule facing Melbourne Central Catholic of Florida and South Pointe of South Carolina.

The Wolves had 14 players from last year’s team sign to play football at different colleges around the country, but Buford is once again stocked with talent. Offensively, senior running backs Anthony Grant, committed to Tennessee, and Christian Turner, committed to Michigan, will be able to power the ball downhill for the Wolves. Christian Turner ran for 1,100 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. Freshman phenomenon Aaron McLaughlin will take over the passing attack for Buford. The 6-foot-5 freshman will use his powerful arm to feature speedster senior wide receiver Isaiah Isaac, who has committed to play at Wake Forest. McLaughlin is widely considered to be the top player in the Class of 2021.

On defense, Buford will look to senior safeties Bryson Richardson, committed to the University of North Carolina, and Michael McMorris, who is committed to Navy, to lead the team. Richardson, at 6-foot, 180 pounds, can also play some cornerback. Outside linebacker Brock Mattison is committed to play for Appalachian State and will use his speed to rush the edge.

Hillgrove will be tested after an up-and-down 2016 season. The Hawks finished 3-2 in region play and with a 5-6 overall record. The season concluded for the Hawks in a shootout against Lowndes that ended in a 92-61 score; the total of 153 points set a Georgia high school record for a single game. Head coach Phil Ironside, who has been the head coach of the Hawks since the start of the program, will go into his 12th season with a record of 81-38 overall. The Hawks’ last region title was captured in 2014.

Senior quarterback Hunter Arters returns for another year at the helm of the Hawks offense. Arters was 162-of-276 passing last season for 2,113 yards and 20 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, and he will have many playmakers around him. Hard-nosed junior running back Trevor Smith and senior wideout Jalen Jackson are dangerous offensive weapons. Jackson had 311 receiving yards with three touchdowns last season. The most dynamic player on the Hawks is 6-foot-3, 225-pound tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo, who has a number of offers from college football programs around the nation. He recorded 49 receptions for 877 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall. Defensively, senior lock-down cornerback Cameron Wilson will complement a defensive line unit made up of senior nose guard Jalani Hayward and senior defensive tackle Jarrett Jenkins.

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