Corky Kell Preview: Norcross vs.Valdosta

Photo By Sonny Kennedy

Two storied programs, Norcross and Valdosta, are squaring off for the first time in school history Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Last year in the Corky Kell Classic, the Blue Devils escaped with a 32-29 win against Tucker in overtime after a botched handoff in the backfield. Since-graduated quarterback Griffin Barker led Norcross with 272 yards through the air and two touchdowns in the victory. Current Vanderbilt wide receiver Jared Pinkney hauled in seven catches for 113 yards and a score.

Just two years removed from winning back-to-back Class AAAAAA state championships, the Blue Devils were bounced out of the state playoffs in the first-round by a tough Archer team in 2014. Under the guidance of long-time coach Keith Maloof, the Blue Devils will be looking to regain their championship form in 2015. In a region that features perennial powerhouses Mill Creek, North Gwinnett and Peachtree Ridge, the road to the state playoffs will certainly not be a cake walk for the Norcross.

On offense, several key departures will open the door for some new faces to make an impact this fall. At the skill positions losing Barker and his favorite weapon at wide out with Pinkney is tough. Also gone is D’Andre Plantin, who anchored the offensive line last year. He will be playing for Virginia Tech this fall, which will require a new leader on the offensive line to step up. The Blue Devils rushed for nearly 200 yards per game last season. The return of senior running back Jamir Billings provides a reliable ball carrier for the offensive unit. Billings ran for 43 yards and a touchdown while adding 84 yards on five catches in last year’s Corky Kell. Juniors Max Tracey and Baron Radcliff have battled for the starting quarterback position throughout the summer. Maloof noted that they are both talented kids and the decision will be made based on “who manages and leads the best.” The running game is always a strength for Norcross and with a relatively inexperienced quarterback, they will certainly lean on the ground attack.

Defensively, two senior defensive backs in Kendrec Grady and Jarett Cole will anchor the Blue Devils, both of whom are ranked as three-star recruits by  Cole committed to Georgia Tech on July 30th. Junior linebacker Robert Beal, a four-star recruit according to Rivals, will be asked to make plays in the middle of the field. Coach Maloof gave high praise to Beal calling him “the next Lorenzo Carter”, who is a standout linebacker for the Georgia Bulldogs. “Defense wins championships,” said Maloof. Based off Norcross’ recent success, you can’t argue with his model and the Devils certainly have the talent on that side of the ball to compete at the highest level.


Valdosta re-entered the elite upper atmosphere of Class AAAAAA last season, while battling through Region 1 with a 9-1 regular season finish. The Wildcats’ success was cut short, however, as giant-slayer Newton upset Valdosta with a 27-14 victory in the first-round. Jacob McMillan and Seth Shuman split reps at quarterback last season and they provide head coach Rance Gillespie with valuable leadership and experience this upcoming season.

Defensively, Valdosta had arguably the top secondary in the state last season. The defense allowed just 20 combined points and posted four shutouts in Valdosta’s first six games. Spearheading the defense was lock-down cornerback Joshua Norwood. The hard-hitting ball-hawk signed with Ohio State and his aggressive and instinctive prowess on the football field will likely project at the next level as well.

Two of the four starters are back in the secondary this season. With cornerbacks capable of shutting down the deep ball, this is not a team offenses want to be in a third and long against. Antwon Kincade and Rashay March are the leaders returning to the secondary and Gillespie describes the duo as “the pace-setters of the defense.”  Two guys up front that will play a similar role of pace-setters are tackle Tyrese Doe and Devonnsha Maxwell. Maxwell has the versatility to play at end or in the interior and both players saw significant time as sophomores last season. The Wildcats are seeking the program’s 25th state championship this season, and their first since 1998.

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