High school football is finally back as teams throughout Georgia kick off their seasons Friday night.
Local fans are excited about the prospects of their favorite teams. Benedictine is back looking to advance to the GHSA Class 4A championship game after reaching the semifinals last year. Calvary Day is ready to roll after a Final Four finish in Class A Private.
Savannah Christian is reloading after a run to the state quarterfinals last season, and Islands is coming off the first playoff win in school history in Class 4A.
There are a plethora of stars drawing college recruiters to the Coastal Empire, and we’ve chosen the Top 20 to keep an eye on as the 2021 season commences.
Holden Geriner, Benedictine, QB, Sr.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior is a four-star prospect who was being recruited by some of the top teams in the country.
He threw for 2,770 yards last year with 25 touchdown passes and just three interceptions as he helped lead BC to the Class 4A state semifinals.
Justin Thomas, Benedictine, Slot/DB, Sr.
Thomas has committed to UGA as a center fielder in baseball, but he is also a star on the gridiron. The Region 3-4A Player of the Year last season totaled 25 touchdowns as he combined for 1,344 yards rushing and receiving, and added five interceptions and 73 tackles on defense.
He was the Savannah Morning News Offensive Player of the Year as a junior.
George Futch, Savannah Christian, WR/DB, Sr.
Futch earned All-Greater Savannah first-team honors as a receiver last year when he had 47 catches for 797 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had an interception return for a touchdown of 101 yards and a kickoff return for a score of 98 yards.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder has offers from Chattanooga, Savannah State, Lenoir-Rhyne and Virginia University-Lynchburg.
Jalin Scott, Calvary Day, OL/DL, Jr.
Scott was an All-Greater Savannah first-team pick on the offensive line last season, and his stock continues to rise after excellent performances at some of the top camps in the offseason.
Scott set a school record in the shot put in the spring with a toss of 42 feet, 9 inches in his first season competing in the sport.
Peyton Cromwell, Savannah Christian, LB, Sr.
Cromwell has a nose for the ball, and he racked up 146 tackles, including 11 for losses, as a junior.
He was an All-Greater Savannah first-team selection and an all-state first-team pick by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Holden Sapp, Benedictine, LB, Sr.
Sapp had 102 tackles, including 16 for losses, with 14 sacks and five quarterback hurries to earn Region 3-4A Defensive Player of the Year honors.
The All-Greater Savannah first-team pick has offers from Army, Charleston Southern, Wofford, Middle Tennessee State and Lenoir-Rhyne.
He is an preseason all-state pick by the Georgia High School Football Daily.
Troy Ford Jr., Calvary Day, LB/TE, Jr.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder had 69 tackles and five sacks last year, with 11 catches for 157 yards and four scores.
He has emerged as one of the top recruits in the country with offers from Notre Dame, Auburn, South Carolina and Georgia Tech.
Ford suffered a hand injury in the first week of practice that required surgery, but is expected to be back for the season opener. He is a Recruit Georgia All-State first-team preseason pick.
Barry Kleinpeter, Savannah Country Day, QB, Sr.
Kleinpeter returns for his fourth season as a starter at SCD. He has thrown for 5,123 yards and 54 touchdowns and is ready to bolster those stellar numbers with his favorite receiver, Kenny Odom, back for his senior season.
Kleinpeter has offers that include Akron, Samford and Austin Peay.
Mike Cabellero, Windsor Forest, RB, Sr.
Cabellero combines power with breakaway speed. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,236 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he followed up with another excellent showing last year as he was named the Region 3-3A Offensive Player of the Year.
Cabellero has offers including Eastern Michigan and Fordham.
Kenny Odom, Savannah Country Day, WR/DB, Sr.
Odom, who is also a track and field star for the Hornets, had 54 receptions for 814 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He has 103 career catches for 1,785 yards with 22 touchdown receptions.
Odom has offers from Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee State, Savannah State and North Alabama.
Langston Lewis, Islands, WR/DB, Sr.
Lewis was an All-Region 3-4A first-team pick at receiver last year. He had 26 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns.
He caught the go-ahead scoring pass in a comeback win over Hardaway for the first playoff victory in school history for Islands.
Lewis is also a star centerfielder in baseball, and hopes to play both sports at Central Michigan, where he has committed to play football.
Jake Merklinger, Calvary Day, QB, So.
Merklinger became QB1 for the Cavs as a freshman and threw for 2,107 yards and 18 touchdowns — completing 65% of his throws — while adding five touchdowns rushing.
He has grown to 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, and has garnered offers from Michigan State and Cincinnati in the offseason.
Za’Quan Bryan, Benedictine, WR/DB, Jr.
Bryan had a breakout season as a sophomore with 45 catches for 710 yards and five scores. He added 292 yards rushing and another score.
He’s also a standout defensive back, with 55 tackles and a pair of passes defended last year.
Bryan has an offer from Coastal Carolina.
Keion Wallace, Effingham County, WR, Jr.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Wallace has an elite skill set to go along with his size, strength, speed and work ethic. He has offers from Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Georgia Tech.
Wallace had 10 catches for 193 yards and three touchdowns against Statesboro last year, and more big games are on the horizon.
Kam Bing, New Hampstead, OL, Sr.
Bing is a four-year starter for the Phoenix. The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder was a first-team All-Region 3-4A selection last year, and is a preseason all-state first-team pick by the Georgia High School Football Daily this season.
Ashton Jackson, Jenkins, OL, Sr.
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound senior was an All-Region 3-4A first-team pick last year. He has offers from Florida International, Savannah State and Morehouse College.
Juwan Johnson, Calvary Day, DB/WR, Sr.
Johnson shared the team lead with four interceptions last season and had 38 tackles and six passes defended.
He had 11 catches for 147 yards as a junior, and is expected to play a bigger role in the offense this year.
Johnson has offers from Army and Gardner-Webb.
Terry Simmons, Calvary Day, DL, Jr.
Simmons had 51 tackles, 12 quarterback hurries and a pair of sacks for the Cavs last year.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pounder is a preseason all-state pick by Recruit Georgia.
Elijah Griffin, Savannah Christian, DL, Fr.
At 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, Griffin isn’t your typical freshman.
He doesn’t turn 15 until October, but received his first college offer, from the University of Georgia, in September of his eighth-grade year.
Griffin is set to start on the defensive line for the Raiders.
Pauly Seeley, New Hampstead, QB, Jr.
Seeley shared time behind center last season and threw for 993 yards with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. He picked up offers from Bowling Green, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky in the offseason.
Dennis Knight covers sports for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @DennisKnightSMN