As the 2002 season approached, the answer # to the detriment of both investors and the other county schools alike # was #it might be a while.#
Local writers and followers of prep football are already on-record predicting that the 2002 Parkview Panthers may be even stronger than the 2000 and 2001 versions that have won back-to-back state championships and 30 consecutive games to date. Even with the graduation of Jeff Francouer # widely acknowledged as the greatest high school athlete in county history # the Panthers return considerable strength on both sides of the ball. Parkview#s current 30-game winning streak is the longest in county history.
South Gwinnett and Norcross both gave the Panthers a scare in 2001 and should be strong again in 2002. Perennial contenders Brookwood, Dacula and Collins Hill will also fight for the four playoff spots awarded to the Gwinnett region in Class AAAAA.
Dacula, Brookwood and Parkview again kick off the season in the Georgia Dome Saturday August 31 in the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic. Those three Gwinnett schools easily won their opening-weekend Kickoff Classic games in 2001.
Elsewhere, Buford will defend its 2001 Class A state championship and undefeated season while Greater Atlanta Christian School is picked to contend for a Class AA state championship. GACS returns Micah Andrews and Jeremy Chupp # both standouts from last season.
Grayson High is expected to compete well in its first region schedule after playing winning football in its warm-up season last fall. Also, Central Gwinnett is moving back up to the highest classification after playing in AAAA for several years. Central#s football fortunes never recovered after the emergence of Collins Hill in the late 90#s.
Finally, for the first time since the mid 80#s, a new head coach will walk the sidelines at Brookwood. Longtime assistant coach Mark Crews takes over for Dave Hunter who stepped down last winter, citing health reasons. For only the second time in nearly 15 years, Brookwood missed out on the playoffs in 2001, scrambling in the last two games to salvage a 5-5 mark. North Gwinnett, Collins Hill, Dacula and Norcross all earned first-ever wins against the Broncos.
While county quarterbacks will no longer fear Francouer in the defensive secondary, minor-league league pitchers certainly will. Francouer signed for $2.2 million in June after becoming the Atlanta Braves# first-round draft choice in the 2002 major league draft. He reported immediately to Danville, Va. to play centerfield for the Braves advanced rookie league farm team. In the process, the Braves insisted that Francouer forgo # at least while he plays baseball # his football scholarship with Clemson which would have begun this fall.
Francouer#s county rival and friend Brian McCann was the 64th selection in the major league draft and also was selected by the Braves. McCann, a highly-regarded catcher at Duluth High, signed for $750,000 and reported to Orlando, Fl to begin his minor-league career.
(Jeff Batten owns Batten Communications, Inc., which produces the #Gwinnett Prep Rally#, #Prep Rally Plus#, #N Zone Friday Night Scoreboard Show# and the #Fox 5 High School Sports Show#. See gwinnettpreprally.com for more information.)