Two of Gwinnett County's perennial powers meet at the MetroPCS Corky Kell Classic after both programs failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. Last season was the first time in Coach Bob Sphire's 10 years at North Gwinnett that the Bulldogs failed to register a winning record (5-5). Coach Philip Jones finished 4-6 in his first year at the helm of Brookwood, a two-win increase from Mark Crews' final year.
From Pups to Dogs
North Gwinnett went through the growing pains of starting an inexperienced sophomore quarterback, even though the Bulldogs flaunted four-star wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe (USC) and three-star running back Kameron Pickett (Buffalo). Cade Fortin stepped in to replace John Urzua under center, the current Middle Tennessee State passer that threw for 3,142 yards and 34 touchdowns his senior season in 2014 and setting the Corky Kell Classic record for touchdown passes in a game with seven.
With big shoes to fill, Fortin battled in the competitive Region 7-AAAAAA. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback threw for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns, but struggled with accuracy at times, tossing eight interceptions and completing just 51 percent of his passes. Now entering his junior season, Fortin has ramped up his play and could be in-line for a breakout season. He committed to Texas A&M earlier this week.
Behind Fortin will be senior running back Ryan Lovelace who came on strong down the stretch last year. He rushed for over 450 yards with his best game coming in the Bulldogs season finale against Mountain View, chewing up 137 yards on the ground while tagging on a touchdown.
Sliding in to become a top target outside in the passing game for a young and inexperienced receiving corps is Ricky Reed. Reed, a senior, is projected to start after spending last year at Norcross. Joining him outside is sophomore Javonni Cunningham who saw glimpses of varsity action with the Bulldogs as a freshman.
North Gwinnett struggled to score last year, averaging 22 points, but the Bulldogs did have a respectable defense that allowed 28 points per game. Senior linebacker Brian Eberhardt returns after collecting 86 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. The strength of Coach Sphire's defense comes in the trenches as four-star defensive end Drew Jordan causes havoc. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, the Duke-commit made 45 tackles, six tackles for loss and picked up four sacks last year. Dixon Yellott holds interest from ACC schools and can play both on the edge and linebacker. He comes off a junior season in which he had 49 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks.
Brookwood had many of the same issues North Gwinnett suffered last year. A sputtering offense thanks to inexperience (20.5 ppg) and a defense that played well considering the amount of pressure put on them (29.2 ppg).
The Broncos have a trump card on defense in 6-foot-4 linebacker Leonard Warner. The four-star linebacker is one of the best uncommitted players in the southeast as he combines his physical play (220 pounds) with his ability to cover the entire field (4.66 40-time). Warner has attended The Opening, is an Army All-American nominee and an All-County selection. He tallied 110 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and had 17 quarterback hurries last year.
Next to Warner is senior linebacker Guillermo Luna. He picked up a team-high 135 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and three sacks. Cantorian Weems locks down the outside as a senior corner that recorded 68 tackles a year ago.
Junior quarterback Angelo DiSpigna will be asked to move the ball on offense after throwing for 1,121 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore while splitting time with Tanner Winskie. DiSpigna should get the nod full-time now, but will be without running back Jesse Brown (Northwestern) and top wide receiver Dorian Miles (Kennesaw State).
Matthew Hill enters his junior season as a versatile piece on both offense and defense. He will suit up at strong safety and wide receiver, where he totaled 25 receptions for 271 yards. Hill was an All-County kick returner after he averaged 23.9 yards per return and brought a 92-yard return back for a score.