This is the 12th in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City. Coming Thursday: Hardaway
By DAVID MITCHELL
School: Chattahoochee County
2013 record: 2-8
Key players: Christian Matthews, C.J. Afoa
Key games: vs. Manchester, Oct. 31 and at Bowdon, Nov. 7
Outlook: After four dismal football seasons, Chattahoochee County is hoping for a renaissance.
It has brought back the coach, Josh Kemp, who was the architect of the program's early success in the first four years of its existence. During those four seasons (2006-09), the Panthers were 28-16, went to the playoffs all four years and notched program-best win totals of eight and nine in back-to-back seasons (2008-09).
Since then, Chattahoochee County has missed the playoffs every year and combined for just 11 wins in four seasons.
Welcome back, Coach.
But who's to say things will be the same this go-round? Did Kemp simply have superior talent in his previous stint, or will he be able to lead the program to the same success again? After all, none of the players on roster now were around when Kemp coached
the team previously.
If he does help the team return to contention, it won't come easy and it probably won't come right away. Despite renewed optimism, the Panthers return just three starters on either side of the ball. In the long run, that could prove helpful as Kemp won't have to battle as much with already established tendencies. He'll be able to implement his style and build with the current roster from the ground, up.
In the short run, though, there will likely be a learning curve.
A big returnee for the Panthers will be junior quarterback C.J. Afoa, who played receiver as a freshman before switching under center last season. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he has great size and athleticism. His experience and physicality could be the key to an offense that will be the driving force behind the team. Kemp's four Panthers teams averaged more than 32 points per game and scored 40 or more in 17 of 44 games.
Afoa's connection with wide receiver Christian Matthews will be a tandem to watch throughout the season. Matthews, a senior, is 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, making him a big target in the passing game. Matthews will also be a factor on defense at the safety position.
The region won't be an easy hurdle to clear for the Panthers. Heard County remains the favorite with teams like Bowdon, Bremen and Manchester trailing behind.
Chattahoochee County faces Manchester and Bowdon in its final two games of the regular season. There's a good chance it enters the first of the two contests alive for a playoff berth.
If the Panthers progress under Kemp throughout the season, they could put themselves in good position late. If they slip up along the way, though, the last two games won't be forgiving.
David Mitchell, Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports