Are you ready for some football?

Sandy Creek hoisted the championship trophy last year. Photo/John Munford.

Looking at the 2013 football schedules for local teams in the Georgia High School Association, perhaps the most interesting aspect is the fact that they will play plenty of games against each other.

The seven teams covered by The Citizen this season will play in three regions. Since the bulk of any team’s schedule is region opponents, this makes for plenty of rivalry games in which the visiting team does not have to leave the county.

McIntosh, Starr’s Mill and Whitewater are all in Region 4-AAAAA (Div. B) and will face each other during the regular season.

The Whitewater Wildcats compiled a 9-1 record in the 2012 regular season. The lone loss came against the Coffee Trojans, a Region 1-AAAAAA team from south Georgia that was also Whitewater’s first opponent this season (see story in today’s sports section).

Whitewater won the region last year and reached the state semifinals before losing 28-14 to eventual state champion Gainesville, so head coach Amos McCreary knows his squad won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year.

“Whenever you have a team like that you lose players,” said McCreary. “We did, but we have some good ones coming back.”

Quarterback Jay Ashley, who started last year as a sophomore, leads the offense, while other returning starters include tailback Christian Wafford, left tackle Dylan Crozier and left guard Coey Gates.

Defensively, Colton Clemons is a four-year starter at linebacker and McCreary expects him to be one of the players to watch in the region this year. Russell Welch and Josh Alexander are also back at linebacker, as is Kyle Dugger at cornerback.

McCreary has been the head coach since the school opened, and the Wildcats made the first of several trips to the playoffs in 2006, the first year the school had a senior class.

The McIntosh Chiefs emerged last season with a 5-5 record. Six offensive starters and five defensive starters from that team are back.

“We’re looking to improve on last year’s record. Our goal is to make the state playoffs,” said head coach Lee Belknap. “We have a good nucleus to build around.”

Quarterback Andrew Johnson and wide receiver Trey Walters are among the players to watch as the Chiefs run their spread option, while linebacker Jake Carney leads the 4-2-5 defense.

In addition to county rivals Whitewater and Starr’s Mill, the Chiefs also have key late-season games against Creekside and Northgate, both of whom have had playoff success in recent years.

The Starr’s Mill Panthers, under fourth-year head coach Chad Phillips, are looking to improve on a 2012 campaign that saw the team beset with some tough injuries and finish with a 3-7 record.

About eight seniors started on both sides of the ball last year, according to Phillips, and all of the offensive skill position starters are returning. The offensive line will have a new look, with changes at every position except center, and on defense the entire secondary has been replaced due to graduation.

One key starter hasn’t been seen in a game since 2011. John Smith rushed for more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore but broke his leg just before the start of last season and missed all of it. To add to the injury woes, receiver Ryan Peurifoy broke his fibula a week before the first game and came back to play only the final game of the season, where he caught a touchdown pass.

Peurifoy has moved on to Georgia Tech on a baseball scholarship, but Smith is back and ready to go. He will line up behind quarterback Kyle Moseley along with sophomore running back Dion Munerlyn, who had to play a lot last year due to Smith’s injury and will be counted on for a big season in 2013.

Defensively, the Panthers should see contributions from senior linebacker Luke Ossanna as well as a couple of defensive linemen – state wrestling champion Alex Ashley and 300-pound Jacory Brooks.

As for the schedule, there is little breathing room. In addition to the expected tough competition in Region 4-AAAAA (including last year’s state semifinalist Whitewater only a few miles up the road), the Panthers start their season on the road this Friday against AAAAAA power North Cobb, and their only other non-region game is two weeks later at West Forsyth, another top AAAAAA team.

“The schedule is brutal,” said Phillips. “There is no margin for error.”

The Sandy Creek Patriots, in Region 5-AAAA, won the state title in 2012 with a perfect 15-0 record. Outscoring opponents 201-43 during a five-game playoff run that included two shutouts, Sandy Creek closed out the year with a 45-10 blowout win over Ridgeland in the state championship game at the Georgia Dome. The Patriots scored 30 or more points in all 15 games.

Sandy Creek will be gunning for its fourth state championship in five years, having won the AAA crown in 2009 and 2010. The Patriots’ record since 2008 is 67-3.

Due to a late schedule change, they will open the season tomorrow night at home against Plant High School of Tampa, which has won four state championships in Florida since 2006. The game is the second half of a doubleheader, as the first game will pit Banneker – Sandy Creek’s original first-week opponent – against a team from Maryland.

The Fayette County Tigers, also in Region 5-AAAA, were 2-8 overall in 2012 and 2-5 in region play. This year the Tigers will face Starr’s Mill and Whitewater in addition to region rival Sandy Creek.

Interestingly, the only county team they will not face is McIntosh, their longtime rival dating back to when they were the only two schools in the county.

The Landmark War Eagles are excited to get rolling in 2013, coming off two straight trips to the state semifinals, including a date in the 2011 championship game. They opened the season last weekend (see story in today’s sports section) and will play in Region 5-A.

“We lost a good number of graduating seniors that heavily contributed to our success the last couple of seasons, but we are blessed to have quality upper-class leadership returning along with freshman and sophomore classes filled with the type of young men our program is built upon,” said assistant coach Durand Rice.

Leading the defense will be linebacker William Higbie, a four-year starter and preseason Class A all-state selection. He has been the team’s leading tackler in each of the past three seasons.

The defensive line will be paced by junior Will Yancey, a college prospect who has worked extremely hard to fight back from an injury that cut his season short last year. The secondary will be directed by senior Nolan Bryant, who has started at just about every skill position available on both offense and defense during his career at Landmark.

On the offensive side of the ball, sophomore Stockton McGuire will return for his second season as the starting quarterback and look to on the solid numbers he helped the War Eagles put up last season. Also in the backfield is senior running back Darius Smith, who won a state championship last spring in the 4x400-meter relay and placed third in the USATF National Junior Olympics in the 400-meter hurdles.

Senior center Michael Johnson is leading a young but “very tough and smart” group of offensive linemen, according to Rice.

The Our Lady of Mercy Bobcats compiled a 6-5 overall record in 2012 and tied for fourth in Region 5-A with a 3-3 mark. The Bobcats, who lost 30-27 to Landmark last season, will face the War Eagles Oct. 4.

Here are the 2013 regular-season games in which two Fayette teams face each other.

Sept. 6: Fayette County at Starr’s Mill.

Sept. 13: Fayette County at Whitewater.

Sept. 27: Sandy Creek at Fayette County.

Oct. 11: Whitewater at McIntosh.

Oct. 18: McIntosh at Starr’s Mill.

Nov. 1: Starr’s Mill at Whitewater.