Norcross players run out of the banner prior to the start of Saturday’s Class AAAAAA state championship game against North Gwinnett at the Georgia Dome. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
ATLANTA — Dolford Layson was like a proud father Saturday night.
The longtime head of Region 7-AAAAAA eagerly watched two of his football teams battle for the state championship in Class AAAAAA, the largest of Georgia’s seven divisions, in front of a large crowd at the Georgia Dome.
With no ties to either Norcross or North Gwinnett, Layson didn’t have a rooting interest, a good thing given his position of neutrality in the region. Plus the retired Gwinnett County educator had something else going in his favor — he was going to be a winner either way.
“Norcross and North Gwinnett faced solid competition week after week throughout our region schedule,” Layson said. “I think it shows that there are not only quality kids on both teams, but also excellent coaching.
“It’s a tribute not only to our region’s football, but football in Gwinnett overall. (Our region) could have very easily have had four teams in the Final Four.”
Layson made a good point in there.
Collins Hill was a McEachern miracle punt return from being in the Final Four, too. Peachtree Ridge beat a No. 1 seed in the first round. The region’s fifth-place team, Mill Creek, missed the playoffs but could have done well in the post season, too, in the view of Layson and many others.
While Layson was a proud onlooker, he wasn’t alone. Mike Emery also was a guaranteed victor.
Emery serves as the director of athletics, student activities and community schools for Gwinnett County Public Schools, meaning he also enjoyed two of his teams in the championship.
Of the 63 schools in AAAAAA, 32 sent football teams to the playoffs. The two left standing Saturday night were Norcross and North, from the same region and same county and just a short drive up Peachtree Industrial Boulevard from one another.
“Having two teams from GCPS in the state finals is a testament to a number of factors,” Emery said. “First, we have outstanding student-athletes. Second, we have supportive parents and community members. Third, we have great coaches. Next, we have administrators and staff members who understand what a positive impact extracurricular activities can have on a school. And last, but not least, our superintendent and board of education provide the leadership and the resources we need to be successful.
“When you have all those things in place, the opportunities for kids are limitless.”
Before the game even kicked off Saturday night, Norcross and North guaranteed an incredible run of success in the state’s largest classification would continue. Gwinnett County can now boast the past four champions among Georgia’s biggest schools, thanks to previous state championship runs by Norcross (2012), Grayson (2011) and Brookwood (2010).
Gwinnett’s 2013 AAAAAA champion, coupled with Buford’s AAA title Friday night, gives the county 21 all-time state champs in football. That number includes 10 state crowns in the largest classification, dating back to Brookwood’s victory in 1996. Parkview (1997, 2000-02) and Peachtree Ridge (2006) also have won large-class state titles for Gwinnett.
“We’re all very proud to have two great schools and communities representing GCPS in the state finals,” Emery said.