Rising junior running back Cody Brown, Gwinnett County’s leading returning rusher from 2018, is one of several starters back from last year that has Parkview’s coaching staff excited about the team’s prospects this fall.

When you’ve got as much personnel returning from a team that produced your program’s first undefeated regular season in 16 years as Parkview has, it’s hard not to be excited about the prospects for the upcoming 2019 campaign.

The bar is set pretty high for the Panthers coming off last year’s 11-1 campaign that saw them win the Region 7-AAAAAAA championship and advance to the second round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.

Even a few national observers have weighed in, with High School Football America including Parkview at No. 37 in their preseason Top 100 teams from across the nation.

But head coach Eric Godfree knows that July is way too early to even think about such lofty goals, and that the Panthers have plenty of work to do the rest of this summer before any such thoughts do enter their minds.

“This is really the first summer that going into the fall saying that if we take care of business and take care of Parkview like we should (have a chance at a great season),” Godfree said. “Obviously, we want to win a lot more games, but this is still Georgia football. There are so many good football teams our there. On any given Friday night, anything can happen. We keep reminding our kids of that, so there’s continuing (to attend to) detail … and continue to work to get better.

“So that’s one of the big things for the coaches — to motivate kids to want to get better. It gets them to the point where they think they’re better than they think they can be. So that is a big drive and push for us coaches, especially in a spot that we’re in right now. The kids are not sitting back and just thinking, ‘OK, we’re good. They get that any team can step out and beat us at any time with our tough schedule that we have at the beginning of the year. … It’s going to be a great test for us again.”

The good news for Godfree in his staff is that the Panthers don’t appear to be buying too much into the early hype — at least, that’s the indication given how they’ve looked during offseason conditioning activities like 7-on-7 tournaments and padded camps.

Even better news, from Godfree’s perspective, is that the players, particularly the veterans, seem to be self-policing when it comes to keeping the focus where it needs to be throughout the summer and into preseason practice.

“For the most part, I think our seniors have got a great focus about them,” Godfree said. “Really, most of our really good football players are very determined players. They want to be great teammates. They want to be great football players themselves. So the focus has good, but … you can easily get caught in yourselves.

“We have a great team culture right now, but that can teeter an tip the wrong way in a hurry. So we are very careful about it and make sure we’re keeping our kids in check and reminding them daily of what it truly takes to be great and be worthy of the rankings that we’re blessed to get.”

Indeed, the Panthers are blessed with plenty of returning talent, especially on offense, which has already proven a lot on the field, including rising junior running back Cody Brown, Gwinnett County’s leading returning rusher from 2018 (1,588 yards, 25 TDs), and rising seniors in quarterback Jordan Williams and receivers C.J. Daniels and Elijah James.

And even with a multi-talented individual like Malik Washington having been lost to graduation, Godfree has seen others capable of stepping into that role thus far this summer.

“Jared Brown, he’ll replace Malik and do a lot of what Malik did for us,” Godfree said of the rising junior. “He’ll play that slot for us that Malik played and we’ll be able to get him the ball downfield and quick screens and hand the ball off to him, do a lot of things we were able to do with Malik. He’s a pretty special talented athlete. Replacing Malik is not easy because he did so much for us, but Jared will step in and do a great job with that.”

Godfree has also gotten a chance to see other young players grow up during summer activities that could also help build further depth for the Panthers this fall.

And it is during partial-contact padded camps in which he’s gotten the best look at which players are going to step forward in 2019.

“The padded camps, they’ve been the best thing we’ve been able to do as far as for summertime,” Godfree said. “They’re better than 7-on-7. They’re really good. We hosted one at the end of June, and … it was great competition. We got to see some kids step up and play that we think are going to help us.

“You kind of know who you’ve got, but you’ve always got to find guys to replace people. (In) the summertime with just helmets on, you’re not sure exactly what they can do in real football, and those padded camps is as close to real football as we can get.”

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.