Football small-school preseason Top 25 rankings

Stephen Spiewak | Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Georgia powerhouse Buford takes the top spot in MaxPreps' look at the top small schools in the country in 2011.

Buford is the nation's No. 1 small school heading into the 2011 season, and it isn't even very close.

The Wolves, one of Georgia's top programs irrespective of class size, stand out head and shoulders above the field of teams from across the country.

A whopping 10 starters return from last year's squad, including Alabama-bound linebacker Dillon Lee and Virginia-bound defensive back C.j. Moore, who will be joined in the secondary by Vanderbilt recruit Paris Head and Ryan Dillard.

Kurt Freitag, a highly coveted tight end recruit, will also line up on the defensive front for Buford along with Rick LeGrant, Dequan Clark and Devonte Mack.

On offense, the Wolves' offensive line is going to impose its will on opponents. U.S. Air Force Junior All-American Vadal Alexander leads the way alongside LSU-bound center Reid Ferguson and junior tackle Josh Cardiello and senior guard Robert Hill.

That unit will make it easy for senior Darrian Smith to have a huge season. Replacing quarterback Alex Ross could be Sam Clay.

If Buford has consistency at quarterback, it could finish as one of the top teams in the program's storied history.

John Curtis, a Louisiana powerhouse guided by legendy head coach J.T. Curtis, comes in at No. 2.

See which classifications qualify as "small schools" at the end of the article.

1. Buford (Ga.)
2010 Finish: 13-1
Buford has a legitimate argument as the best team in Georgia regardless of classification. In what was supposed to be a down season for the Wolves, they rattled off 12 straight victories en route to capturing the AA crown. This year, the Wolves return two all-state selections in offensive lineman Vadal Alexander and linebacker Dillon Lee as well as more than a half-dozen other BCS-caliber seniors.

2. Curtis (River Ridge, La.)

2010 Finish: 12-2
Led by legendary coach J.T. Curtis, John Curtis is poised for a very strong season. Five starters on offense and seven on defense are back from last year's squad. Led by tight end Dillon Gordon and linebacker Torrey Bell, the Patriots could see as many as five players sign Division I scholarships this season. Curtis can go toe-to-toe with any team in Louisiana. It will battle Evangel Christian once again for the 2A state crown.

3. University (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
2010 Finish: 13-1
An emerging power in South Florida, University fell in the 2B state final by one point to Trinity Catholic in triple overtime. In 2011, expectations for University are even higher. Gunnar Holcombe will line up behind an enormous offensive line and throw to a bevy of talented receivers, including Jordan Cunningham and MacGarrett Kings. Jordan Scarlett, a star in the youth ranks, could make an impact as a freshman.

4. Heritage Hall (Oklahoma City)
2010 Finish: 15-0
Coming off a flawless season and returning some of the best skill players in the the country should add up to a fine 2011 season for Heritage Hall and head coach Andy Bogert. A whopping 19 starters, including Barry Sanders and Sterling Shepard, make Heritage Hall an overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions. Heritage Hall's core group of seniors has been highly touted for years. They all hope to go out with a bang and cap off their careers with a season that could be one of the more memorable ones in state history.

5. Evangel Christian Academy (Shreveport, La.)

2010 Finish: 12-2
Evangel Christian Academy lost only to Oklahoma 6A power Union and Louisiana 5A contender St. Thomas More last season en route to capturing a 2A crown. It has plenty to replace from last year's team, most notably star defensive end Jermauria Rasco, but new talent always seems to emerge for Evangel. Judah Jones and Hayden Jennings comprise a potent receiving duo. 6-5 Jake Wallace and Josh Thomas return at offensive line. X'zavier Preston and Brandon Stewart are key returning defenders.

6. Escalon (Calif.)
2010 Finish: 14-1
Fifteen starters are back from last year's Escalon squad that downed Madison in a CIF Bowl Game, 30-14. Quarterback Gino Franceschetti is back after throwing for 1,444 yards and 22 scores in 2010. Josh Miguel, who rolled up 1,840 yards and 27 touchdowns on the ground, should have an even bigger season in 2011. Eight starters are back on defense, led by Tony Vincent and Shane Silveira, two of the team's three leading tacklers a year ago.

Shakeem Jefferson.
Photo by Cecil Anderson
Shakeem Jefferson.
7. New Boston (Texas)
2010 Finish: 10-3
Sensational running back Shakeem Jefferson, who rushed for 2,483 yards and 33 touchdowns, returns for New Boston, a highly touted 2A team this season. Rick Barker may line Jefferson up at quarterback to utilize his play-making ability. Brandon Contoleon will open up holes for him on the offensive line. If New Boston can find a suitable replacement for Darrion Wade to take snaps at quarterback and keep defenses honest, the Lions will be difficult to defend.

8. Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, Calif.)
2010 Finish: 12-2
After throwing for 2,861 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, 6-4 quarterback Tyler Stewart will be even more difficult to stop as a senior. Danny Jordan and Xavier Menifield, the team's two leading rushers, will be difficult to scheme against. Six-foot-2 receiver Julian Brooks, who caught 15 touchdown passes a year ago, adds yet another wrinkle to this high-powered offense. Four of the team's top six tacklers return, providing a very solid defensive nucleus.

9. Dillon (S.C.)
After losing in the AA final 20-17 last season to Central, the Wildcats are hungry to get back to Williams-Brice Stadium. Junior Jabo Lee enters his third season starting at running back. He gained more than 2,000 yards as a sophomore. Top 2013 recruit D.J. Park will pave the way for him and senior back Hykine Davis. Kwinton Smith, already committed to South Carolina, is an exciting athlete who provides a deep threat for Dillon. Delany Leach, Archie Gilchrist and Hishawn Blue, three of the team's leading tacklers a year ago, will be solid once again.

10. Ursuline (Youngstown, Ohio)
2010 Finish: 15-0
Despite losing Akise Teague, Ursuline is a big threat to win a fourth-straight state title in 2011. Sophomore quarterback Chris Durkin has big-time potential. Twins Troy and Ty Vasquez-Atkins, both tipping the scales at more than 300 pounds, provide major size on the offensive line. Trevor Smith, Jesse Curry and Tramain Thigpen all return at linebacker and all could contribute on offense at running back.

11. Trinity Catholic (Ocala, Fla.)
2010 Finish: 14-0
Head coach John Brantley guided Trinity Catholic to the 2B state crown last season. In fact, the team has lost only five games over the last three seasons. Defense should carry the team early on as Reid Carlton matures at quarterback. Marquel Holmes and Jonathan General lead an experienced group of linebackers.

12. Daingerfield (Texas)
2010 Finish: 14-1
2A powerhouse Daingerfield loses stars like quarterback Tyler Boyd and Steve Edmund, but perhaps more than any other program in the Lone Star State, this one has shown a clear ability to reload each season. Devin Smith will be one of 2A's top linebackers. Edward Mims will provide new head coach Aric Sardinea with a talented offensive weapon. There will be a learning curve for Mims, as well as the host of new players for the Tigers will break in, but this team will be a factor in the playoffs.

13. Tatum (Texas)
2010 Finish: 12-1
Tatum obliterated nearly every opponent for its first 12 games before it ran into Cameron Yoe in the 2A-I quarterfinals. Electrifying athlete Jalen Overstreet, who boasts offers from around the country, should produce more than 2,000 yards of total offense again this season. Defensive end Laderion Johnson, the region's defensive newcomer of the year last year, will lead the defense.

14. West Catholic (Philadelphia)
2010 Finish: 13-2
West Catholic looks to defend its AA title in 2011. The Burrs got better as the season went on last year, culminating with a 50-14 romp over South Fayette in the title game. Junior running back David Williams looks to be a top recruit in the class of 2013 and should have an enormous junior year running behind four returning starters on the offensive line. With six starters back, including Kevin Malone and Blaise Schieler, the defense should be strong.

15. Madison County (Madison, Fla.)
2010 Finish: 12-1
A balance of offensive and defensive pieces return for Madison County, a top program in the northern part of the state. Deonshay Wells, a sophomore, and Tommie Young, a junior, will continue the Cowboys' prodigious ground game along with senior J.J. Jones. D.J. McKnight steps into the quarterback spot. The defense features returning starters up front, among the linebackers, and in the secondary.

16. Dunbar (Baltimore)
2010 Finish: 13-1
A juggernaut in Maryland's 1A, Dunbar has enough fire power to hang with some of the state's top powers. Massive two-way lineman Dariz Hill, only a junior, can be dominant on both sides of the ball. Receiver Deontay McManus, already a West Virginia commit, doubles as a deadly safety. Ernest Hawkins and Lavar Highsmith make up a stout linebacker duo. Only a freshman last season, William Crest could emerge as the starting quarterback.

17. Pewitt (Omaha, Texas)
2010 Finish: 10-4
The 2011 version of Pewitt will be both hungry and experienced; the team returns more than a dozen starters from a 2010 team that was bounced from the 2A-II playoffs by Idalou. Sedrick Johnson, a returning all-state selection, will star at running back and defensive back. Offensive lineman Tyrin Evans is another returning all-state pick. Linebackers Justin Goforth and Tanner Wright are key to the team's defense.

18. North Florida Christian (Tallahassee, Fla.)
2010 Finish: 6-4
A program on the rise, 2011 could be the breakthrough season for North Florida Christian, as the Eagles are teeming with talent. Returning all-state quarterback Matt Dobson will be a handful for opposing defenses. He'll throw to Travis Blanks, Travis Stewart and Branton Lee. Dallas Griffiths and Evan Gentry will power the front seven for North Florida Christian. Sophomores Tony Fields and Jonathan Vickers, who contributed significantly on defense as freshmen, are also back.

19. Aberdeen (Miss.)

2010 Finish: 14-2
After falling just short of a 3A title in 2010, Aberdeen is the favorite to bring home the crown in 2011. Defense will lead the way for the Bulldogs, as All-American Channing Ward returns on the defensive line alongside Braxton Anderson and Jordan Gathings. Two starters are back in the secondary, making that another strength of the team. Returning offensive linemen Damien Walker and Ricky McCallister will be an asset for a set of skill players that is widely untested.

20. Leroy (Ala.)
2010 Finish: 14-1
Leroy was four points away from a perfect season last year, but settled for a 2A state title. William Gartman averaged more than 200 passing yards per game last season, and provides nice continuity at the quarterback position. Brent Reed is a bona fide stud in the defensive backfield, while Surgio Carr returns at linebacker. The team will need to find a way to replace the offensive production of receiver Sammie Coates, now at Auburn.

21. American Heritage (Delray Beach, Fla.)
2010 Finish: 10-4
With all the talent in its ranks, American Heritage should improve on its 10-4 record despite a challenging schedule. Quarterback Marcus Davis and dynamic running back Greg Bryant make a potent one-two punch on offense. Jeremy Gaskins and David Tanis are another more-than-capable backfield option. Zach Slafsky, a transfer from Olympic Heights, will help right away at linebacker.

22. Calhoun (Ga.)
2010 Finish: 14-1
A seven-point setback in the AA finals to Buford was the only loss Calhoun suffered last season. Losing Landon Curtis, Dustin Christian and J.T. Palmer will be extremely difficult, but Calhoun has demonstrated the ability to reload in the past. Early on, the offensive line could be a bigger concern. With Alex Kirby and Hunter Knight back at linebacker, the team's defense should be solid. Adam Griffiths will be a weapon on special teams.

23. Gretna (Va.)

2010 Finish: 12-2
Pound for pound one of Virginia's best programs, Gretna fell just short of a Division 2 state title in 2010. Versatile senior Tony Miller should be a focal point of the team's offense, particularly with Nick Miller now departed. Gretna will be strong on both sides of the line, with returning league lineman of the year Coleman Osborne leading the way.

24. Coldwater (Ohio)
2010 Finish: 11-4
Led by first-year head coach Chip Otten, Coldwater overcame the loss of then-coach John Reed to reel off an 11-4 season that ended with a loss to Ursuline in the Division V final. Six-foot-4 quarterback Austin Bruns threw for 2,477 yards as a sophomore and could put up video game-like numbers as a junior. Coldwater likely will not be as big as it was last season, but will once again play deep into November.

25. St. Joseph (Hammonton, N.J.)
2010 Finish: 11-1
Tucked away in the pine forests in south Jersey, St. Joseph has built itself into one of the state's top small-school programs in recent years. It captured the non-public Group 1/2 title. The Wildcats overcome adversity last November when head coach Paul Sacco was hospitalized with internal bleeding. The team went on to win its last three games by a combined score of 110-15. In 2011, an experienced offense returns opposite a star-studded defense that features national recruit Kaiwan Lewis and Virginia-bound Max Valles.

Eligible enrollment divisions
Alabama 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A
Arizona 2A, 1A
Arkansas  3A, 2A, 1A
California Division III, Small Schools
Colorado 3A, 2A, 1A
Connecticut M, S
Delaware Div. 2
Florida 2B, 1A, 1B
Georgia 2A, 1A
Idaho 3A, 2A, 1A
Illinois 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A
Indiana 2A, 1A
Iowa 2A, 1A, A
Kansas 3A, 2A, 1A
Kentucky 3A, 2A, 1A
Louisiana 3A, 2A, 1A
Maryland A
Massachusetts Div. 3
Maine B, C, D
Michigan Div. 6, 7, 8
Minnesota A, 2A
Mississippi 3A, 2A, 1A
Missouri Class 2, 1
Montana A
Nebraska B
Nevada Class 3A, 2A, 1A
New Hampshire Class V, VI
New Jersey Public Group 1
New Mexico 3A, 2A, 1A
New York B, C, D
North Carolina 1A
North Dakota A
Ohio Div. 5, 6
Oklahoma 3A, 2A, 1A, B
Oregon 4A, 3A, 2A, 1A
Pennsylvania 2A, 1A
Rhode Island Div. 2
South Carolina 2A, 1A
Tennessee 2A, 1A
Texas 2A, 1A
Utah 2A, 1A
Vermont Div. 2, 3
Virginia A
Washington 1A, 2B, 1B
West Virginia 2A, 1A
Wisconsin Div. 4, 5, 6, 7