An already tight Region 5-AA football lineup is set to welcome a long-lost challenger back to the pack this fall, setting up for would could be an all-out melee in the race toward the 2018 Class AA postseason.

After two seasons on the Class AAA circuit, the Bremen High School football team will re-enter the ranks of Region 5-AA, a place it previously called home from 2012-2015.

Reaching the playoffs in both of their seasons in Region 6-AAA, Blue Devil head coach Davis Russell expects his veteran ballclub to be faced with a strenuous gauntlet upon their arrival.

“The move down to AA is great, but our region didn’t get any easier. It got tougher,” Russell said.

Awaiting the incoming Blue Devils as the usual suspects near the top of the pack are state juggernauts Callaway and reigning region champion Heard County.

Coming off a run to the Class AA semifinals last December, HC head coach Tim Barron anticipates yet another difficult path back to the postseason in 2018.

“In this region this year, it’s going to be one of the top regions in the state,” Barron said. “When you have us and everybody in the region getting better and better, it’s going to be tough.”

Along with strength at the top was the cluster of teams battling toward the end of the season with Temple, Spencer, Lamar County and Jordan all in the mix for a playoff berth late last fall.

Guiding his Tigers to a school-record No. 3 seed, Temple head coach Scotty Ward described the razor-thin margins that separated some of the teams.

“Last year, we played a really good football game against Spencer and pulled it out. A few weeks later against Jordan, we go down there and couldn’t stop them just like they couldn’t stop us. They ended up beating us 43-41,” Ward said. “I’m not going to say it’s the hardest region in AA, but it’s pretty dang close.”

Each team will play a four-game, non-region slate to open the season before the six-game 5-AA schedule kicks off on Sept. 21.

Jumping head-first into the fire, Russell understands the week-by-week grind that his team will have to endure to become one of the four postseason representatives for 5-AA.

“The deal is you find a way to get yourself through the region so when you get into the playoffs, you’re battle-tested,” Russell said.

His counterpart down the road at Temple concurred.

“It’s going to be solid top to bottom,” Ward said. “No matter what you do, you have to play to play well every week to have a chance. It’s going to be a test, but for us it’s going to be about our young guys stepping up and finding a way to make some plays.”

Bremen

Coming off a 9-2 playoff campaign last year in Region 6-AAA, Russell will have one of the more experienced groups right off the bat in 5-AA with over 20 seniors returning to the Blue Devil roster this fall.

On offense, the Blue Devils will be armed with several senior weapons like quarterback Wade Cartwright, running back Tyran Dobbs and receivers Jason Houston and Jalen Dallas. Defensively, the likes of defensive end Brant Ivey and linebacker Kade Berry will also provide a veteran force for the Blue and White.

Bremen will host Temple on Oct. 12 and will close the regular season by welcoming Heard County to Redding Field on Nov. 2.

“Russell has a great senior group and great coaching staff. They’re going to do a great job." — Barron on Bremen

“Bremen is coming in with a bunch of seniors. They’re going to be a really good football team. Coach Russell does a really good job over there.” — Ward on Bremen.

Callaway

Veteran head coach Pete Wiggins and his Cavaliers were denied a third consecutive region title last season, but still managed a successful 11-2 campaign that included a trip to the state quarterfinal.

The Cavs lost 2017 Region 5-AA Defensive Player of the Year Jonathan Leonard to graduation, but as usual return several top-level athletes, including four-star junior running back Cartavious Bigsby and recent Auburn offensive line verbal commit Keiondre Jones.

Callaway will open region play at Temple on Sept. 21, then hosts Bremen on Sept. 28 and travels to Heard County on Oct. 19.

“They signed 17 kids to colleges last year, so that tells you the type of players that they have. Coach Wiggins does a great job.” — Russell on Callaway.

“Callaway is just so talented. They do a great job.” — Barron on Callaway.

Heard County

Led by current University of Florida quarterback Emory Jones, along with Georgia Southern defensive back Jaden Moreland, Heard County orchestrated its best season in school history in 2017, taking the Region 5-AA championship before streaking all the way to the Class AA semifinal.

Even with the loss of Jones and Moreland, the Braves return plenty of production on the offensive line, along with University of Tennessee safety verbal commit Aaron Beasley and the addition Temple University defensive end verbal commit Zaylin Wood.

HC will travel to Temple on Oct. 5 before closing the regular season at Bremen on Nov. 2.

“Heard County is going to have their best team ever. Coach Barron does a great job.” — Russell on Heard

“They went to the semis last year and they think they may be even better this year.” — Ward on Heard.

Jordan

After a 2-8 campaign in 2017, Jordan parted ways with former head coach Justin Newman, replacing him with former Carver, Columbus head coach Joe Kegler in April.

Commanding the ship for the Red Jacket offense once again in 2018 will be three-star senior quarterback Emmanuel Mann.

Jordan will host Temple on Sept. 28 before traveling to Bremen on Oct. 5 and hosting Heard County on Oct. 12.

“Jordan always has great athletes.” — Russell on Jordan.

Lamar County

Lamar County took a step back in head coach John Flath’s first season in 2017, posting a 1-9 record.

With a sophomore and junior-heavy roster, the Trojans will host Bremen on Oct. 19 before closing the regular season with road trips to Heard County on Oct. 26 and Temple on Nov. 2.

“This is the second year of coach Flath and he’s done a good job. They’re going to be better than they were last year.” — Ward on Lamar County

Spencer

After taking the Green Wave Owls to the postseason for a third straight year in 2017, former head coach Pierre Coffey stepped aside, paving the way for former Jordan head coach Justin Newman to be named the new head coach in May.

The all-region wide receiver/running back combo of Cory Calhoun and Carlton Williams returns to lead the Spencer offense for their senior seasons this fall.

The Owls will open region play at Heard County on Sept. 21 and will host Temple on Oct. 19 before traveling to Bremen on Oct. 26.

“Spencer is becoming the main school in Columbus. Their front seven is as good as anyone we’re going to play.” — Russell on Spencer.

“Spencer gets better every year and had one of the top defenses in our region last year. I think they’re going to be better.” — Barron on Spencer.

Temple

Defeating Lamar County by a 34-19 margin in the final week of the regular season, Temple broke a six-year postseason drought in 2017 while achieving its highest playoff seeding ever at No. 3.

The Tigers will be tasked with replacing production from last year’s team such as quarterback Trey Johnson, running back D.J. “Flea” Winters and defensive back Cartez Echols. Returning for the Tigers on both sides of the ball however are the likes of senior Daimar Ivey, junior Savion Powell and junior Tay Crapp, while promising sophomore signal-caller Ronald "Scooter" Tanner now has a year of varsity play under his belt.

The Tigers will host Heard County for a midseason showdown on Oct. 5 before traveling to neighboring Bremen on Oct. 12.

“While they have some younger guys, they are doing a great job. His offense is tough to defend.” — Russell on Temple.