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Prep football season just a month away

The new high school football season is a month away and plenty of enticing matchups litter the schedules of the three Rockdale County teams.

Heritage is in the midst of the finest stretch in the program’s history and goes into the 2014 season looking to extend a school-record for consecutive trips to the state playoffs. Heritage, which went 6-5 and lost in the first round to eventual Class AAAAA state runner-up Tucker, hasn’t missed the postseason since 2009.

The Patriots will be led by their third head coach in as many seasons as Wendell Early begins his tenure at the Conyers school. Early, who in five seasons at Berkmar High School (2003-2007) and two at South Forsyth High School (2008-2009) went 27-45, including two state playoff appearances in 2004 and 2005.

Early will get a test right away as the Patriots welcome county rival Rockdale to Evans Memorial Stadium on August 22. The Patriots’ biggest tests in Region 8-AAAAA will come with road trips in consecutive weeks to Flowery Branch and state semifinalist Gainesville September 19 and 26, a road tilt at Clarke Central October 31 and a home game against new region mate Lanier. Flowery Branch, Clarke and Lanier were all state playoff teams a year ago.

After facing Heritage to open the season, Rockdale will stay in the county and host Salem August 29. The Bulldogs, who are in their third season under head coach Venson Elder, went 6-4 a year ago in the program’s first winning season since the 2009 state final four team won 10 games.

If the Bulldogs are to have consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1996-1997, they’ll have to navigate one of the state’s most difficult schedules. Rockdale makes road trips to state power Lowndes on September 12, state quarterfinalist Stockbridge a week later, as well as a Region 2-AAAAAA stop at Tucker, while hosting four-time region champion - and two-time Region 2 titleist - Lovejoy on October 3 at Reid Stadium. The Bulldogs also play Alcovy and Newton, two playoff teams and local rivals, to close the season in late-October and early-November.

It’s been a rough stretch for the Salem football team, but the Seminoles will try to turn that around in coach John Starr’s fifth season.

After playing its county rivals to open the year, Salem’s biggest early-season test should come with a road game in Athens against Clarke Central on September 19. Salem, 3-7 in 2014 and just 14-26 since Starr took over before the 2010 season, also travels to Hall County to play Gainesville (October 3) and Sugar Hill to play Lanier (October 24), while hosting Flowery Branch on Halloween Night.