ATLANTA – One of the top high school games this weekend in Georgia features two DeKalb County powerhouses. One has a storied tradition. The other is well on their way to building one.
The Southwest DeKalb Panthers will mix it up with the Stephenson Jaguars on Friday at Hallford Stadium in Clarkston. The approximate start time is 8:30pm, as it’s the nightcap of a doubleheader where the opener features North Springs versus Clarkston.
Both teams won their debut contests. Southwest DeKalb used a stifling defense to shut out Woodland of Stockbridge, 16-0. Stephenson employed a high-octane offense and throttled Columbia by a score of 39-12.
Deondre Jackson had a coming-out party against Columbia. The junior amassed 226 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his jaunts went for 80 and 68 yards.
His development has impressed Jaguar head coach Ron Gartrell. “He continues to improve each week along with all our running backs,” he said. “Ryan Ingram had a good game along with Javon Goff. All three blocked extremely well.”
While it seemed Stephenson had things in control against Columbia, Gartrell had an answer to the query if there was something that could be improved. “Our offensive line looked great and not good at other times,” he replied. “We have to get better and more consistent up front.”
While Southwest DeKalb is synonymous with Buck Godfrey, Gartrell is building an impressive legacy with Stephenson. He’s been the head man ever since the institution opened back in 1996. He came over from Shamrock High when that shuttered its’ doors. Since then, Gartrell has led the Jaguars to a playoff berth every year since 2001. However, Stephenson advanced past the third round just once (semifinals in 2005).
The game has evolved since Gartrell first took up his whistle. “In the early years everyone put the emphasis on the running game,” he said. “Now it’s all spread. We’ve tried that too, but this year we put our emphasis back on running the ball.
“Another change is seven-on-seven leagues and prospect camps. They have grown and pulled players away from their high school teams at crucial times. I am not against seven-on-seven or prospect camps. Both are great experiences for the players.”
With two more victories, Southwest DeKalb will become the 38th school, and only the third in DeKalb County, in Georgia history to reach 500 total wins. (For DeKalb, Tucker and Decatur are the others.) The Panthers hope Jamel Starks can lead the secondary against the Stephenson stable of running backs. Last season, Starks, a three-star recruit, had 70 tackles and three picks.
The Jaguars will counter with some three-star athletes of their own. Wide receiver Dashon Stoudemire is committed to West Virginia, while linebacker Tra Wilkins will go to Kentucky. Wilkins decommitted from South Carolina in the spring before pledging to the Wildcats.
Stephenson has won the last seven straight against the Panthers and haven’t lost since 2004. (The series was interrupted from 2006-2011.) Overall, the Jaguars hold a 9-5 edge.
In fact, Stephenson has played Southwest DeKalb more than any other opponent. Despite that, Gartrell does not see it as a rivalry. “I enjoy it because it’s what the fans and each community wants,” he said. “Two programs that love to complete and been blessed with extremely good players and coaches. I think the two bands are in more of a rivalry than the teams.”

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