Football’s opening week features big arenas, historic rivalries, dream pairings

Article and photos courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution –> Original Article Here

Houston County and AJC Super 11 QB Jake Fromm open their season Thursday in Macon against Mary Persons. (Ryon Horne/AJC)

Cooler weather and the marching bands are still plenty to get the blood flowing in high school football players or fans before any season-opening game.

But if you want the works, try big arenas, historic rivalries and dream pairings. That’s where things are moving as some 273 Georgia teams get ready to suit up for the first time this week. The GHSA’s move to seven classifications and smaller regions are one factor in the better early-season matchups.

‘’These smaller regions are forcing people to put more variety in the front side of their schedule just because there’s more room there,’’ said Roswell coach John Ford, whose team plays Buford in the perhaps the marquee Corky Kell Classic matchup Friday at McEachern’s Cantrell Stadium. “If you’ve got to play somebody, you might as well play somebody good.’’

Roswell had five non-region games to fill this year. The top teams are meeting up more, and they’re looking for adventure.

The season’s first games will be Thursday headlined by the Kell Classic’s opening night at Mercer University. In its 25th season, the Kell Classic has expanded into Middle Georgia, and the Macon matchups are Lee County (No. 7 in Class AAAAAA) vs. Jones County (No. 6 in AAAAAA) and Houston County (No. 3 in AAAAAA) vs. Mary Persons (No. 8 in AAAA).

Three of the AJC’s preseason Super 11 – Lee County’s Aubrey Solomon, Houston County’s Jake Fromm and Mary Persons’ Malik Herring – are playing in those.

‘’This is abnormal for us,’’ said Mary Persons coach Brian Nelson said. ‘’It’s seemed like these games have been geared more toward metro Atlanta teams where now it’s spread out. Places like Mary Persons doesn’t get to be on a statewide stage that often. We get a chance to showcase our program and school system.’’

Nelson said he didn’t have to educate his players about Houston County. ‘’They know about Jake Fromm,’’ Nelson said of the Georgia-committed quarterback. ‘’And it’s on TV, it’s a college stadium. There are a lot of things for a 17-year-old to get excited about.’’

The event also showcases Mercer’s Five Star Stadium, completed in 2013, when Mercer resumed football. College venues are becoming more attractive to high schools.

Newnan is playing Carrollton in the West Georgia Kickoff Classic, also on Thursday. On Friday and Saturday, the fifth Erk Russell Classic will feature four games at Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium. Perennial power Sandy Creek is going down for that.

Another treat is the opening-game renewals of Georgia’s most storied rivalries – Lowndes vs. Valdosta and Warner Robins vs. Northside. They’ve played those since the 1960s, but never in opening games.

‘’If you’re going to play and not be in the same region, I’d rather it be the first game than the third or fourth,’’ said new Warner Robins coach Mike Chastain, a Northside graduate who has experienced the rivalry from both sides. ‘’You win this ball game and that catapults you into the rest of the season.’’

Cartersville is the site Friday for a historic meeting between reigning state champions. Allatoona, the AAAAA winner last year, hasn’t played a non-region game in four years because of 11-team regions. Free to be venture out, the Buccaneers are taking on the AAAA champion Purple Hurricanes. The schools are only 12 miles apart.

Other non-region games between state contenders are Blessed Trinity at St. Pius, Cedar Grove at Stephenson, Westminster at Woodward Academy and Aquinas at Prince Avenue Christian.

Things finish up Saturday at the Georgia Dome for the final five games of the Kell Classic. The most intriguing is probably Colquitt County vs. Mill Creek, a rematch of a state quarterfinal last year. Colquitt has won 30 straight games.

‘’There’s a little more pomp and circumstance to these openers,” said Roswell’s Ford, ”but at the end of the day, football is football. We just happen to be playing as good a first game as I’ve ever been involved in.”

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