Kickoff Classic offers teams a chance to start strong
A year ago, Dalton Cox saw the Macon Touchdown Club Kickoff Classic as a coming out party for him as a quarterback.
He was making his first start at quarterback for FPD after spending his sophomore season as a linebacker, and with a first-time starter, there are many unknowns. But Cox had a huge game, completing 22-of-29 passes with two touchdowns and also ran for two more scores to lead the Vikings to a 34-14 win over Howard.
Cox will be back in action Saturday in the second annual kickoff classic, which once again will be played at Mercer’s Five Star Stadium. The Vikings face off with Central, followed by Mount de Sales versus Howard.
“Last year, the kickoff classic was a great experience for us, and it kind of set the tone for some early season success,” said Cox, who threw for 22 touchdowns a year ago. “The entire team is excited to be back playing in such a great atmosphere, and we feel like we are prepared to play well.”
FPD reached the GHSA Class 1A private school playoffs last year. Central finished 6-4 and just missed out on the playoffs in Class 3A for the second straight season.
“They are a big strong team, and they are very physical, but we feel like we can handle the physicality of the game,” said Cox, whose team finished 7-5 in 2016. “Sometimes being physical leads to mistakes, and we feel like if we are sharp offensively, we will be fine. This team is focused on sticking together no matter what happens, and Central will be a great test for us.”
Central, which defeated Mount de Sales 48-14 a year ago in the kickoff classic, has a first-year head coach in Larry Harold, who replaced Jesse Hicks. But for the players, things have stayed mostly the same.
“Coach Harold pushes us and believes in us just like Coach Hicks did,” said Xavier Wesley, a 300-pound lineman who will play on both sides of the football. “We came together quickly as a football team, and we are ready to play great football.”
Wesley has fond memories of last year’s win at Mercer.
“We had a lot of fans in the stadium, and it was a great honor to play well in front of the big crowd,” Wesley said. “We know we are playing a great football team, but we have 21 seniors on this team that know the importance of getting our season off to a quick start.”
Adrian Hardwick’s memories of his first game on a college field were not so positive. The running back from Mount de Sales went down in the first quarter with a concussion on a hit that sent his helmet flying in the air.
The Cavaliers, who opened their 2017 season with a win over Pacelli last week, finished 2-8 in 2016.
“It was very tough for me to have to watch my team play from the sidelines and basically get beat up,” Hardwick said. “I remember being kind of out of it and I remember it was like 105 degrees on the turf and things just didn’t go well. But I feel like we are bigger, stronger and faster this year and are ready to play against a larger school. We know they think we are just a little private school, and we want to show others that we belong.”
Howard is coming off of a one-win season a year ago and a loss last week to Westside to open the 2017 season.
“We have to turn things around right now,” said linebacker Deandre Shelton, who had 15 tackles against Westside. “We really feel like if we can get that first win out of the way that more wins will come. We know that we have put in the work this summer, and we expect to win football games this summer. Saturday is very important for the rest of this season and we are well aware of that.”
Macon Touchdown Club Kickoff Classic
Saturday at Mercer’s Five Star Stadium
Central vs. FPD, 5 p.m.
Howard vs. Mount de Sales, 7:30 p.m.