The trip is long but Collins Hill head football coach Larry Sherrill hopes the payoff will be worth it.
Sherrill accepted a spot in the inaugural South Georgia Football Classic in the offseason, knowing that a major drive to Camden County awaited his team. He also knew the game would be on Saturday, delaying preparation for the following week's matchup.
Still he couldn't pass up a spot in the event, which pits three teams from South Georgia vs. three from metro Atlanta. Collins Hill plays Tift County on Saturday in the nightcap of the classic, just after Camden plays South Forsyth and Valdosta plays Chattahoochee. The Eagles signed a two-year agreement so they will play either Camden or Valdosta next season.
"When (Camden) Coach (Jeff) Herron contacted me and talked about it, I thought it was an interesting idea," Sherrill said. "I knew it would be kind of a big-name game and we would play some storied South Georgia programs. It was an opportunity for us to taste what South Georgia football is like.
"Central (Gwinnett) and Dacula had to go down there for the third round of the playoffs last year and we had to go down there in 2001. Of course none of our players are left from that team, so we wanted to get that experience. We certainly want to be a playoff team and this experience hopefully will help us."
The Eagles' journey of more than 350 miles one way begins early Saturday morning. It will feature a number of stops, including one in Macon, one in Metter for a pre-game meal and one at Richmond Hill for a walk-through session.
All the stops will extend the trip, but it's better than staying on a bus for a long period of time. The times and opponents were selected by a blind draw, so the Eagles have extra time being the late game, which could start anywhere between 7:30 and 8 p.m. or later depending on how smoothly the first-time event runs and if typical thunderstorms delay the action.
But Sherrill hopes the game concludes at a decent hour since his team faces a long trek back home, then immediate preparation for Peachtree Ridge the next week.
"It's going to be a long trip down and a long trip back," the coach said. "We'll get back and see the sun rise on Sunday morning I'm sure. But we'll get right back to work at 9 a.m. Sunday morning on Peachtree Ridge."
The draw was perhaps kind to Collins Hill, since Camden (No. 2) and Valdosta (No. 9) are both ranked, but Tift County is plenty good. The Blue Devils throw and run out of spread formations and feature Georgia commitment Israel Troupe at wide receiver.
But Collins Hill answers with a defense that hasn't allowed a point this season after a shutout of Grayson last Friday.
"Our defense performed really well and we played a really good team," Sherrill said. "Grayson is very big, physical and mobile. And any time you play a wing-T team in the opening ball game, you have to be very focused."