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County seniors get another chance to shine

There was a time in the not too distant past when there was only one chance for the best high school football talent in Gwinnett County to be showcased after the regular season and state playoffs were completed.

While eight Gwinnett seniors will dot the North roster at the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game next week in Columbus, a change in a Georgia High School Association rule will allow many more of the county's best to have one final curtain call.

Thus, the Rivalries of Gwinnett Senior All-Star Game will debut tonight at 7 p.m. at Brookwood Community Stadium culminating a five-year effort by several of the county's coaches - including retired Brookwood coach and Gwinnett County Touchdown Club president Dave Hunter.

"We've been tying to put this together for (several) years now," Hunter said. "When the GHSA changed the rule to allow seniors to play in two postseason all-star games instead of just one, (Dacula coach) Kevin Maloof and I lobbied the GACA to approve this game."

In all, 66 players will be on display tonight divided up into two teams that will represent some of the county's traditional rivalries - such as Brookwood-Parkview, Norcross-Duluth and North Gwinnett-Buford, among others.

There was also one other stipulation put in to honor the past in Gwinnett prep football.

"(Parkview) Coach (Cecil) Flowe and Coach (Kevin) Maloof are (on the executive committee) of the Gwinnett Touchdown Club, and they said they wanted me and (retired Central Gwinnett coach) Tally Johnson to be the two coaches in the first game," Hunter said.

In addition to those two blasts from the past, retired Duluth coach Cecil Morris is scheduled to perform the coin toss prior to tonight's game.

While there will be plenty of deference to Gwinnett's football past, tonight's game is about the present - as well as the future.

In addition to being a reward for the seniors for a season's work well done, it may also serve as a tool to aid some seniors who are not as well known on the recruiting circuit in showcasing their talents to college programs.

For both reasons, tonight's game is a big deal to the participants, including Berkmar quarterback T.J. Smith, who has shuttled back-and-forth between practices with Team Hunter and his practices with the Berkmar basketball team - with the full blessing of Patriots coach Tommy McWhorter.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Smith, who finished second in the county with 1,680 passing yards this season. "So, Coach Mac understood, and I did go to (basketball) practice (this week). Plus, we don't play again until after exams."

Tonight's game also will give players and coaches a chance to participate alongside peers they might otherwise never get a chance to work with.

"It is good for the first time for Gwinnett County to have kids cross lines and meet and become friends," said Meadowcreek head coach Reggie Perry, one of several coaches on the staff of Team Johnson tonight. "This is way more than a football game. You've got North Gwinnett and Meadowcreek (and other schools') kids that would probably never see each other - that would probably never speak to each other."

Such an opportunity would not have been possible without a strong effort from several current and former coaches like Hunter, Maloof and Flowe, who helped secure sponsors like Colter Sports, Russell Athletics and several others to pay for uniforms, equipment and other expenses related to the event.

If tonight's event goes over well, it will likely become an annual event and could become a model for other areas to hold their own All-Star games.

Cobb County schools are already holding their own game - the Cobb Senior Bowl - on Jan. 12 at McEachern High School in Powder Springs.

And Hunter said he wouldn't be surprised to see other areas follow suit.

"We've always kind of been trend setters," Hunter said. "I can't imagine that we wouldn't have it again next year, but we'll wait to see how this goes over. ... I don't know of a coach who doesn't want the best for their kids."

- Staff Writer Ben Beitzel contributed to this report

SideBar: PREP FOOTBALL

What: Rivalries of Gwinnett Senior All-Star Football Game

When: Today, 7 p.m.

Where: Brookwood