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Maloofs kick-start football

There are so many storylines for the opener to Gwinnett County's high school football season -- almost too many for just one game.

For starters, Dacula and Norcross get a jump on every other county team except for South Gwinnett when they square off at Barron Stadium tonight at 7:30.

"It puts us in a big-time atmopshere," Norcross coach Keith Maloof said of the early opener. "It's a fun way to start the season. (The early start) really doesn't matter. Playing this early, and then us having a week off, is big for us. It lets us see where we're at."

Then, of course, there's the obvious family feud angle pitting Maloof's Blue Devils against a Dacula team coached by older brother Kevin Maloof.

Kevin's Falcons have beaten Keith's Blue Devils in five of six previous meetings, including the last one in 2005.

The "Maloof Bowl" usually involves other members of the family as well. This year, that includes Norcross junior Tanner Maloof -- Keith's son -- who should see a lot of playing time at linebacker.

But this time, one member will be missing. Family patriarch and Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach George Maloof passed away in October.

However, Kevin Maloof says his father's presence will still be felt.

"He'll be there, just not on the sidelines," Kevin Maloof said. "I think he's up there (in heaven) smiling about what kind of program Keith's been able to put together, and hopefully also about our kids, too."

As much love as there is within the Maloof family, however, there is also a competitive spirit.

"Especially when you've been on the short end of the stick," Keith Maloof quipped. "It's tough on the family, but it's a thing where the (players) don't need to be worrying about the brothers playing each other. They've just got to go out and play their game because it's not about Kevin and me."

In fact, there will be plenty to watch from both teams besides the two coaching brothers.

Dacula (7-4 last year), comes into the season with 14 starters returning from its fifth state playoff appearance in the last six seasons a year ago.

Included in those returners are components in an impressive Falcons running game like junior quarterback Rocky Capobianco and running backs Dexter Walker and Alex Armah, plus four starting linemen.

"They've got weapons all over the field," Keith Maloof said of Dacula. "All those running backs can motor. And they're a team that's coming off a playoff year and is experienced in many areas. It'll be a great first game for both of us."

Likewise, Kevin Maloof's biggest concern about Norcross is its most stocked and experienced area of the game.

The Blue Devils (5-5 last year) return seven starters from last year on a defense that finally came together after struggling through a season in which the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

And Kevin Maloof knows his offense will have its hands full with a unit that includes Super Six defensive end Demetrius Alston, plus other hard hitters like linebackers Seth Hinsley and John McWilliams.

"They're a very talented, very well-coached team," Kevin Maloof said of Norcross. "They play great defense. Offensively, they've got some great weapons. We're hoping it takes them a little time to jell.

"We've got some question marks in several key places, so obviously we're looking to get some film on some guys and find out if they can do what we need them to do."