Grayson wide receiver Devin Gillespie (14) runs the ball against Kell during the Corky Kell Classic at the Georgia Dome.
Over the past few years, North Gwinnett and Grayson have gotten used to facing quality opponents from outside Georgia early in the season.
And both are bracing for another out-of-state invasion when they host what has become an annual showcase event Saturday at North's Tom Robinson Stadium.
Grayson will lead off this year's event -- renamed the National High School Gridiron Challenge -- against Edgewater of Orlando, Fla., at 5 p.m., while North welcomes Illinois powerhouse East St. Louis in the nightcap at approximately 8:30 p.m. Both games will be broadcast on CSS.
Both the Rams (1-0) and Bulldogs (0-1) have plenty of experience in big showcase games like this, which both coaches hope will have their teams well prepared.
"We played in this thing last year, and played in the (Georgia) Dome the last two years," said Conn, whose Rams defeated Spain Park (Ala.) in this event last year, and are coming off a 7-0 win over Kell in the season opener last week at the Georgia Dome. "So, hopefully (the hoopla) won't have any bearing (on the outcome)."
The quality of each team's opponents might, however.
Grayson, ranked No. 5 in Georgia and nationally as high as No. 25 by MaxPreps and 26 by ESPN Rise, takes on an Edgewater team that has been one of Florida's best over the years.
The Fightin' Eagles (7-4 last season) feature some explosive speed in the form of receiver Alton "Pig" Howard (1,692 yards of total offense, 23 TDs last season), who is ranked as the 13th best receiver in the nation and strong safety Karl Joseph.
Both have multiple major college offers on the table, including Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Central Florida and West Virginia.
That pair, and the rest of the Fightin' Eagles, pose a strong challenge to a Rams defense that shut out Kell on just 54 yards of total offense in last week's opener, led by star junior defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who had five tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
"We've got to contain the Howard kid," Conn said. "He's extremely explosive. I'd compare him to (current Florida State junior cornerback) Greg Reid from Lowndes a couple of years ago.
"We've got to win the battles up front and be patient. I'd like to be able to wear them down. They're only bringing 40 players, and we're playing at 5 o'clock in the heat. So, we need to be physical and try to wear them down."
Likewise, North will face quite a challenge from an athletic opponent -- in this case, East St. Louis.
The Flyers (4-6) actually won all their games on the field last season, but were forced to forfeit six of them due to ineligible players.
The players they will bring to Tom Robinson Stadium on Saturday are certainly talented despite losing seveal players from last year to graduation.
Among those that are back is quarterback Lamontiez Ivy, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound quarterback who threw for 1,770 yards and 18 TDs last season, and already has scholarship offers from Illinois, Minnesota and Kansas, and has drawn interest from several other Big 10 and Big 12 schools.
Add in other talented skill players like running back Jeremy Nicholson (258 yards, 6 TDs last year) and receiver Denis Harris (17-289, 2 TDs) and it's not hard to understand Bulldogs coach Bob Sphire's concern.
"Speed, speed, speed and more speed. And they're big," Sphire said of the Flyers. "They've got Miami speed."
That said, Sphire is also confident in his own team's chances despite last week's season-opening loss to No. 4 state-ranked McEachern at the Georgia Dome.
While the Bulldogs let a late lead slip away in the 26-17 defeat, Sphire saw plenty of positives, including a strong game from quarteback Scotty Hosch (16-26-2, 196 yards, 2 TDs) and receiver Chad Scott (6-101, 2 TDs).
"We learned a lot last Saturday," Sphire said. "We knew we were putting some kids out there who might not have gotten the opportunity before the split with Lanier. We didn't know how they'd respond. Yes, we would like to have sealed the deal, but that's how you learn.
"Our three non-region games give us an opportunity to learn a lot. Look at Collins Hill. They lost three of their first four games last year and went to the (Class AAAAA) semifinals. Look at Colquitt County. They lost (the first three) games and went 5-5 (in the regular season), but wound up in the finals. It's not about where you are right now. It's about where you are at the end (of the season)."