Staff Photo: John Bohn Collins Hill's Brett Sheehan (12) runs the ball against Duluth during the 2011 season.
The rebirth of the Collins Hill-Central Gwinnett football rivalry began to take shape during the summer of 2011 at Central's passing league tournament.
Collins Hill head coach Kevin Reach discussed the idea with Central head coach Todd Wofford, and the two agreed that the once frequent matchup should be back on the schedule in 2012.
"Todd and I talked at passing league in 2011, and this was long before we knew what would happen (with reclassification), but we said, 'We need to go ahead and get this rivalry back up,'" Reach said. "I forgot how short of a drive it is to Central. It's just right across the highway. Why drive all the way to Roswell when we can drive right across the highway for a good game. I'm looking forward to it. I think it's going to be a good partnership."
After Reach's suggestion, Wofford jumped on board immediately. That's how it came about that the two rivals from back in the day will renew their competition tonight at Collins Hill.
The two schools played seven times from 1996 to 2005 in a matchup fueled by the construction of Collins Hill, which pulled the bulk of its students from Central.
"I agreed with Kevin, we thought this would be a good rivalry to get started again," Wofford said. "My first couple of years (at Central) people who have been around here have asked me why we don't play Collins Hill anymore."
Times have changed since the team's last meeting in 2005. The intensity created by Collins Hill's students being pulled away from Central is long gone. The current players weren't even born in 1994, when Collins Hill opened.
But the new version of the rivalry should be just as fun, too, thanks to two schools that have produced some of the county's most explosive offenses of the past few seasons. Both teams have talented senior quarterbacks --Central's Eman Westmoreland and Collins Hill's Brett Sheehan --and a number of talented skill players to surround them.
Reach also likes his defense, which he thinks will be even better this season. Central needed a major upgrade in that department and got it in the offseason with a revamped defensive coaching staff that hopes to take better advantage of a talented unit led by star linebacker Trey Johnson, an Auburn commit.
"I'm eager to see how we perform defensively, because I know that's the No. 1 question about us," Wofford said. "I see good things in practice, but I want to see how that translates over to the field. We're going up against a high-powered offense, so it will be a real test for us."
The winner of the game also will get a much-needed, early-season boost.
For Central, it would mean its first victory under Wofford against an established playoff team. The Black Knights started 2-0 in his first season and 3-0 last year against unproven competition, only to falter in region play.
"I think (the Collins Hill game) is a tone-setter," Wofford said. "My first two years we've started well, but region play didn't go as well. This is more about playing a quality team like Collins Hill and hopefully getting a win over a quality team like Collins Hill.
"Nothing against the teams we played the last two years, but that might not have gotten us ready for region like these two teams (Collins Hill and Clarke Central on Sept. 7) will this year."
Collins Hill won its openers against Roswell the past two seasons, but that didn't carry over into the next few games. The Eagles started 1-3 in each of Reach's first two seasons, but it didn't stop them from reaching the playoffs both times.
"I feel like we need to get off to a better start, but look at our losses the last two years," Reach said. "We've had such a tough schedule. We lost to Brookwood three times, M.L. King twice, North Gwinnett twice, Grayson, Norcross and Peachtree Ridge. They've all been top-notch programs."