Grayson running back Aares McCall, left, answers a question at the Corky Kell luncheon on Thursday as head coach Mickey Conn looks on. (Staff Photo: Brandon Brigman)
ATLANTA — Brookwood head coach Mark Crews got a chance to ask McEachern quarterback Ty Clemons a question in front of a crowd of high school football supporters on Thursday at the Corky Kell luncheon.
“Ty, you got the message about the start time,” Crew quipped. “It’s 10:30. You probably don’t need to get here until about 9.”
The comment drew a nice round of laughter from the 170 people in attendance at the Georgia Dome.
The luncheon was a great opportunity for coaches and players to mingle prior to Saturday’s big day of high school football action. All 10 participating head coaches and one player were on hand at the luncheon. “This is what really represents Georgia high school football,” North Gwinnett head coach Bob Sphire said. “It just showcases the importance of high school football in Georgia. To be a member and participate, is an honor.”
The five-game football feast begins on Saturday with Chattahoochee vs. Kell at 9 a.m. It’s the only game that doesn’t feature a Gwinnett County school. The day continues with Peachtree Ridge vs. Walton at 11:45 a.m., Grayson vs. Colquitt at 2:30 p.m., North Gwinnett vs. Camden County at 5:30 p.m. and Brookwood vs. McEachern at 8:30 p.m.
All of the games will air live on Georgia Public Broadcasting for the third year in a row and will be available on the radio at 92.9 FM The Game.
“One day, one Dome,” said Dave Hunter, the event’s co-creator and organizer. “It will be a long day, but a good day.”
The kickoff event also recognized the head coaches for the state championships teams last season and this year’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Super 11, which included Norcross’ Lorenzo Carter and Buford’s Korie Rogers. Both were selected to the Daily Post’s Super Six.
The 22nd annual Corky Kell Classic will once again bring some of the state’s best teams together to officially kickoff the high school season.
“It’s an honor to play in this game. For us to come here and spend time here, it’s exciting for our community,” Colquitt County head coach Rush Propst said. “I’ve played in other classic games in other states, this is really as well done as any of them. It’s really good for high school football. It showcases high school football in this state.”
The Chattahoochee vs. Kell game is the only rematch from last season. Kell won the game 19-8 and went on to lose to eventual Class AAAAA state champion Gainesville in the state playoffs.
Peachtree Ridge was 4-6 last year and is the only Corky Kell team that didn’t reach the playoffs last season. You don’t have to remind head coach Mark Fleetwood about that. They’ll face a Walton team that is familiar with the Georgia Dome after beating Brookwood in the Corky Kell last year and was state runner-up in 2011.
“It was a rough year, no doubt about it,” Fleetwood said. “We’ve challenged ourselves to change that around. It was very disappointing not to be in the playoffs.”
Grayson will face Colquitt County for the third time in three years. The Rams beat the Packers in the 2011 semifinals on the way to winning the state crown. Grayson was the heavy favorite to repeat as state champs last year, but lost in the second round. The Rams return just one starter in running back Aares McCall, but he’s confident the team will be stronger this year.
“I think last year, the year after we won the state championship, we were a little complacent,” McCall said. “This year I think our team is hungry for a championship. We’ve been working so much harder in the weight room, conditioning, learning the plays. We are hungry this year.”
That quickly got a response from Propst.
“That’s not what we want to hear this year,” he joked.
North Gwinnett will face Camden County in a matchup of two of the state’s most successful programs in recent years. In the last seven years, Camden has won 81 games, while North has 78 victories.
“It’s an honor to play in the Dome, especially against Camden which has been the winningest program in Georgia the last eight or 10 years,” North Gwinnett quarterback Hayden Sphire said.
Hayden Sphire is the son of head coach Bob Sphire and will be making his first varsity start in the Dome. That prompted the question what it’s like to play for your father.
“It’s really not that bad,” Hayden said to a roar of laughter. “He treats me like every other player on the team, so I don’t feel any different than anyone else. It’s just my dad. I feel like I have to play better.”
The final game of the night is Brookwood against McEachern, the two original members of the Corky Kell Classic. Running back Josh Brown still remembers going to watch Brookwood in the event when he was growing up.
“I’ve been coming here and watching these games since I was 9 years old. It means a lot to me,” Brown said.
Brookwood is 11-10 all-time in the Corky Kell, while McEachern is 9-12.
“You have to be ready to hit the ground running,” Crews said. “It’s a very important game as far as the start of the season.”