Buford senior quarterback Montgomery VanGorder (14) celebrates with the Wolves’ student section and the rest of the football team following the 35-19 victory over Washington County in the Class AAA state championship game on Friday at the Georgia Dome. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
ATLANTA — Ending a season at one of the GHSA’s state championship games about midway between Thanksgiving and Christmas is becoming somewhat of an annual tradition for the high school football community throughout Gwinnett County.
But at no school has the road to the Georgia Dome been more of an yearly trek than at Buford.
For Wolves players, coaches and fans alike, there’s no place like Dome for the holidays.
“It’s been pretty much the norm,” said Buford resident Shane Houston, who’s oldest son Kolton played for three Buford state championship teams from 2007-09, and whose younger son Konnor is a current Wolves lineman. “It’s been a great Thanksgiving (to) Christmas split routine.”
Friday’s 35-19 win over Washington County in the Class AAA championship game marked the seventh straight season the Wolves have played in a state title game in one of three different classifications, including six straight years since the GHSA moved the state finals to the Dome.
And with the semifinals having been played at the Dome prior to that year, Buford has played there in 12 of the last 14 seasons dating back to 2000.
It has become routine for just about everyone involved in the Buford program or surrounding to plan their second weekend of December making the 40-mile trip south down Interstate’s 985 and 85 to downtown Atlanta.
“We don’t plan anything (else) — no trips planned, no vacations planned,” Houston said. “They start (preseason training) in (late) July, and they go all the way to December. It takes hard work from the preparation from the school and the kids.”
It’s not just people with family members playing for the Wolves who plan their year around the Georgia Dome game.
Even though his kids are still years away from playing for the high school team, Buford resident and 1996 graduate Kevin Ingram also makes it a point to bring his family down to the Dome year after year to follow the Wolves.
“I take vacation, I take whatever, to come see them,” said Ingram, who played for the Wolves 1995 team that went 13-1 and advanced to the Class A state semifinals. “It’s starting to become like a tradition. Every time they make it, we’re here. Every game we go to, it’s like, ‘Buford’s coming. A whole bunch of us are coming.’”
While that team, the first coached by now-Buford athletics director Dexter Wood, started the Wolves run of 16 trips to the state quarterfinals in the next 19 seasons, Ingram and his teammates never got a chance to play at the Dome.
He admits it’s an opportunity he would’ve relished during his high school days.
“I’d have given my right arm and left arm to play on this field, and to play in front of a crowd like this,” Ingram said.
Two other Gwinnett schools will have that opportunity at 8:30 p.m. today when North Gwinnett and Norcross square off for the Class AAAAAA state title.
It is the fourth time in five seasons since the finals moved to the Dome that at least one team has represented Gwinnett in the state’s highest classification.
Buford Wolves Class AAA State Football Champions
Sights and sounds from the Buford and Washington County Class AAA state championship game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Buford defeated Washington County 35-19 giving them their sixth championship in seven years.