It's a sign of a great football state when an event that gathers six teams ranked in the High School Football America top 100 has to fight not to be overshadowed.
It's called the Freedom Bowl, a new six-game, two-day set of games played at Milton. It's the creation of Spire Sports + Entertainment of North Carolina and Airo Nation, a Florida-based company that specializes in regional and national 7-on-7 tournaments. (See Four Questions with event organizer Matthew Klug.)
These games come on a weekend in which Buford is having a nationally prominent doubleheader of its own with four top-100 nationally ranked teams. No. 46 Buford will play No. 59 Deerfield Beach (Fla.) after No. 5 Grayson plays No. 8 Bergen Catholic (N.J.).
In all, 15 of the top 100 teams in HSFA's top 100 will be playing in Georgia this week.
Here's the schedule of the Freedom Bowl at Milton:
4:30 p.m. - Mainland (Fla.) vs. Bob Jones (Ala.)
8:30 p.m. - No. 68 Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) vs. Milton
10 a.m. - No. 66 Chaminade-Madonna (Fla.) vs. Muscle Shoals (Ala.)
1:30 p.m. - No. 76 American Heritage-Plantation (Fla.) vs. No. 18 St. Joseph (N.J.)
5 p.m. - Stoneman Douglas (Fla.) vs. St. Matthews (Ontario, Canada)
8:30 p.m. - No. 48 North Gwinnett vs. No. 55 Wekiva (Fla.)
More top 100 teams
That's 10 top-100 teams in bold above. Who are the other five? Those would be No. 21 Colquitt County vs. Thomasville, No. 34 Rome vs. North Clayton, No. 58 Walton vs. Pope, No. 73 Cedar Grove vs. Columbia, and No. 82 Blessed Trinity vs. Woodward Academy.
Not ranked, but pretty interesting
The Stoneman Douglas-St. Matthews game at Milton on Saturday presents two teams with human-interest stories. Stoneman Douglas is the Parkland, Fla., school that was the site of the Feb. 14 shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and staff members and injured 17 others. One of those killed was the football team's offensive line coach, Aaron Feis, who was shielding two students when shot. In spring practice, the team adopted the motto "Feis Up" to honor the coach in a way that says, "Next man up." "That's our motto for the year, Feis Up," head coach Willis May told the Palm Beach Post. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. He wouldn't want us to feel sorry for ourselves. He would expect us to be men and go out and grow from it and be stronger and not whine and cry about it. Just Feis Up. He would like that."
We get another down? American football is easy!
Stoneman Douglas's opponent is from Ottawa, the Canadian capital. The Tigers plays teams on both sides of the border. When playing other Canadian teams, they play Canadian rules, which include three downs instead of four, 12 players instead of 11 and a 110-yard field instead of 100.
Cedar Grove tradition now honors fallen teammate
There's a cemetery on the other side of the fence from Cedar Grove's practice field in Ellenwood. For years, it has been a tradition for Cedar Grove players and coaches to face Kennedy Memorial Gardens for a 15-second moment of silence before and after practices and games. Only this year, it has taken on a more personal, poignant meaning for the players. The 15 seconds of silence now also honors Trevon Richardson, their former teammate. Richardson was murdered outside of a local apartment complex just days after his graduation in May. "We always take 15 seconds and pray for friends and family who have passed, and now it's even deeper because they have a recent teammate who is buried there," Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith said. The team follows the cemetery tradition even when on the road. On Saturday in Hoover, Ala., in the game against Hewitt-Trussville, the team faced back east to remember. Said Smith, "We take 15 everywhere we go."
Do you mind playing quarterback?
It's not unusual for a team to employ its best athlete at quarterback, even when his better position is elsewhere, but it seems there are more examples this season of a star player moving to quarterback from an established position. For example, Kobe Hudson had 45 receptions for 896 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for Troup, and he's a four-star WR prospect. But Troup has plenty of good receivers. Playing quarterback in the opener against Ridgeland, Hudson was 13-of-25 passing for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. There's also Raykwon Anderson, a North Carolina commit for Charlton County. He had 12 TD receptions last season. This year, he has thrown five TD passes in two games.
Not much different than running back
R.J. Carr is another position switcher. The former all-state running back attempted only two passes, both incomplete, in Dodge County's opener. But he rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries, keeping him on pace for a third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season.
Not much different than point guard
Another is Alijah Huzzie, maybe the best athlete for Class AA No. 2 Heard County. Huzzie had 600 receiving yards last year from Emory Jones, now at Florida. Huzzie should be fine, though. He averaged about 20 points and five assists as the basketball team's point guard last season. Plus, he's being spared defensive duty this season to keep him safe. He was a two-way starter last season.
Strength of classifications
Ajc.com had a couple of good blogs this week that essentially went like this: Class AAAAAA sure is struggling this season (34-64 overall record), and Class AAA is awesome (several wins over bigger top-10 schools). What does math tell us about those conclusions? They're not far off, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings. Below is a chart that shows the average power rating of teams in each classification and teams in the top 10 in each class. In short, the ratings put the highest classification and the lower two as one might as expect. But 6A (short for Class AAAAAA) is about even with 5A this season. In fact, Maxwell rates the top 10 teams in 5A as being better than the top 10 in 6A by about a half a point per team. It should be noted that Rome and Buford - each rated as top-five teams in any class - pull up the average quite a bit, so 6A still probably has more state-contending teams. As for AAA, it's actually closer to AA overall, only a point better on average, per team. But AAA is the most top-heavy class by far. Class AAA's top 10 is eight points better than AA's top 10 and only two points below AAAA's top 10. And AAA is a class of the haves and the have-nots - and there are more have-nots.
AAAAAAA - 60.63 (overall), 84.16 (top 10)
AAAAAA - (46.41 overall), 70.45 (top 10)
AAAAA - (45.43 overall), 70.99 (top 10)
AAAA - (41.42 overall), 67.23 (top 10)
AAA - (30.65 overall), 65.27 (top 10)
AA - (29.27 overall), 57.37 (top 10)
A - (21.09 overall), 51.11 (top 10)
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