This week, several former area high school football players have traded fall rivalries for geographical unity.
Now they’ll have the chance to try to prove the Peach State’s game is superior to the brand across the line.
There are 10 area representatives — nine from Northwest Whitfield and one from Murray County — on Team Georgia’s roster in the annual Tennessee-Georgia All-Star Football Classic, which matches up recently graduated seniors from the two states. The game, scheduled for 7:30 tonight at Ringgold High, will be the first played at the Tigers’ rebuilt Don Patterson Stadium since a devastating tornado struck in April 2011.
The Bruins will bring the most players, nine, of any Georgia school. Heritage-Catoosa has seven, Rome has six and Ringgold has five.
Northwest’s participants, as listed on the roster, are linemen Adam Selby, Kerry McElroy, Anthony Queen and Marshall Pritchard; quarterback/wide receiver Colter Creswell; linebackers Nick Sullivan and Trevon Tucker; running back Nathan Sistrunk; and two-way end Tallon Trew. Murray County lineman Blade LeQuire will start at right tackle on offense and rotate in at defensive end.
“I think last year we had two or three,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said about the high number of Bruins participating. “We’ve had up to five guys before, but (this year) is higher than usual.”
Tennessee leads the series 5-3 and has won three of the past four games. Georgia won last year’s game 31-21.
Georgia’s practices started Sunday at Ringgold High and wrapped up Friday with a walk-through. Ringgold coach Robert Akins will lead Georgia, while Hixson coach Houston White will lead Tennessee.
Akins said he had heard Tennessee is “big, strong and fast,” but believes his side matches up with the Volunteer State.
“From what I hear, they are big up front on the lines,” he said. “We’re not small either. Up front we average around 265 pounds. We’ve got some very talented kids both up front and at (the skill positions).”
Selby said one of the biggest adjustments is playing under a new coaching staff.
“It was harder to adjust because I’ve been taught the same thing for four years, and now it’s changed for me,” he said. “It’s hard to change my ways.”
However, Selby’s excitement for the game outweighs this obstacle.
“We’re wishing we can talk trash to Tennessee right now,” he said earlier this week, “but we have to wait until (today).”
Akins is impressed with how the players from different schools have come together, mixing competition during plays with respect after.
“We didn’t have a single problem all week with kids with attitudes or walking off the field,” he said. “A lot of times with all-star games you have that. I thought the kids were high-class kids, which is a tribute to the coaches, I think.”
Creswell admitted he thought there would be some intersquad tension stemming from past competition.
“We have Rome, who was in our region, and we know their faces,” Cresswell said. “I remember playing them and they were like, ‘Oh yeah, you did this,’ and we were like, ‘Oh yeah, you did that.’ So it’s kind of nice to play on the same side now.
“There isn’t any tension. I would’ve thought there would be more inter-tension, like within the squad, because we’re rivals, but we’ve more been focused on Tennessee.”
Northwest has enjoyed success in the competition in the past, with two Bruins turning in good enough performances to be honored with awards. Rhett Headen was a co-MVP in the 2007 game, a 14-13 win for Georgia, while Caleb Callahan was named co-MVP in the 2005 game, passing for 135 yards — the third most in series history — in the 29-7 win for Georgia.
LeQuire said pride is on the line tonight, and that’s more important to him than worrying about what Tennessee might do.
“We don’t know too much about them and we’re just kind of looking toward our team and seeing what we can do,” said LeQuire, who admitted he was worried at first about going as the only player from Murray County. “At first I thought I’d not be recognized but as soon as I walked in they recognized me and were really happy for me to be there.”