It’s time to stop talking about who may or may not have football talent and go out and see for ourselves. Or, better yet, just sit back on your couch and flip on the TV and find out.
High school football begins full tilt tonight! I’ll be in Lilburn tonight watch Stephenson face Parkview in the Big Orange Jungle. Can’t wait. You can see it, too.
As you may or may not have heard, somebody conned Channel 2 WSB-TV into letting me be part of their “Channel 2 Sports Zone Friday Live Game of the Week.” The game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m., will be broadcast live on RTV (”Retro Television”/Charter Ch. 127, Comcast 248) and will be replayed at 1 a.m. on Channel 2 WSB-TV. I’ll be the “analyst” while Channel 2 sports director Zach Klein hunkers down and does all the real work. Gonna be a blast.
And Zach and I are both really excited about tonight’s matchup, which pits two Class AAAAA traditional powers. Until I researched the game, I never would have believed that these schools, located about eight miles apart on opposite sides of that mound of granite known as Stone Mountain, have only met one other time and never in the regular season.
Their only other meeting came in 2005 when Stephenson defeated Parkview 20-14 in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. It seemed like almost every year before that the two powerhouses were barreling toward each other from opposite ends of the playoff brackets. But one or the other tended to get knocked off before they could meet on the gridiron. And with heavy region commitments in the past, the two teams just never could get onto each other’s regular-season schedules.
Until now. They agreed to a two-year, home-and-home contract this year.
“I don’t know how Coach [Cecil] Flowe feels but I think it’s something that needed to be done a long, long time ago,” Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell said. “Region 5-AAAAA for a long while had a 10-game region schedule and we always tried to play Southwest DeKalb, so there just wasn’t any way to make it happen. But I think it’s great for both communities. I know I’m excited.”
So is Flowe and the Parkview community.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Flowe said. “There was some reclassification and some moving around and we found ourselves looking for non-region contests. DeKalb needed a couple of games and we needed a couple of games and it just looked like a good matchup. Economic times as they are, not having to go a long distance to play seemed like a good idea.”
South Gwinnett plays M.L King in a similar arrangement next week.
There are remarkable parallels between the two programs. Stephenson is now where Parkview was in the mid-1990s before it went on its incredible run of four state championships in six years (1997, 2000, ‘01, ‘02). That is, the Jaguars have been knocking on the door of a state title but have been unable to break through.
“Ron does a great job and he has great kids over there,” Flowe said. “We’ve had our run of kids, but we don’t quite have what they do right now.”
In a word, the No. 6-ranked Jaguars are “loaded.” Or maybe we should make that “re-loaded.”
Stephenson famously had 29 of its seniors off last year’s 11-1 team sign some sort of football grant-in-aid last February. We think that’s a record in the state.
Normally, the loss of that much talent would devastate a football program. But eight of Stephenson’s 2011 seniors already have accepted scholarship offers. And between transfers and junior and senior classes numbering close to 70 kids, the Jaguars have been able to locate more talent in their vast pool.
“This is a team where I don’t see a weakness anywhere,” Flowe said of Stephenson. “If they have one I can’t find it. They have a bunch of athletes over there. From what I can gather they’re loaded.”
Asked if his team had a weakness, Gartrell just laughed.
“Yeah, we can start with coach,” he said. “We have some concerns. We did lose 10 starters off our defense last year. And we have seven starters coming back on offense but we lost our best offensive player (RB Raymond Sanders, Kentucky signee) and our best offensive and defensive lineman (Georgia signee Mike Thornton). So, yeah, we have some weaknesses.”
Some of Stephenson’s players to keep an eye on tonight include QB Jordan Tarver (Kent commitment), running back Willie Davis (South Florida), running back Mike Davis (little brother of Clemson’s James Davis), fullback Jonathan Abrams (several offers), wide receiver Cey-Ron Willingham (Middle Tennessee), center Tarik Cook, cornerback David Stevenson (UConn), free safety Jared Boyd (Duke), linebacker Regis Ball (Memphis), punter/place-kicker Colin Anderson (UAB) and strong safety Kedetrix Marcus (multiple ACC and SEC offers).
In the meantime, the Panthers aren’t devoid of talent. A young team overall, they feature several up-and-coming talents such as junior linebacker/running back Raphael Kirby, junior linebacker/wingback Patrick Flowe (Cecil’s son) and quarterback Jack Esmonde. And they have a strong set of senior leaders, including two-way lineman Walter McGriff, linebacker Kenny Flowers and free safety Joe Anderson.
And then there’s the guy Zach and I are so keen to see: Parkview senior Ike Onike (pronouced Oh-KNEE-kee). Mainly a defensive end last year, No. 28 is playing running back, fullback, tight end and wideout on offense and has been story of preseason camp for the Panthers. “He’s whatever we need him to be,” Flowe said.
Like I said, no sense talking about it anymore. Y’all tune in and watch. Ya hear?