Two local boys will get a serious upgrade from their backyard and school yard football fields when they travel to Atlanta Sunday to compete in a punt, pass and kick competition prior to the NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Redskins.
Khristian Clark, 9, and Kellen Daly, 7, participated in a preliminary competition held Sept. 14 at Mill Creek Regional Park. They both advanced to a sectional meet which was held Nov. 17 in Effingham County. As top-4 finishers in their respective age group at the sectional competition, Clark and Daly will take on qualifiers from the eight other sections throughout Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama at the Georgia Dome.
“We’re very excited for (Clark and Daly),” Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Community Events Supervisor Kimberly Sharpe said. “These are the first two that we’ve ever been able to send all the way to Atlanta.”
At just seven years old, Daly will compete in the youngest — ages 6-7 — of the program’s five classifications.
Daly is new to the competition and admitted that he wasn’t thinking about making it to this week’s round when he first started. But Daly dominated in the preliminary round and turned in another great showing at the sectionals. Now he’s about to make his first trip to the Georgia Dome.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous,” Daly said. “I don’t know what exactly (the Georgia Dome) will be like. I think it’s going to be like I’m a speck and it’s a giant. It’s going to be a little scary, but I’m just trying to do my best.”
For Clark, this Sunday’s competition will signal the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and determination.
Even as one of the younger competitors in last year’s 8-9 year classification, Clark tore through the preliminary round. He recorded good passing and kicking efforts in last season’s sectional, but a punt attempt that glanced off the side of his foot cost him a trip to the Georgia Dome.
“I was disappointed,” Clark said. “I was upset, but I kept working. My dad coaches me on my football team and he helped me to work hard for this year.”
All of the training paid off in a big way.
Clark once again breezed through the first round of qualifying. Facing the same round that eliminated him in 2012, Clark not only exceeded his previous effort, but he finished with a total distance of 217 feet — the best in the Effingham sectional, as well as the best number recorded in all sectionals leading to Atlanta.
The punting portion held Clark back a year ago, but — like any elite football player worthy of taking the field on a Sunday at the Georgia Dome — he stared down his previous weakness and overcame adversity.
“Throwing is definitely my best and I usually kick pretty good,” Clark said. “When I got a good punt, I knew that I did pretty good. I didn’t know for sure until later. My dad came up to me after school and said ‘You know you won, right?’ After that, I was just really excited.”
Sunday’s competition will begin well before the Falcons begin their game, but both Clark and Daly are excited just to know that they’ll be sharing the same field as a professional team.
While Daly counts the Carolina Panthers as his favorite NFL team and Clark loves his San Francisco 49ers, the privilege of playing on the Falcons’ home turf isn’t lost on them.
“I can’t believe it,” Daly said. “I didn’t ever think I’d make it this far. It’s going to be scary, but it’s going to be fun.”
“I don’t even know what it’s going to be like inside the dome,” Clark said. “I’m just going to try and ignore it and concentrate on doing well.”
Of the 32 NFL franchises, 22 have already hosted their team championships in the competition. Once all teams have produced champions, the top four finishers in each age group will move on to the national competition, to be held at the venue of an AFC playoff game in January.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.