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Blue Devils open season in Paulson

Burke County (0-0) at Statesboro (0-0)
8 p.m., Today
Paulson Stadium

ALSO: Coffee County vs. North Oconee, 5 p.m.

Watch this game LIVE!
7:20 p.m.

Bracing for the heat
    As teams slated to play at Paulson Stadium on Saturday tried to go through their normal game week schedules, one of the hottest weeks of the year has played havoc with practices.
    All GHSA schools must conform to statewide regulations concerning the level of conditioning that can take place given a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature reading. With highs soaring near 100 degrees for most of the week, the WBGT restrictions have routinely kept players out of pads and — at times — off of the practice field entirely.
    Coaches, officials, and administrators will be keeping a close eye on both games at the Erk Russell Classic, but the games will go on regardless of the heat.
    “There currently is no heat policy regarding games,” GHSA Director of Media Relations Steve Figeroa said. “Games can start, no matter the heat conditions. Of course, coaches and officials can agree to allow for more breaks for water and can set up additional precautions if they deem it necessary.”
    Current forecasts call for temperatures threatening to top 100 degrees and relative humidity of over 50 percent throughout Saturday afternoon. Under those conditions — and other variables associated with WBGT calculations — no outdoor practice would be allowed by the GHSA.

    The Statesboro Blue Devils will get their season started in style this evening as they match up with Burke County in an 8 p.m. kickoff to round out the third annual Erk Russell Classic at Georgia Southern's Paulson Stadium.
    The setting of the newly-renovated 24,000-seat stadium seems fitting as the Devils and Bears have turned in games befitting huge crowds in each of the last two seasons.
    Last season, Statesboro outlasted Burke County and dual-threat quarterback Donquell Green — now with Marshall University — in a 21-7 victory. In 2012, the Bears blitzed SHS in Waynesboro.
    The prospect of a thrilling rubber match surrounds tonight’s season opener, but the rosters for both squads will have plenty of changes.
    “Burke is still a solid team and we expect them to be a great challenge,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “They still have athleticism and can threaten you with the big play. Our defense is going to have to be up to the task.”
    With new starters and no current film to study, it’s hard for either team to get a good read on the other.
    Throw in a few more early-season factors, and both squads figure to come out of the gates with a strategy of feeling out the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.
    “Honestly, we aren’t sure what to expect,” Pennington said. “And that’s not a criticism of our players or coaches. We’re playing our first game a week earlier than usual and the heat has prevented us from having a lot of full practices.
    “Who knows? We could score 50, but we also have to be ready to adjust to what we show that we can do.”
    Austin Kleinlein will get the call at quarterback for his first start with the varsity squad.
    The Devils will look to continue to be a strong running team, but are still full of questions at running back. Mahlon Williams is the leading returning rusher, but all of those yards were seen in mop-up duties. Joining the running back-by-committee will be Jaylen Davis and Corique Williams.
    All will see playing time against Burke, with roles becoming more defined as the season progresses.
    North Oconee and Coffee — one of Statesboro’s new region rivals — will get the Erk Russell Classic started with a 5 p.m. kickoff.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.