The 2012 high school football season officially kicks off today as Metter and Emanuel County Institute take the field in the inaugural Erk Russell Classic at Paulson Stadium.
The event, which has been spearheaded by the Eagle Football Alumni Association, also includes a game between Brunswick and Wayne County and will serve as an exclamation point for the first week of high school football throughout the state.
Mike West, who is entering his third season as coach of the Metter Tigers, couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity to start the season in style.
"I think that this will be a great experience for our players," said West. "I want to thank (Bulloch Recreation Department Athletics Superintendant) Darryl Hopkins and all of the members of the EFAA for helping to create and put together this event."
Metter will square off against the Bulldogs at 5:30 p.m., with Wayne and Brunswick following at 8 p.m.
All schools involved will have the thrill of playing in front of a large crowd on a college campus, but must also deal with a shorter preparation time. Most schools don’t begin their season until Aug. 31, and with strict limits on when fall camp was allowed to commence, today’s teams are all working on an abbreviated practice schedule.
"It’s definitely been a challenge," said West. "We were already working with just three weeks of preseason instead of four. Once you add in the heat and some bad weather days, we’ve had to jam a lot of preparation into just over a week."
Whether it’s practice time or in-game experience, many of the Tigers are getting their some of their first looks at it.
Metter has had large groups of upperclassmen in each of the past two seasons and will have to respond with a youth movement in 2012. Of the 22 starting positions on offense and defense, 13 will be filled by sophomores.
The young Tigers will have plenty on their plates as they take on an ECI team that has become a mainstay in the Class A Top-10 polls over the last five years.
"There’s no doubt that we’re going up against a very good team," said West. "This year’s ECI team will be a mirror image of the last few years. They are very well coached and well disciplined and have some great athletes. We’re going to have to be on top of things, for sure."
Junior quarterback Jacob Widencamp returns for his second season as the starter under center. Fellow upperclassmen Harry Kato (RB) and receivers Clay Crawford and Thomas Cliett will need to help guide the Tigers as they transition to a new spread offense.
The defense returns its same 3-5-3 look with Daquan Eason and Austin Brosh leading the way.
The Bulldogs have defeated the Tigers in each of the last seven seasons, but Metter put up a fight in 2011, losing by a count of 28-13 and not falling out of reach until late in the game.
The biggest difference in today’s meeting is that the schools are no longer region rivals as Metter has jumped up to Class AA. Even though the Tigers are now in a higher classification, they expect nothing but the toughest of tests from the Bulldogs.
"You look at our schedule and there aren’t any easy games out there," said West. "ECI will be tough and our new region will be tough. That’s the same story we had the last few years (in Class A). There are just so many good teams around here."
Metter and ECI will both take next week off while Brunswick and Wayne County continue on with their regular season schedules.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.