Call them full dress rehearsals — a last minute chance for coaches to see how their teams look against an opponent and a first glimpse of what’s to come for fans itching for the start of the high school football season.
They’re known as scrimmages, and they’re the Georgia High School Association’s version of the NFL preseason, pared down to a single four quarters.
Scores are kept, but that matters less than what teams learn in time for their regular season openers. And even days before the game, coaches can be uncertain of what they’ll find.
“I’m anxious to see what it’s going to look like,” said Bryan County High School coach Mark Wilson, who in his fifth season has the faithful in Pembroke expecting big things.
Thursday the Redskins scrimmage Savannah Country Day. Friday, Richmond Hill High School takes on national power Camden County High School in Kingsland. Both the Redskins and Wildcats are coming off watershed seasons in 2013.
Bryan County went 8-3 and put together the program’s best season in decades, making it to the playoffs after finishing third in tough Region 2-AA. The Wildcats were 10-2 and advanced to the second round of the state Class AAAAA playoffs.
Expectations are high, to say the least. But both programs have some big shoes to fill. The Redskins lost Region 2-AA Player of the Year Nick Scott. The Wildcats lost Region 3-AAAAA Player of the Year Nick Fitzgerald.
But the Wildcats also lost coach Lyman Guy, a Toombs County native who got a raise and a shorter commute at Class AA Toombs County High School.
His replacement, veteran assistant Josh Eads, will look to keep the program’s improvement going in a region that went from the worst in Class AAAAA last season to one projected to be the state’s toughest this season, thanks to reclassification which brought programs such as Statesboro and Brunswick and South Effingham back into the region fold. They’ll join powerhouse Ware County and always tough Glynn Academy, among others.
But nobody on Richmond Hill’s 2014 schedule is likely to be as tough, or as hyped, as the opponent the Wildcats will scrimmage Friday night in Kingsland.
Camden County — which also uses Wildcats as its moniker — is among the state’s most dominant big schools in recent history.
MaxPreps recently ranked the program No. 4 in that regard, with a 118-15 record since 2004. Camden County has three state titles as well, the most recent in 2009.
This is the first time the two schools have met in football. Richmond Hill athletic director Mickey Bayens said the Wildcats’ improvement caught the eye of a number of programs, including the one in Kingsland.
“Camden County came calling last spring,” Bayens said. “We wanted to give the kids in our football program an opportunity to play a top notch program while continuing to raise our expectations.”
Eads said he looks at Friday’s scrimmage as a measuring stick for his young program, but expects to have success while also getting a good look at “a lot of our untested players,” he said.
“I hope to use it as a tool to prepare us for Sept. 5 and Game 1,” he said, referring to the team’s regular season opener against Johnson.
The Wildcats go into the scrimmage with the normal bumps and bruises. Look for running back Ronnie Harris, wide receiver Thomas Lewis and offensive linemen Jon Zellner and Pierce Lewis to help lead, Eads said while defenders Tommy Washington, A.J. Vandergriff, Montrell Washington, Aaron Chick and Hayden Gorsuch have stepped up as well.
The Redskins, return seven starters on each side of the ball — but have to find replacements not only for Scott, who signed at Albany State, but his best friend, linebacker Damion Dixon, also at Albany State, and All Region performers such as Raekwon Love and Troy Robertson. But coaches are optimistic about an offensive line led by Brett Bacon and returning almost intact to protect quarterback Jeremy McClendon, who has a potential big-play target in receiver Kajana Dixon, and a group of talented athletes all over the roster.
“We’re the strongest we’ve ever been as a team, but we’ve got to get some other kids to step up in there,” Wilson said. “This is a chance for us to see how they react to game situtations. We’ve got a couple of guys we think can jump in there and do the job, but you never know until you get them in there and see what they can do.”
Both scrimmages will be as game-like as possible, meaning 12 minute quarters with varsity players going the first three periods and the younger kids getting a chance to play in the fourth quarter. Special teams will be limited to help avoid injuries.
Kickoff for the Redskins at Hornets is at 7 p.m. Both school websites are claiming it is an away game, so stay tuned. Even schedulers have to work out early season kinks.
The Wildcats game is at 7:30 p.m. in Kingsland.